By Jason Sibert and Patty Friend
For the past few weeks, we’ve been treated to a false media narrative about President Joe Biden’s exit from Afghanistan. Americans watched with horror as the Taliban installed its own theocratic regime. We saw 13 United States service members and 169 Afghan allies killed in a terrorist attack. We also saw Afghans clinging to helicopters and rushing the airport. This narrative was weaved by right-wing news outlets (Fox News) and centrist media voices like MNBC/NBC’s Andrea Mitchell and ABC’s Martha Raddatz (corporate media). In addition, veterans’ groups, and some veterans, have criticized the exit. Let’s make it clear that Social Democrats USA mourns the loss of the servicemembers and our Afghan allies. However, it’s time to set the record straight.
Columnist David Rothkopf did so in his USA Today piece “There’s Chaos and Risk in Afghanistan Exit, but Biden Critics are Getting it Mostly Wrong.”(8/29) Some have said Biden owns the exit. No, this is a war of choice that’s been going on for 20 years. The Donald Trump administration set the deadlines and released 5,000 prisoners. The leader of the Taliban, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barada, in prison in Pakistan, was in on the Trump deal. Another criticism is that there could have been less chaos in the exit, but there would have been chaos with the Taliban returning to power, regardless of who was president.
Rothkopf agreed that we might have been better prepared for the chaos, but the Afghan government did not want us beginning mass evacuations for fear of an even greater chaos. Some have said we abandoned our allies in the operation. Canada left in 2014 and returned for the evacuation. However, the Trump administration’s foreign policy had no use for our allies and left them out of all negotiations with the Taliban.
The evacuation started out badly but turned out to be masterful in the end. The administration and the military adapted quickly. The airlift was one of the biggest in U.S. military history; over 122,000 people were evacuated. Some have said the evacuation of Afghanistan will make it a breeding grounds for terror. However, the country has always been dangerous, and there are other parts of the world that are serving as a launching ground for terrorist attacks. Afghanistan is no longer the epicenter of the threats.
Others have pointed out that some will be left behind in Afghanistan, but it is wildly unrealistic to think the United States could remove everyone at risk from Afghanistan. What’s being done is above and beyond expectations. Other forms of political, diplomatic, and economic pressure must be used to promote human rights in Afghanistan. The U.S. currently makes up 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and our country should have a lot of influence over what goes on.
Then some have made the argument that we could have left troops there indefinitely because we’ve had troops in Japan, Germany, and South Korea for years. There’s really no comparison because we stationed troops in those countries during the Cold War to counter Soviet Russia. No comparable threat exists today. Also, Trump accelerated the exit and chaos with the release of prisoners held by the Afghan government and his announced May 1 departure date. Staying would have required a bigger investment. Before and after the Trump administration left office, the former president left Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with a hollowed-out State Department. Trump bureaucrats sabotaged the procedure for granting refugee status and asylum.
Others have said that our military presence could have served as a promoter of women’s rights, but the Taliban have been gaining influence for years during our presence. The rural part of the country supports draconian measures against women. Women’s rights is important and a laudable goal in Afghanistan and all over the globe, but we cannot send the American military to protect and defend women’s rights everywhere. We certainly cannot use our sons and daughters to nation build in far off parts of the world that do not want an American-style Jeffersonian democracy. We can make women’s rights, and other human rights, something to promote as a part of our diplomatic efforts, although our less than sterling recent history at defending abortion rights for women suggests more attention needs to be paid domestically before preaching to other countries.
Biden has long favored an exit from Afghanistan since his years as President Barack Obama’s vice-president. But back then, he was overruled by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General Stanley McChrystal, and President Obama. Carnegie Endowment Senior Fellow Stephen Wertheim has noted, “You don’t get to lose a war and expect the result to look like you won it.” SDUSA must stand strong in the whirlwind of criticism of Biden on this matter. Remember, taking a stand against the authoritarian democracy known as Trumpism – a threat to social democracy – is important as our history plays out. Biden and Blinken have been removing Americans and our allies from Kabul Airport, Pakistan, Mazar-i-Sharif and the other countries bordering Afghanistan in the north.
So, lets weave another narrative to compete with the dominant media narrative. SDUSA and its supporters must continue the charge into the 2022 midterm election. The media criticism only strengthens the right-wing, and Biden has already lost polling points. We cannot lose our democratic republic!
Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.
Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.