A Defeat of Choice

The attacks Thursday at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed 13 U.S. troops, making it the deadliest single day of the war for Americans in more than a decade. More than 90 Afghans trying to escape a return to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan also died. Losing Americans is always tragic, but losing them in the process of a chaotic capitulation is unforgivable. And that’s what the incompetence and hubris of the Biden administration has produced. 

When President Joe Biden addressed the country after the attacks, he offered somber and appropriate gratitude for the sacrifices of our servicemembers. But as he has so many times over this crisis of his own making, Biden also offered politically self-serving distortions that spun the reality of the unfolding crisis to a point that it was almost unrecognizable. He celebrated “an airlift and evacuation effort unlike any seen in history,” as if the chaotic retreat of American forces were a moment of triumph. He said “this is the way [our mission] was designed to operate, operate under severe stress and attack,” as if it was all part of the plan. He pledged that “these ISIS terrorists will not win” and emphasized that they are “an archenemy of the Taliban,” an awkward attempt to contrast the jihadists who conducted these attacks with the jihadists his administration is relying on as the U.S. military’s new counterterrorism partner. 

It’s an absurd proposition. But the Biden administration—out of naivete, desperation or both—is determined to test it. Politico reported Thursday that the U.S. government provided the Taliban with “a list of names of American citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies to grant entry into the militant-controlled outer perimeter of the city’s airport.” This is the same Taliban whose deputy leader, Siraj Haqqani, has a $10 million bounty on his head from the State Department’s Rewards for Justice program. The same Taliban that has harbored al-Qaeda for more than two decades, helping those terrorists lay the groundwork for the 9/11 attacks and the war they knew would follow. The same Taliban that freed thousands of imprisoned jihadists—from ISIS, from al-Qaeda—as it took the country. The same Taliban responsible for the deaths of Americans in Afghanistan by the hundreds. The same Taliban that controls access to the airport and the very gates where ISIS terrorists were able to detonate their bombs. The enemy of our enemy is not our friend, no matter how much our leaders might wish it were so. The enemy of our enemy is our enemy. 

Contrary to a common claim, the invasion of Afghanistan was never a “war of choice.” Politically, strategically, and morally, Congress and the president had as much choice to respond militarily after the attacks of September 11, 2001, as their predecessors did in 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. We cannot dispute that the two-decade war effort was subject to deplorable mission creep and mismanagement. But it is no less indisputable that what we’ve witnessed over the course of Afghanistan’s cruelest summer is a defeat of choice.

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