Afghan pullout could be risky for Biden

Thursday - 15/04/2021 08:51
IMAGE COPYRIGHTAFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
IMAGE COPYRIGHTAFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
"It's time to end America's longest war," President Joe Biden said as he announced the withdrawal of all US troops from Afghanistan later this year.

The current president - who as Barack Obama's vice-president frequently opposed a large US presence in the nation - was pledging to finish a process set in motion by the previous president, Donald Trump, last year.

That his administration will miss the Trump-negotiated deadline of 1 May has been overshadowed by the symbolism of Biden's new deadline, 11 September, the 20th anniversary of the attack that instigated US entry into Afghanistan.

Trump's actions have insulated Biden from significant criticism, even from conservative hawks. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell called Biden's decision a "grave mistake," but others - like Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Missouri Senator Josh Hawley - have voiced support.

The move faces little opposition from an American public that includes many who were only children when the war began and may not even be able to explain exactly why it began.

There are currently about 3,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan - down from more than 100,000 a decade ago. During his speech, Mr Biden noted that 2,488 Americans have died in the conflict.

"It is time for American troops to come home," Biden said on Wednesday.

"We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result," Biden continued.

"I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth."

To drive this point home, Biden travelled across the Potomac River after concluding his speech to pay tribute to the graves of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan who are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

He wanted to remind the nation of the price in blood it has paid for the 20-year conflict.

While the short-term political downside from withdrawing the remaining US soldiers appears to be minimal, the move is not without risk for Biden.

If the Taliban takes power and cracks down on women's rights, or if the nation once again becomes a staging ground for extremist militants, the American public could hold Biden responsible - and today's critics will have new ammunition.

Biden said that the US would continue to support Afghan government security forces - and encourage peace negotiations with the rebel Taliban leaders. That may not be enough to ensure stability in the region.

A generation of Americans remembers the dramatic fall of South Vietnam after the US withdrew from that nation - and the accusations that the US was responsible for the ensuing bloodshed.

A similar conclusion to the Afghanistan civil war could leave a similar scar on the American psyche.

In the meantime, however, Biden will claim credit for ending "America's longest war" and focusing the nation's efforts on domestic challenges. Such a position is on solid political ground - for now.

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 Keywords: Afghanistan

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