Beyond Labels

A 360° Discussion of Foreign, National and Local Policy Issues

April 26: Afghanistan Withdrawal

President Biden’s announcement of an unconditional Sept. 11, 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan seems to have met no substantial resistance. However, there has been much commentary on the unknown side-effects of the withdrawal and, on the partisan front, comparison of the media’s coverage of Biden’s announcement as compared to Trump’s announcement of a conditional May 1, 2021 withdrawal.

Among the topics about which I think we can have a fruitful discussion are:

  • To what degree should the US support the “official” Afghan government to the extent the Taliban keep fighting and don’t come to the table in the constructive way we might hope for?
  • What does it mean for our presence/visibility into that area of the world?
  • How many “troops” will remain to defend US embassy and diplomatic interests?

I commend Sunday’s Fareed Zakaria: GPS episode to you—the first half hour is an interview with Ashraf Ghani, the second half is interviews with ex-DNI’s McMaster and Donilon. Here’s a link to the CNN site with the videos (readily available at least before Sunday’s new GPS episode).

There have been a few news articles and lots of Op-Ed pieces on the subject(s) around Afghanistan. Here’s a selection— or is it a “dump?” (Fortunately, as op-eds, they’re relatively short and easy reads.)


NYT (April 13): Biden to announce full withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by Sept. 11

WaPo/AP (April 17): On foreign policy decisions, Biden faces drag of pragmatism

WaPo (April 18): With Afghanistan decision, Biden restores foreign policymaking process that Trump had largely abandoned


WaPo (Olsen, April 14): Biden made the tough, correct call on Afghanistan

WaPo (Zakaria, April 15): Biden is right. It’s time to end the forever war in Afghanistan.

NYT (Dowd, April 17): Biden Ditches the Generals, Finally

WaPo (Bowman, April 17): America’s mission in Afghanistan isn’t accomplished

NYT (Friedman, April 18): What Joe Biden and I Saw After the U.S. Invaded Afghanistan

WaPo (Boot, April 19): President Biden should have followed Vice President Biden’s advice on Afghanistan

WaPo (Gerson, April 19): Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is a terrible risk

WaPo (Caruso, April 19): We may be leaving Afghanistan, but we shouldn’t forget our allies

NYT (Stephens, April 19): Abandoning Afghanistan Is a Historic Mistake

NYT (Forotan, April 21): I Met a Taliban Leader and Lost Hope for My Country


  • Having spent 1969 as an infantry sergeant in the rice paddies northwest of Saigon, the situation in Afghanistan immediately brings Vietnam to my mind. In 1969, when Nixon announced the policy of Vietnamization (i.e., the US is leaving) at a point when America hadn’t achieved victory over the Viet Cong / North Vietnamese Army, Ho Chi Minh knew he had won.
    Similarly, when President Obama announced in 2010 that U.S. troops would be steadily withdrawn from Afghanistan, although we hadn’t defeated the Taliban, the mujahideen knew they had won. In Vietnam, despite the continued presence of some US boots on the ground and the extension of the US air war into Laos and Cambodia, the die had been cast. After the fighting was completely turned over to our South Vietnamese “allies”, it wasn’t long before the North Vietnamese Army marched victoriously into Saigon.
    The U.S. failed in Vietnam, despite vastly outgunning the enemy, because you can’t prevail in a war of counterinsurgency if the government you’re propping up is corrupt and you fail to win the people over to your side. Ditto Afghanistan.
    The only way to salvage some shred of reputation is for the US to allow the Afghans who supported our military operations and our terminally naïve “nation building” to freely enter the United States and escape death and persecution under the Taliban.
    Beyond that, we should concentrate on not getting into the next “Afghanistan”, so that we won’t again have to squander young American lives before leaving with our tail between our legs. America entered the fighting in Southeast Asia, despite witnessing the French defeat there. We invaded Afghanistan despite our horrible experience in Vietnam. Unfortunately, given America’s inveterate historical amnesia, I’m not hopeful that Afghanistan has taught us anything.

    • While I agree we need to give asylum to any Afghan who worked with the US Military or with NGOs or other organizations that provided civilian assistance to the Afghan government or Afghan people who want to come to the US, what will we provide to Afghan women who are likely to be trapped in a medieval society again once the US leaves and (as seems likely) the current Afghan “government” collapses. And what about the Hazara, Uzebek, Tajik, and other Afghan minority populations who will suffer under the Taliban? This isn’t an argument in favor of the US military remaining after 11 September, but just to point out that the Afghans who worked directly with or for the US aren’t the only ones who will need help and protection.

      Also, here are some links to recent reports and articles that might be of interest:


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