As the U.S. prepares to exit Afghanistan after 20 years, critics of the policy shift are hurling a range of accusations against it. The two most potent are that withdrawal will send a message of American defeatism to the world and that it will be a morally appalling act of indifference to the fate of the Afghan people, who will be deprived by a resurgent Taliban of the chance to determine their own political future.
Good thing Joe Biden understands more about the situation in Afghanistan than his critics.
What could be more compelling evidence of American defeatism and weakness than spending 20 years playing whack-a-mole with the Taliban with no evidence whatsoever that we can decisively prevail against them? Or propping up the Afghan government for those same two decades because it's too ineffectual to rule the country on its own? Who could possibly think that China, Russia, or any other adversary would be impressed with our willingness to continue like this with no end in sight when what it really does is endlessly demonstrate our impotence?
As for Afghan self-determination, all Americans of good will wish the country's people the best. Yet self-determination requires precisely that: a country's ability to determine its fate for itself. Afghanistan is not exercising self-determination if American troops are the ones performing one of the essential functions of government — namely, keeping order and putting down an insurgency. The country has been embroiled in a civil war for decades. Our presence has given one side an advantage for quite a long time now. If when we withdraw this side crumbles in a matter of weeks or months, that's a sign that we were the ones determining the country's fate, not the people of Afghanistan.
Judging from his remarks on Thursday afternoon, Joe Biden understands both of these points very well, and far better than his critics. I, for one, am grateful that he does.