It has been said that victory has many fathers, but defeat is an orphan.
America’s defeat in Afghanistan has many fathers. But first and foremost, among them is none other than Joe Biden, with a capable assist from his former boss Barack Obama.
Many mistakes were made over the years, by politicians, bureaucrats and generals and admirals. But there was one fork in the road in which Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, at the behest of Biden, then vice-president.
Biden’s work was not limited to screwing up Afghanistan. He also personally fumbled the agreement with the Iraqi government for U.S. forces there, spearheading the hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq that led to the formation of ISIS and its caliphate, bringing death to tens of thousands innocent men, women and children.
The sad story begins with the successful surge in Iraq in 2007 when President George W. Bush took the advice of his military advisers to deploy additional troops to Iraq to break the back of the insurgency there. There was a lot of debate before President Bush made the decision to do the surge, with many in the Republican party believing that Iraq was an unwinnable quagmire. For their part, the Democrats opposed the entire war and insisted that the surge was just an escalation that would only result in more US casualties.
The surge turned out to work. It broke the back of the Iraqi insurgency and some of the most dangerous places on earth, like Ramadi and Fallujah, became peaceful as a result.
Meanwhile, back in the USA, then-Senator Barack Obama began a presidential election campaign in which he claimed that Iraq was the “wrong” war and had distracted us from the “good” war, namely Afghanistan. He pledged as president to focus on Afghanistan and correct the mistakes of the past.
Once in office, Obama changed his tune.
A debate ensued in the Obama administration in the summer of 2009 about what to do about Afghanistan.
Generals Stanley McChrystal (commander of the forces in Afghanistan) and David Petraeus had proposed a surge into Afghanistan of 80,000 troops to both finish off the Al Qaeda elements there and also defeat the Taliban. Backing their proposal up were Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.
McChrystal had achieved a great deal of success in Iraq, particularly highlighted by the tracking and killing of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Petraeus was one of the architects of the surge that had succeeded in Iraq.
They wanted to surge 80,000 combat troops into Afghanistan forthwith and keep forces there until conditions on the ground warranted their withdrawal.
Unfortunately, there was another camp within the administration that had a different view. That camp was led by Vice President Joe Biden along with politicos Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod.
The Biden faction maintained that the U.S. should stick to a narrow, constrained mission and publicly set a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. They believed that America’s mission in Afghanistan should have just been to go after Al Qaeda, not to defeat the Taliban. The obvious problem with this view is the fact that the Taliban and Al Qaeda had been closely allied for years and Al Qaeda was only in Afghanistan because the Taliban invited them there. Most importantly, Biden ignored the fact that the Taliban and Al Qaeda were tied by a common doctrine and had the same goals, namely the establishment of rule by sharia, not just in Afghanistan, but globally. That is why the Taliban announced that they wanted to make Afghanistan a launching pad for global jihad when they took power in 1996.
Biden and Emanuel told Obama that Democrats would not support an expanded, extended U.S. combat presence in Afghanistan.
Now Obama was literally paralyzed, not knowing what to do. Reports indicated that he did not trust his military commanders and believed it was his job to hold them back.
A frustrated General McChrystal was particularly critical of Vice President Biden, and he said so in a speech at the Strategic Studies Institute in London in October. He called Biden’s plan “short sighted” and said that the Biden approach would turn Afghanistan into “Chaosistan.” (This was way back in 2009—that’s right, in 2009 Joe Biden was proposing plans for Afghanistan that would have resulted in chaos, according to the military commander on the scene. Is it any wonder that 7 months into the Biden administration we now have chaos in Afghanistan?)
The debate continued for months. What had started as an urgent plan by the military commanders in the early summer of 2009 stretched all the way to December with no decision from the president.
Finally, President Obama made his decision and on December 10—a full half year later—he announced a plan in a speech.
Instead of the 80,000 troops the generals in command had requested and planned for, he was going to send less than half that number to Afghanistan—30,000. Just as bad, he publicly announced that the troops would only stay until July, 2011. As if to add insult to injury, he also announced a “civilian surge” into Afghanistan in which thousands of civilians of various stripes would be sent to Afghanistan to help the Afghans do things they most likely had no desire to do and learn things that they weren’t interested in learning. This civilian component complicated the security situation in Afghanistan as now the overstretched U.S. troops had a slew of civilians they had to watch out for.
The withdrawal deadline sent a clear message to the Taliban and Al Qaeda alike: just lay low and hide out and eventually the Americans will quit.
This was the inflection point in Afghanistan, the fork in the road. From that point on, there was no—there could be no—strategy for victory. The mission became ill-defined. Instead of making a real effort to defeat the Taliban and thus lay bare their Al Qaeda allies like the U.S. military wanted to do, our troops were relegated for years to a game of wack-a-mole, a war of attrition.
Who lost Afghanistan? Joe Biden and Barack Obama—way back in 2009.