At a time when representative democracies face unprecedented challenges and the international rules-based order is disrespected and challenged by emboldened authoritarian regimes on every continent, it is hard to imagine what worse and weaker leadership in the West would look like at this moment.
Describing US President Joe Biden’s current self-inflicted disastrous display of leadership incompetence that has provoked a pending hostage and humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as an epic failure would be an understatement.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who in the past has described former president Donald Trump’s agreement with the Taliban as “wholly inadequate,” had no good words to say about fellow Democrat Biden’s policy debacle stating a sentiment shared by allied leaders when he said, “I am disappointed that the Biden administration did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid US withdrawal.”
Chair of the German Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Norbert Roettgen, was more direct, stating, “Things haven’t just gone wrong – it’s a catastrophe,” and adding: “It’s a moral failure of the West – and the geopolitical consequences are still difficult to discern. It’s a breaking point.”
Driven by a desire for a quick domestic political victory ahead of the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US and the upcoming 2022 US midterm elections, US President Joe Biden believed he could capitalize on American sentiment to end US military combat operations in Afghanistan.
However, President Biden’s April 2021 decision, against the advice of US military and intelligence community leaders, to completely withdraw all US military combat support to Afghanistan’s security forces from Afghanistan by August 31, 2021, regardless of conditions on the ground, provided a green light for the Taliban’s shocking nationwide “blitzkrieg” offensive and takeover of Afghanistan that the world witnessed this week.
The US, its allies and partners have been steadily reducing their military presence in Afghanistan since a 2011 peak presence of more than 110,000 troops. Since 2015, US force levels had remained below 15,000. In 2020, US force levels were reduced to less than 5,000 and maintained at 2,500 advisers and support specialists to provide the intelligence, logistics, and targeting expertise required to support the Afghan forces’ ability to contain the Taliban.
Since early 2020, there have been zero US and allied force casualties in Afghanistan and it appeared the ideal minimum US and allied footprint required to contain the Taliban had been achieved.
Biden’s change in the withdrawal plan and counterterrorism support footprint to a zero US presence footprint in Afghanistan has culminated in the largest pending hostage and humanitarian crisis in US history and includes abandoning billions of dollars in advanced US military hardware. This is such an epic unprecedented US failure that it warrants resignations at the highest levels of the US State Department, National Security Council, Department of Defense, and intelligence community leadership.
President Biden’s accelerated total US retreat from Afghanistan and the ensuing chaos and humanitarian tragedy of a nation left behind will far outlast his term in office. The tens of thousands of soon-to-be Afghan refugees who couldn’t manage to board or cling to the fuselage of the last aircraft to depart Hamid Karzai International in Kabul will now make their way on foot to Turkey to lead the next wave of mass migration into Europe by land and by sea via Greece. And the young women left behind are destined to become the child brides of Taliban militants and officials.
Biden’s Afghanistan retreat will be remembered as the greatest capitulation and betrayal of allies, partners, including US citizens and Green Card holders left behind, in US history. A truly disastrous and predictable failure.
But, beyond Afghanistan, America’s chaotic retreat is a significant victory for authoritarian rulers and Islamic terrorists around the world. Elected leaders and citizens in representative democracies on every continent should be gravely concerned as the barbarians have been given the keys to the gates. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan now joins the international community of authoritarian and rogue nations to usher in a new era of emboldened authoritarian ambition and conquests. America is not back, America has departed.
*Commander Demetries Grimes is a former US naval officer, aviator and Afghanistan veteran. He has served as US naval attache to Greece and Israel, deputy commander of the US base on Crete, and adviser to NATO’s maritime commander in London.