Why Did Biden Withdraw from Afghanistan?
Why Did Biden Withdraw from Afghanistan?
US envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke disagreed with President Obama’s insistence on significantly increasing the number of troops stationed in Afghanistan, which had been requested by the military. He argued that a quick spike in the number of troops would mean a decisive subsequent decrease and that this would send the wrong message to Afghans, that this was a temporary increase and the Americans would soon leave.
Holbrooke proposed something different: don’t add any forces but keep a reasonable number of them there, as that would send the right message to the Afghans and the Taliban: we are staying and you have to negotiate with us. Holbrooke was looking for diplomatic ammo, and what made things worse was that Obama’s approval of sending more forces was conditioned on their deployment being time limited and on this step being followed by a significant reduction and then withdrawal.
President Trump went in the same direction, and he wanted to pull out of Afghanistan quickly, deciding to send a large number of troops home to enhance his standing, which had been damaged by his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is said that he walked back on his decision to withdraw from the country altogether after military command warned him that going through with it would create a precarious situation.
Trump’s idea to withdraw US forces, which he walked back on, is consistent with his general line of thinking and political messaging; he reiterated many times that he wasn’t convinced of the usefulness of the war in Afghanistan, which he saw as costly and futile. After deciding to suddenly withdraw from Syria following a phone call with Erdogan, he rescinded the decision because of the Pentagon and prominent GOP figure’s opposition.
President Biden is no different from his predecessors, and he took the same course. In truth, the Taliban was victorious and theoretically in control of Kabul not now, but the moment the US President announced the withdrawal of all troops last April. The second blow was the US’s surreptitious withdrawal from the Bagram Airfield without informing the Afghan military leadership, which felt abandoned. The message was clear; the Americans are leaving, the Taliban is here to stay, and the other Afghans make their choices.
Despite the withdrawal’s chaos, which US intelligence had warned of, US President Biden knows precisely what he’s doing. The question is obvious: will pulling out from Afghanistan help his approval ratings or not? The answer is also obvious; it will help because the overwhelming majority of Americans are against this long war that some hardline politicians have called a “forever war.” This is the same incentive that had compelled Obama and Trump, but Biden went through with it despite the warnings.
In fact, President Biden has been of this opinion since he was a congressman, as he repeatedly called for pulling out and not getting dragged into the military’s games and going along with its procrastination. The goal, as he reiterated at the time, is to defeat al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, not to build an Afghan nation.
The withdrawal was wanton and mortifying, but does it really matter in the long run? The impact of images of the chaotic crowds at the airport and people clinging to the plane as it was taking off will be temporary. What is more critical is ending a war that went on for 20 years and could last even longer, as Biden said in his latest speech. Internal factors are significant and play a major role in shaping even the most consequential decisions. The Americans will see that Biden is the one who ended the exhausting and costly war that no one else had been able to. Voters will reward him for this decision, even if those on the outside see it as misguided and a betrayal.
Without disregarding analyses that shed light on strategic dimensions, we should pay attention to the significance of internal considerations for these kinds of crucial decisions. Indeed, they might be more significant than any other. We can see this historically. There are many examples of American presidents making major foreign policy decisions because of internal electoral considerations. President Eisenhower ended the Korean War and went against his closest allies (Israel, France and Britain) in the 1956 War because, among other reasons, the elections were close.
Will Afghanistan turn into a haven for terrorist groups? Will Afghan women be oppressed? Will the decision wreak havoc in Afghanistan? No one knows the answers to these questions yet. But whatever they are, the Biden administration has diligently accounted for them and knows that an uninfluential minority of Americans will head to polls with these pressing questions in mind.