While assuring Americans that "the buck stops with me," President Joe Biden spent much of his speech Monday blaming everyone else but himself and his administration for the foreign policy catastrophe unfolding in Afghanistan.
During his defiant, defensive speech, Biden blamed the debacle on former President Barack Obama for having surged U.S. forces in Afghanistan to fend off the Taliban, President Donald Trump for having negotiated a terrible deal with the Taliban committing American forces to leave precipitously by May 1—and, most egregiously, Afghans themselves for supposedly being unwilling to fend off the Taliban's horrifying advance.
Only a month ago, Biden justified his decision to abandon the Afghanistan effort by arguing that two decades of American military training and over $1 trillion in economic and military support had left the Afghan government and its military more than capable of defending their country; on Monday, he castigated Afghans for not being able to do so.
Biden's speech glossed over his own administration's gross misjudgment about the Taliban's capabilities and intentions. "This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated," Biden conceded almost in passing, his sole suggestion of culpability.
Biden's speech underplayed the military advice he was given to maintain some 2,500 troops in the country to prevent a resurgence of Al Qaeda under Taliban protection. And it wasn't just the military offering such counsel.
In his speech Monday, the president essentially characterized the mayhem at the Kabul airport as a consequence of America's "forever war"—and, incredibly, of the reluctance of some Afghan interpreters to leave—rather than of his rushed, ill-planned exit strategy, insufficient military preparation, the closure of Bagram air base, and a colossal intelligence failure about the strength of the Taliban and the growing weakness of the Afghan security forces.
Reasonable people can disagree about whether the U.S. should have kept at least a modest troop presence in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future to prevent a Taliban takeover. But Biden himself is to blame for the disaster sparked by the manner of his withdrawal.
His decision to send 6,000 more soldiers to the country reflects recognition of that error, and of his failure to plan adequately for the evacuation of the 18,000 Afghans (with their 57,000 family members) who worked with the American military.
Americans fed up with protracted military engagements abroad, especially the unpopular Afghan war, will likely respond positively to Biden's message. But while the president's retreat from Afghanistan may not prove politically fatal at home, the decision could have disastrous consequences elsewhere, not only for the Afghan people but also for American international credibility and our national security—both at home and abroad.