The speech that shamed America: Its contemptible dishonesty would have made Donald Trump blush. Now, this blistering analysis by ANDREW NEIL asks – how can the liberals’ hero Joe Biden ever recover?
It was the most contemptible speech by a U.S. president in modern times — a speech that shames America and leaves its global reputation in the dirt.
Much of his address to the U.S. on Monday was Orwellian. In his classic novel 1984, set in a totalitarian dystopia, George Orwell created a Ministry of Peace which waged war, a Ministry of Truth which peddled lies, a Ministry of Love which tortured dissidents and a Ministry of Plenty which oversaw starvation.
Biden matched all of that and more with his own defiant doublethink, involving distortions, the rewriting of history, and nonsense and untruths that even Trump would struggle to rival.
His abject surrender to the Taliban was dressed up as political reality and common sense. His scuttle from Kabul, still ongoing, was depicted as geopolitical wisdom and a refocusing of U.S. priorities.
Any mistakes or problems were the fault of others, from Trump to the Afghan army.
But make no mistake: the person overwhelmingly responsible for the appalling scenes currently unfolding on our TV screens is the man sitting in the Oval Office.
The fall of Kabul and the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan is the most humiliating foreign policy disaster for America since the end of World War II.
It combines the cack-handedness of the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when President Kennedy’s attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro with a CIA-backed invasion force of Cuban rebels ended in farce and global embarrassment; and the devastating blow to U.S. prestige worldwide that followed the fall of Saigon in 1975, from which it took America a generation to recover.
It will probably take America another generation to recover from the debacle in Kabul.
It is not clear if the Biden presidency will ever recover, especially since it is likely that the worst in Afghanistan is yet to come.
So far, the bodies falling from a U.S. military transporter and another found mangled in its undercarriage are the defining pictures of the Biden presidency. But who knows what further atrocities await?
Perhaps the most egregious bit of Biden’s speech was the way he framed the choice before him: either America cut and run (of course, he didn’t use these words but that’s what’s happening); or there had to be yet another massive U.S. military build-up which could see America in Afghanistan for another 20 years.
Biden put it that way because he knows there is no appetite among U.S. voters for further, deeper involvement.
‘How many more generations of daughters and sons would you have me send to fight Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not?’ he asked, knowing full well that the answer would be a resounding: ‘None!’
But his binary choice was as deceptive as it was cynical.
There was a third way — largely a continuation of an enhanced status quo.
For some time now, a small number of U.S. troops — around 2,500 — and their allies have worked with the Afghan military to contain the Taliban, with some success. The Afghans have done most of the fighting and there hasn’t been a U.S. casualty on the battlefield for 18 months. That’s right, not a single American body bag out of Afghanistan since February 2020.
America’s bipartisan Afghan Study Group, set up by Congress, recommended six months ago that the U.S. position could be sustained with a military force of around 4,500, perhaps supplemented by several thousand Nato allies, whose primary purpose would be not to fight, but to provide the Afghan military with the leadership, backbone, intelligence and air power to confront the Taliban.
Something like that was already working and the study group’s proposals would have made it even more effective. The group predicted that, without this approach, the country would soon fall to the Taliban, followed by the return of Al-Qaeda.
It was a prescient report, proposing only a small extra price for continued security.
But, against the advice of his military and intelligence top brass, Biden chose to reject it out of hand, perhaps because he had an eye on next year’s mid-term elections and a desire to claim he’d brought military engagement in Afghanistan to an end.
Thus did Biden allow party politics to trump security and lives? He claimed America could not occupy Afghanistan for ever. But the U.S. did not occupy Afghanistan. It merely had a small but vital military presence there. It no more occupied Afghanistan than it does South Korea or Japan or Italy or Spain, countries where it also has an important military presence.
Instead of continuing with a limited but crucial role, Biden chose to dump on his erstwhile Afghan allies. Yes, the Afghan forces did crumble before the Taliban; but that was because their political leaders had told them not to fight to ‘avoid a blood bath’, and because they felt abandoned by the U.S. and its essential airpower.
Politicians should be careful not to smear those who serve in uniform when it’s their lives on the line. As U.S. forces have drawn down, the Afghan military has borne the brunt of the action, suffering 45,000 fatalities in recent years (66,000 since 2001).
It was unbecoming of President Biden to demean a foreign army which has incurred such a death toll in defence of its country while carrying out U.S. policy. But in his speech there were no lengths he wasn’t prepared to go to wash his hands of any responsibility.
It was particularly pathetic to blame Trump, implying he’d been trapped by his predecessor’s talks with the Taliban.
True, Trump’s deal with the Taliban was a bad one — especially the bit that allowed the release of 5,000 terrorists and assorted bad guys. But other parts of the deal were conditional on Taliban good behaviour, and they’d already started breaking the conditions.
The idea Biden’s hands were tied is nonsense. He’s broken with a myriad other Trump policies, so why not this one?
The truth is Biden warmly embraced the Trump ‘peace deal’. So did Vice President Kamala Harris, who praised Biden’s ‘courage’ for sticking to it and even tried to claim some of the credit for that.
It is blatant untruths like this which make the speech a particular disgrace, and his text is peppered with them.
He claimed the U.S. was in Afghanistan only on a counter-terrorist mission, not for nation-building, implying he had no time for that. Yet, in 2001, as the U.S. intervention was under way, he attacked Republican resistance to nation-building and looked forward to a ‘relatively stable government in Afghanistan . . . which represents the ethnic make-up of the country and provides the foundation for future reconstruction of that country’. In other words, nation-building.
Two years later, he said: ‘The alternative to nation-building is chaos, a chaos that churns out bloodthirsty warlords, drug-traffickers and terrorists.’
The fact is, the counter-terrorism strategy of the U.S. and its allies has been a success. Afghanistan has not been a base for international terrorism for 20 years. And, in the process, some very worthwhile building of a civil society has been achieved. In 2001, before the Taliban fell and Al-Qaeda fled, there were one million pupils in Afghanistan, every one of them male. Today there are 9.5 million — and 40 per cent are female.
All that, of course, is in jeopardy as the Taliban returns women to medieval status, or worse, despite the promises made in recent days by its leaders.
Biden had nothing to say about any of this in his speech. Perhaps he doesn’t care. In 2010, he told Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan, that the U.S. had to leave, regardless of the consequences for women.
Holbrooke records in his diary that, when confronted with America’s obligations to ordinary Afghans, he replied: ‘F*** that. We don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam. Nixon and Kissinger got away with it.’
So perhaps we should not be surprised by Biden’s ice-cold dishonesty on Monday. Or by the naked U.S. parochialism.
Trump was rightly criticised for his ‘America First’ mantra, a simplistic proposition for a superpower with complex global interests and responsibilities. But Biden gave us an America First speech on Monday — with not a word of thanks for America’s allies, especially Britain, who’ve stood by America in Afghanistan for two decades, at the cost of much blood.
There have been more than 450 British fatalities, and many more service men and women left with life-changing injuries. But should we really have been surprised?
The allies, including Britain, had no say in the substance or timing of the U.S. withdrawal. Indeed, they weren’t even consulted. It was presented to them as a fait accompli. So much for Biden’s promise, contrasting himself with Trump, to treat allies with respect. We should remember this next time America needs our help in a foreign adventure.
Seven years ago, President Obama’s former defence secretary, Robert Gates, wrote in his memoirs that Biden ‘has been wrong on nearly every foreign policy and national security issue over the last four decades’. After the debacle in Kabul we can change that to five decades.
But we can take no comfort from it. As the Taliban return Afghanistan to barbarism and welcome back their old terrorist mates to their pre-2001 safe haven, the world is suddenly a lot more dangerous than it was even a month ago. A flood of refugees will soon be heading our way, a boon to Right-wing populists. From the safety and security of the Hindu Kush, attacks will be plotted against us.
Welcome to the Biden Legacy, our new Orwellian nightmare.