Afghanistan: Biden Speaks
Commercial traffic at KBL not yet restored, "there's always an aviation angle"
The situation in Afghanistan continues to develop quickly after Monday’s post. Soon the situation at Kabul International Airport will resolve, and the Taliban will engage in many of the procedures of governance.
The headline news is the Biden speech. But before we get to that speech, some historical points:
The February 2020 Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan was not approved by the US Senate as part of its ratification process. To the best of my knowledge, it was not even discussed on the floor of the US Senate. UN Security Council Resolution 2513 “welcomes” the signing of the Agreement.
The US intervention in Afghanistan was, technically, a NATO involvement. The United States invoked Article 5 in response to the September 11 attacks. Germany and Italy completed their withdrawal (excluding personnel operating either as embassy staff or under the legal fiction of being embassy staff) on June 30th. It is not clear whether these countries had a separate agreement with the Taliban, or if they were implicitly party to the US agreement.
The political and pundit class of America continues to make inane statements ignoring the historical record. I quote Michael Franken (a candidate for Senate in Iowa): “The Taliban was never going to strike a peace deal.” Of course, the Taliban did strike a peace deal — the aforementioned Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan.
And it is August 17th and Afghanistan is almost entirely at peace. The primary exception is the chaos at the Kabul International Airport, the one area of the country where the Taliban have refrained from trying to exercise authority.
Evacuations in Kabul
The main reason there was a mess of an evacuation in Kabul is because the various Western governments would not instruct diplomats to leave until the Taliban were at the (metaphorical) gates of Kabul. The Civil Authority then failed to exert physical control over the airport. So long as Western countries have an official diplomatic position of “willful incompetence”, certain low-level snafus are inevitable.
At one point, CNN live coverage suggested that even 1000 evacuations per day is more than is feasible. That is just dumb. With operations at the airport restored, there should be sufficient capacity to evacuate everyone who will be evacuated in under 24 hours.
I suppose there could be a possible capacity issue if the airport does not have ground access to jet fuel. But (presumably) the Taliban plans to continue to operate the Kabul International Airport, and with no active fighting the supply lines should be operating. And even if there is no jet fuel, it should be possible to do short hops via Islamabad to avoid needing to fuel in Kabul.
On August 16 at 2000 GMT, Joe Biden gave a speech on the topic of the situation in Afghanistan. This was a critical moment for his presidency: if Biden gave a bad speech, it would have been the first day of the end of his presidency. Biden did not give a bad speech.
The key point is “declare victory and get out”, throwing the defunct Ghani regime under the bus:
With the benefit of hindsight, leaving Afghanistan was inevitably going to lead to a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Acknowledging that fact, Biden said “I stand squarely behind my decision”.
“This did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated”. I did not expect the speed either; I assumed there would be at least a nominal force willing to fight on the outskirts of Kabul, and the Taliban would wait at least a week to gather forces (and allow for Western evacuations) before engaging in open battle.
Biden did not start an evacuation earlier for two reasons. First, many people did not want to evacuate until the Taliban was at the (metaphorical) gates of Kabul. Second, he did not want to initiate a “crisis of confidence” in the Ghani government.
Biden thoroughly blamed the Ghani government for the political situation. He blamed Ghani, who “gave up and fled the country”. He blamed Ghani for not engaging in honest negotiations with the Taliban.
He said “we gave them every chance”; you can hear the weariness in his breath as he explains just how much had been done.
The speech is effectively Biden saying that the Afghan Civil War (1973-2021) is over, and Ashraf Ghani lost. We leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine who won.
The press coverage after the statement has been quite low-quality:
Many commentators don’t understand or appreciate that the US government does not and will not release its full Intelligence reports on-demand. This is non-negotiable.
There continue to be arguments along the lines of: won’t somebody think of the women and children who will suffer under the Taliban. However, it is by no means certain that the dystopian predictions will happen in the second Taliban government. If they do, there will certainly be resistance movements next year that do not exist solely off of American largesse. It is obscene to maintain an occupation forever out of fear of one winter of suffering.
By the end of the week, talk of a “botched evacuation” will hopefully seem silly. During the overnight hours, US military troops regained operational control of the Kabul International Airport. The Taliban will not go near the airport until the evacuation is complete.
There continues to be a strong political contingent (retired military officials like HR McMaster, politicians like Ben Sasse, and pundits like Sean Hannity) who are dishonest and craven and feel the US should freely break its agreements, and that the US can do so with impunity. The status quo in Afghanistan was predicated on a withdrawal, and these people must know that. They are simply lying to promote their unpopular political opinions, and they must be ignored.