The Buck Stops With No One After Biden’s Afghanistan Debacle
James Mattis quit after Trump decided to pull out of Syria. Anthony Blinken should have quit after Biden pulled out of Afghanistan—and he should have been fired when he didn’t.
“Secretary of Defense James Mattis submitted his resignation...It was an honorable thing to do. But it wasn’t much of a choice. He did exactly what military tradition demands when one can’t ethically or morally support the boss anymore.”
Those words were written in 2018 by John Kirby, the current Pentagon press secretary who, last Friday, claimed that Afghanistan’s capital city “Kabul is not, right now, in an imminent-threat environment.” Kirby’s assessment lasted about 48 hours. One wonders what “military tradition” demands of him.
When things go to hell, as they have in Afghanistan, accountability and honor dictate that someone should get the axe or fall on their sword—or resign in protest. That’s what happened when Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syria withdrawal, which turned out to be much less of a calamity than Biden’s. Yet somehow this administration is continuing to insist that this is fine, despite how ridiculously removed that assessment is from the commander in chief’s own predictions for what would happen and the horrific footage that we are all seeing.
In his speech about the catastrophe he created with a precipitous and poorly planned withdrawal that handed Afghanistan back to the Taliban, Biden stood up and said that “I am President of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me.” But then he said that things were going according to plan, and that besides the problem was the deal Trump entered into and the cowardice of the Afghan army and, really everything but him, before walking off without answering questions.
Does Biden really think that the people advising him deserve to keep their jobs; do the people advising him really think the way he handled this is acceptable? Really?
His people are talking now about how this horrific withdrawal and betrayal of everyone who fought with us there over 20 years will liberate America to restore its standing in the world. Really?
It’s not just me asking. After The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday evening that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was warned by U.S. diplomats in July that Kabul could collapse soon after a withdrawal, Sen. Marsha Blackburn tweeted: “If the @WSJ report that Secretary Blinken knew terrorists were coming to Kabul is true, and he did nothing about it, then he needs to resign immediately.”
Instead, Blinken has been spinning about how what happened in Afghanistan “is not Saigon.” In fact it’s worse in many ways.
It turns out that Biden’s message-controlled bubble is more catastrophic, even if it’s less of a press carnival, than Trump’s endlessly leaky ship.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. In 2014, John McCain warned that Blinken was “unqualified” to become national security advisor. ”This individual has actually been dangerous to America,” he said, criticizing Blinken for wanting to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014. “We must leave a stabilizing force behind of a few thousand troops,” McCain said, “or we will see again what we saw in Iraq.”
Or consider Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor. According to Brett Bruen, who served with Sullivan in the Obama White House, Biden should fire Sullivan because “It was on Sullivan to figure out how to achieve the president’s goal while ensuring we avoided potential pitfalls and problems. That’s clearly not what happened.”
Actually, though, it is understandable that nobody has had their employment terminated. According to Biden’s recent interview with George Stephanopoulos, “The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing—I don’t know how that happens.” This statement clearly contradicts Biden’s earlier, more rosy, predictions. But it’s hard to hold anyone else accountable when Biden is suggesting that the withdrawal went according to plan.
If firing the people who thought this withdrawal was a great idea is out of the question, why hasn’t anybody resigned? If this was the plan, the plan is sickening.
After all, according to The Wall Street Journal, Biden’s decision to withdraw forces from Afghanistan came “against the recommendations of his top military generals and many diplomats, who warned that a hasty withdrawal would undermine security in Afghanistan, several administration and defense officials said.” A Politico story from April sheds light on how Biden and his team “overrode the brass,” noting that “Experts say Biden chose [Defense Secretary Lloyd] Austin for his Pentagon chief precisely because he would follow orders.”
Wouldn’t the honorable thing, as Kirby suggested, be for some respected military leader to resign on principle?
This brings us back to Mattis. As NPR reported, “The final break [for Mattis and Trump] appeared to be over major withdrawals of American forces from Syria and Afghanistan, which Trump ordered over the objections of his national security advisers, including Mattis.”
Mattis’s fears regarding a possible ISIS resurgence and the consequences of abandoning our Kurdish allies have largely not lived up to the hype; this is partly because the media moves on and partly because Trump ended up leaving 900 troops in Syria (Lindsey Graham convinced him that we had to control the oil fields). But Mattis’s resignation created friction for Trump, demonstrating that there would be a price to pay for his behavior, and possibly providing space for others to find face-saving ways to get Trump to back away from the cliff.
When Trump did crazy things, his team would often preemptively leak details to the media to control the narrative. In the case of Syria, Mattis resigned in protest. Other times, military brass (or the “deep state”) would slow-roll Trump orders in hopes he would forget about them or get distracted by something shiny. When Trump would eventually get his way (as was the case with his beloved military parade), it would often be a scaled-back/delayed version of his original vision. Trump could also be manipulated into revising or not fully executing his plans (as was the case with Graham).
Biden, with his decades of political experience and loyal staff, has no such buffer. His team observes message discipline and does not leak information. These traits sound wonderful, until you realize that Biden has horrible foreign policy instincts and that groupthink is a serious problem. Maybe he should bring Mattis back.
Absent that, with no one honorable enough to resign I would like to see someone fired over this situation that has endangered thousands of American lives—and seriously jeopardized the lives of tens of thousands of translators and others who aided our troops, not to mention the 6,000 troops currently being (re)deployed there. But I won’t hold my breath.
Forgive me, but the only heads likely to roll over this debacle will not be metaphorical ones here but literal ones that we’ve abandoned now. That’s not what accountability looks like. That’s not the honorable thing to do.