Biden's Disastrous Afghanistan Withdrawal | Opinion

Joe Biden has repeated the mantra "America is back" ever since the November 2020 election. After four years of Donald Trump's non-interventionist "America first" foreign policy, Biden's administration made clear from the outset that it intended to re-engage with the world. Other Western leaders adored him for his approach, but that sense of optimism has disintegrated in record time. Biden's unforced decision to withdraw unilaterally from Afghanistan will have consequences that affect everyone. For those left in the region, a humanitarian crisis awaits. For the West, a renewed terror threat now exists.

On July 8, Biden said "The Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army.... There's going to be no circumstance in which you are going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States in Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable." With pictures of Chinook helicopters ferrying personnel from the U.S. Embassy compound in Kabul to Hamid Karzai airport on Sunday, the president must now regret uttering those words. But this is far more serious than some political spat about his judgment. The potential implications of this foreign policy disaster cannot be overstated.

After a seemingly endless series of foreign wars, it is not surprising that public support among NATO members for American troops' presence in Afghanistan was weakening. Trump himself campaigned to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. But the execution of a withdrawal is just as important as an advance. It is in this regard that Biden has failed so completely. He decided, without consulting his allies, to bring home all U.S. troops in time for the 20th anniversary of 9/11. His thinking, presumably, was that this would mark the end of U.S. soldiers returning home in body bags. This was a dreadful miscalculation. He underestimated the strength of the Taliban. And the irony is that his decision was unnecessary.

Heightening the overall sense of chaos was the lack of a coherent escape plan for U.S. nationals, U.K. nationals and Afghans who worked with both forces. The appalling scenes at Kabul airport, where at least seven people died in the evacuation, are deeply concerning. Ben Wallace, the U.K. defense secretary, admitted this week that although Britain is evacuating Afghans who worked for British forces, some who are eligible to leave will be left behind. Given that hundreds of British nationals are also still in Afghanistan, who can say at this stage how the nightmare will play out? Memories of the Iran hostage crisis, in which dozens of diplomats and citizens were held in Tehran from 1979 until 1981 (some of whom were released at intervals) must be uppermost in Biden's mind. The Iranian fiasco finished off President Jimmy Carter's career. In terms of strategic planning, Biden has blundered. Everyone in the West can only hope and pray that the evacuation continues and that talks with the Taliban allow all foreign nationals to leave Kabul swiftly and safely.

Taliban fighters in Kabul
Taliban fighters patrol along a road in Kabul on August 17, 2021, as the Taliban moved quickly to restart the Afghan capital following their stunning takeover of Kabul and told government staff to return to work. WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared yesterday "This is manifestly not Saigon," in an attempt to pour cold water on parallels between the reemergence of Taliban rule and the communist takeover of South Vietnam in 1975. Blinken is right, but not in the way he wants people to believe. The fact is that the situation in Afghanistan is potentially far graver than that triggered by the end of the Vietnam War almost 50 years ago.

Although the Americans opposed the spread of communism during the Vietnam War, the fall of Saigon did not pose a direct threat to our way of life in the West. The Viet Cong did not consist of fanatics who were ready to commit atrocities on British or American streets. The Taliban is completely different. Indeed, its involvement in international terrorism was the reason it was invaded in 2001. With the Americans having voluntarily withdrawn from Afghanistan, who would bet against radicals underlining their position of strength in a Western city? U.S. and U.K. security services will now be at full stretch as they try to contain this threat.

If Donald Trump had been president when this withdrawal took place, the condemnation of his actions would have been total. I listened yesterday to the BBC's man in Washington saying that he did not think the political implications for Biden would prove to be serious. I disagree. The approval ratings for this hapless president show he is increasingly unpopular. And those of his deputy, Kamala Harris, were falling even before this disaster. I predict both politicians' approval ratings will fall further.

A highly decorated British soldier named James Glancy returned to Afghanistan in February. He was helped on that trip by four Afghan interpreters. Yesterday he announced that all four were murdered last Thursday outside their homes in Kandahar. The dark days of Afghanistan are back and Biden has blood on his hands.

Nigel Farage is senior editor-at-large of Newsweek's "The Debate" platform.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.