(c) 2021, The Washington PostAnne Gearan, Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

With Taliban fighters determined to oust the US-backed government of Afghanistan – and thereby dismantle the entire 20-year, tens of billions of dollars effort to try to root a Western-style democracy on Afghan soil – this weekend President Joe Biden offered compassion to those left behind. “Our hearts go out to the brave Afghan men and women who are now at risk,” he said in a statement Saturday night as insurgents surrounded Kabul.

But then Biden turned to the cold calculations that motivated his decision to end this mission that has cost more than 2,000 American lives.

“One more year, five more years, of a US military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan armed forces cannot protect their own country,” Biden said. “And an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”

It was a stark, raw analysis of a president best known for his mystical-eyed empathy. It reflects an increasingly defiant and defensive tone from Biden and his collaborators in the face of criticism that he is condemning a US ally to the brutal tyranny of an Islamist fundamentalism and opening the doors to new terrorist threats.

Rep. Michael Waltz, R-FL, a US Army Reserve officer who had multiple campaigns in Afghanistan, said Biden’s unwillingness to do more to help the country – and to protect translators and coordinators who helped US soldiers – shows a callousness that is going to make it difficult for us to win allies for the next conflict the nation faces.

“Who is going to trust us now? I ask. Who is going to trust us enough to risk not only their lives, but the lives of all their family members to support the United States, be it protests in Cuba, or be it Taiwan? This is going to resonate for years. “

Waltz is also upset, and lost, by what he called a complete failure to protect the vulnerable Afghans who have helped Americans over the past two decades.

“I don’t know if he has no idea what is really going to happen to these people or if there is some kind of distinction in his mind that he just doesn’t care,” Waltz said. “I don’t know what to make of all this.”

Biden monitored the debacle Sunday from Camp David in Maryland, where he had a video conference with national security advisers. White House officials presented a report to a bipartisan group of lawmakers Sunday. Before his remarks, Biden had not spoken publicly about Afghanistan since Tuesday.

The White House line was firm. There is no military solution for Afghanistan and Biden will not allow more Americans to die in this cause, US officials said. That is a position that is supported by public opinion as polls show, and it echoes the “America First” agenda of former President Donald Trump.

“What I am feeling and thinking about the situation in Afghanistan, I cannot summarize on Twitter,” tweeted Rep. Rubén Gallego, D-AZ, himself a veteran of the Iraq War. “But one thing that definitely stands out to me is that I have not received a single call from constituents on this issue and my district has a large population of veterans.”

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US officials noted that Trump initiated the troop withdrawal based on the same reason to prevent the senseless death of US soldiers in battle.

Biden refused to extend a futile mission that lacked the support of the American people, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, shortly before the Kabul government fell.

“And by the way, from the perspective of our strategic competitors around the world, there is nothing they would like more than to see us entangled in Afghanistan for another 5, 10 or 20 years,” Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the World.” Union”. “It’s just not in the interests of the nation.”

The end came on Sunday, smoothly and symbolically. Helicopters flew evacuation missions from the US Embassy – a scenario that Biden had said would never happen – and the US flag was removed. For the second day in a row, the Pentagon ordered more troops to the country as part of a temporary mission to assist in the chaotic US withdrawal.

The Taliban proclaimed the return of their Islamic confederation – which means that the militants who guarded the preparation for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 will be back in power on the 20th anniversary of that event.

The Afghans rushed to the airport, and the US ambassador in charge left the country.

So did President Ashraf Ghani, who had thanked Biden profusely for the sacrifice of American lives in Afghanistan during a visit to the White House in June.

“The Afghans are going to have to decide their future from what they – what they want,” Biden said at the time, adding that the United States would support with money and other forms of aid.

“We are going to do our best to make sure you guys have the tools you need,” he said in a clear rebuttal of the possibility that the United States acted as a builder of the country.

Biden may not be isolated by public opposition to the war as he may believe, critics say. Nor is it presumed that Trump’s support for troop withdrawal automatically transfers immunity to Biden, said Nathan Sales, the State Department counterterrorism coordinator under Trump.

“The Biden administration owns this situation because it has taken the approach of the Trump administration, based on the fulfillment of conditions, and they have replaced it with a determination to get out of there regardless of the circumstances on the ground,” said Sales, now affiliated with the “Atlantic Council”.

Biden initially supported the invasion of Afghanistan but changed his mind when the war turned into a stalemate with the Taliban, as efforts to establish an effective elected government faced continued failure. He opposed the expansion of the war under President Barack Obama, when he was vice president, and has now assumed the presidency determined to end it.

“So let me ask those who wanted us to stay: How many more – how many thousands more lives of America’s sons and daughters are willing to risk? How long would they make them stay there? ”Biden said in a speech from the White House last month. “We already have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago. Are we also sending your children and your grandchildren too? Would you send your own sons or daughters?

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Throughout his political career, Biden has spoken in sharply personal terms about a strong, even sacred, obligation to protect American soldiers and their families from the costs of America’s wars.

He concludes many of his public addresses with the solemn prayer: “May God protect our troops.” Following his announcement in April about the withdrawal of US troops, Biden shed a couple of tears while visiting the section of Arlington Cemetery where the dead from the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are buried.

Biden’s eldest son, Beau Biden, was a member of the Army National Guard in Delaware, and was dispatched to Iraq in 2008. The president has repeatedly referenced his own concerns about his son’s safety – and about his cancer death in 2015 aged 46 – speaking about the effects of keeping troops in Afghanistan.

Beau Biden’s unit was activated for a campaign in Iraq the day after Joe Biden participated in the vice-presidential debate in 2008, and Biden then spoke about his feelings on national television.

“I don’t want him to go,” Biden said. “But I’ll tell you what – I don’t want my grandson or my granddaughter to go again in 15 years, so the way we withdraw will make a difference.”

Later, Biden said that his son’s exposure to military fire pits during his campaigns could have killed him.

“He offered to join the National Guard at 32 because he thought it was his obligation,” Biden said at a Service Employees International Union convention in October. “And because he was exposed to combustion wells – in my opinion, I can’t prove it yet – he came back with stage 4 glioblastoma.”

Biden often supports people who have lost loved ones to tragedies, and seems especially affected by the consequences of modern wars, at home and abroad. But it seems to have ruled out his mercy when it comes to those who live beyond US borders.

As a presidential candidate last year, Biden was asked whether the United States had a responsibility to Afghan women and girls pending a possible Taliban takeover. “No, I do not have it!” Biden said. “Do I have the responsibility? Zero responsibilities ”.

“The idea that we can use our armed forces to resolve each of the internal conflicts that exist in the world is simply not within our capabilities,” he continued. “The question is: Is the vital interest of the United States at risk, or the vital interest of some of our allied countries?

Authors Information:

Cleve R. Wootson Jr. is a national policy reporter for the Washington Post. Previously, he worked in the general subjects team. Before that, he was a reporter for the Charlotte Observer.

Anne Gearan is a White House correspondent for the Washington Post, with a focus on foreign policy and national security. She covered the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the State Department for the Post, before joining the White House team. He started working at the newspaper in 2012.

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