The perpetual effort to stand up an Afghan government that could exist on its own did not work. That doesn’t mean the decision to topple the Taliban government in 2001 was a mistake. But that was twenty years ago. We are living in a dramatically different world today. We have been in a perpetual occupation in pursuit of no clear national security interest of the United States. At a certain point you have to realize that and act accordingly. I find convincing this suggestion that Biden refused a more phased or circumstances-based withdrawal precisely because he had seen up close how Barack Obama had been rolled by the Pentagon a decade ago.
In 122 AD the Emperor Hadrian built what history knows as “Hadrian’s Wall,” which bisects Britain. You can still see it today. It marked the northernmost boundary of the Roman Empire. On this side Rome; on that side the tribes of Caledonia. Some twenty years later in 142 AD the Emperor Antoninus Pius, frustrated with the marauding and managing the tribes north of wall, constructed a new wall roughly one hundred miles further north into what is now Scotland. This was the Antonine Wall. Rome would garrison and pacify the region between the two walls. Twenty years later in 162 AD, the year after Antonius Pius died, the Emperor Marcus Aurelius abandoned the new territory and withdrew back to Hadrian’s Wall. Not everything works.
The intensity of the current handwringing over the fall of Kabul is an almost perfect measure of the denial about the failure of the current mission. Indeed, they are two sides of the same coin. What was keeping us there this long? THIS! Look at it around you today. The collective unwillingness to endure this reality is what has kept the US in the country for at least a decade. Processing ten years of denial in ten hours is rough.
We’ve been in Afghanistan for either ten or twenty years because no one in authority was ready to endure this moment and not look back. I don’t know if Biden will pay a domestic political price for this denouement. But watching it all unfold I’m even more certain he made the right decision than I was a day ago. Does anyone think we’ll look back a year from now and think, wow, I wish we were still garrisoning Afghanistan? I doubt it.
Someone had to make the decision that Bush, Obama and Trump did not and apparently could not. Biden did.
Biden did the right thing. The swift fall of Kabul only makes the point clear: this was always how it was going to end, because we've been propping up a Potemkin village for a decade now.