Streetwise Professor

August 16, 2021

Joe Biden’s Mendacious Defense of the Indefensible

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — cpirrong @ 6:43 pm

This afternoon Joe Biden delivered an angry, bitter, and defensive speech in an attempt to quell the uproar over the fiasco in Afghanistan. It was a pathetic attempt at misdirection–rhetorical three card monte by a man with slow hands, therefore fooling no one who does not want to be fooled.

The bulk of the speech was a strident defense of his decision to withdraw. Ironically, I agree with many of the points he raised: indeed, I raised them in earlier posts. Further ironically, I am sure that Donald Trump would have delivered the same speech to justify a withdrawal. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

But that’s not the point right now. The issue isn’t whether withdrawal is wise: it is whether the handling of the withdrawal was executed with any competence at all, or was instead a historical debacle with few parallels in American history. On this fundamental question, Biden had little to say–and what he did say stood in stark contrast with what he said a little more than a month ago.

Biden heaped blame on the Afghan army and government. And there is much blame to heap–again, I agree with his points. But the harder he pushes that argument the more he demonstrates the cataclysmic failure in planning.

The defects Biden highlighted were common knowledge. For years. Meaning that any planning to withdraw had to take into account the manifest deficiencies in the Afghan army and government.

But if anything, the reverse was true. The WSJ reports that the American military told the Afghan president that the dispersion of his forces throughout Afghanistan in penny packets made them extremely vulnerable, but that Ghani said it would be “political suicide” to withdraw from isolated areas and concentrate. So he decided to commit military suicide instead–and the US conceded.

Further, the US eliminated all air support for the Afghans, and withdrew US maintenance personnel for Afghan aircraft. This was a recipe for catastrophe. Patton once wrote in his diary: “[French general] de Langres said the poorer the infantry is the more artillery it needs.” Well, (a) the Afghan infantry was about as poor as one could imagine, and (b) airpower is effectively artillery. So there should be no surprise that isolated and dispersed Afghan units crumbled when the US yanked the airpower crutch it so desperately needed. (Eerily reminiscent of 1975 Vietnam, by the way.)

So not only did the withdrawal “plan” fail to account adequately for the well-known deficiencies in the Afghan army and ameliorate them–it exacerbated them.

Moreover, according to the NYT, Biden was on notice that the Afghan army would collapse:

In late March, Mr. Austin and General Milley made a last-ditch effort with the president by forecasting dire outcomes in which the Afghan military folded in an aggressive advance by the Taliban. They drew comparisons to how the Iraqi military was overrun by the Islamic State in 2014 after American combat troops left Iraq, prompting Mr. Obama to send American forces back.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” Mr. Austin told Mr. Biden, according to officials with knowledge of the meetings.

Withdrawal in the face of an aggressive enemy is one of the hardest military tasks, but the basic steps are clear. Get out the soft stuff first. Concentrate around decisive points. Defend those points with fires while troops exit.

The approach implemented violated all these principles. The soft stuff–notably upwards of 10,000 American civilians, not to mention those of other nations–remained in place while the situation went to hell in a handbasket. Which is a major reason for the chaos at the Kabul airport.

Biden alluded to this in his speech, when he said that the Afghan government opposed the withdrawal of civilians because it would send a bad signal. That is understandable. It certainly would have been a sign of no confidence in the Afghan government. But we had no confidence in the Afghan government–Biden said as much. So deal with the reality and do what is necessary when you can’t rely on the locals. Get out the civilians while the getting is good.

Besides, evacuation of civilians would not have told the Taliban anything that they didn’t know–that the Afghan government and army were teetering on the brink. Would the Taliban have acted any differently if civilians had been evacuated? Ha!

As for concentration, as noted above the Afghan forces remained dispersed, vulnerable to being picked off unit by unit–as they were. And realizing that they were isolated and unsupported, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and either ran or surrendered. The military planning by the US should have attempted to counterbalance that, and further, it was another reason to accelerate removal of civilians.

As for firepower, again as noted, the US deliberately withheld that even though that has long been the American comparative advantage and that our military knew that the Afghans were desperately dependent on it.

Withdrawal before the enemy requires exquisite sequencing, but the US “plan,” such as it apparently was, had its sequencing completely out of whack, in large part because of deference to and undercutting of a government that Biden excoriated today for its incompetence and unreliability.

Biden’s speech also proved his mendacity, and that of Milley and Austin. As I posted yesterday, on 8 July Biden gave a stirring defense of the Afghan army and concluded that there was no way it would fold before the Taliban. Then, Biden said that this would not happen because of the army’s numbers and equipment: today he said that it happened despite its numbers and equipment. But Milley and Austin supposedly (per NYT) told Biden this would happen. Nonetheless, he adamantly opposed any changes to his plans.

In other words, he shamelessly lied a month ago about the reliability of the Afghan army, and lied today when he said that the collapse of that army came as a shock.

Milley is no better. He also stated categorically in public that the Afghan army would not fold–but this was not what he told the president. He should not have lied in public, and if he felt compelled to do so he should have resigned.

As for Austin–who knows? He’s like Major Major Major from Catch 22. Is he on vacation with Jen Psaki? Searching for extremists and vetting CRT training materials? Got me. He responded to an emailed question about whether he would resign by saying no. Other than that, he’s been personus not aroundus.

In sum, all of the factors that Biden emphasized in his speech do not justify how the withdrawal was planned and executed. In fact, they do the reverse. They emphasize the additional challenges facing an inherently fraught military operation–withdrawal before an aggressive enemy–which were not remotely adequately addressed, and were in fact aggravated.

Getting out makes sense for the reasons Biden stated. The way of the getting out makes no sense–and Biden provided no reasons for it. And it is for that getting out–bugging out, more precisely–that Joe Biden’s name will live in infamy and ignominy in American military and political annals.

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  1. OK, so we’ve replayed the ‘run from Afghanistan’ moment. How close are we to an ‘August coup’ moment? That moment on August 19, 1991 when a group of seniors gathered and declared ‘no confidence’ in the clowns who pretended to run the Soviet Union?

    Especially since the Biden admin makes Gorbachev’s Politburo look like a Silicon Valley Mensa convention.

    My guess is that, after twenty years of mismanagement, useless wars and financial evisceration by Wall St, the people have had enough. Parents are already in revolt at the pornography being pushed on young kids in elementary schools. The ‘vaccines’ being revealed to be worse than useless, especially compared to the ivermectin they’re trying to prevent people getting, may be the last straw.

    ‘Gradually at first, and then suddenly.’

    Ready for a Kabul International Airport moment in Washington.

    Comment by Ex-Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — August 17, 2021 @ 4:54 am

  2. From the Daily Mail:

    “The generals drew up a worst-case scenario but, according to former Tory minister Rory Stewart, an Afghan expert: ‘The option to leave like this was not put to Trump by military and civilian advisers because they were worried he’d choose it.’

    ‘They put it to Biden and to their horror he said yes. No one in the U.S. military thinks this is sensible.'”

    I suppose there’s one consolation: part of the Constitution is still working if the bloody fools consulted the senile old crook.

    Comment by dearieme — August 17, 2021 @ 5:59 am

  3. Yes. All the above is true . . . but he did get to choose his own ice cream Saturday night.

    Comment by Donald Wolfe — August 17, 2021 @ 10:30 am

  4. Well we can all play armchair quarterback/Captain Hindsight, but the fact remains no-one, not even the Taliban leadership, expected things to move this fast. Try as you will to paint this as some latter day Benghazi, the fact is no Americans have died so far in the evacuation (nor look like doing so), and the events will quickly be forgotten by most. If anything Biden’s pivot towards India looks increasingly to be a shrewd strategic move, given Pakistan’s gloating response to events.

    @deari – I call BS on that quote from Stewart. Is he really still in the loop enough to know what options were presented to Trump & Biden, and did the US military propose one they seemingly profoundly disagreed with? Dudo.

    Comment by David Mercer — August 17, 2021 @ 10:41 am

  5. Australia closed her Kabul embassy on May 28th.

    Comment by dearieme — August 17, 2021 @ 3:01 pm

  6. Trump Won.

    Comment by Josey Wales — August 17, 2021 @ 8:53 pm

  7. Bin Laden won

    Comment by dearieme — August 19, 2021 @ 12:08 pm

  8. I’m so old I remember the execrable ambassador Michael McFaul trying to defend the infamous “reset” with Russia in the wake of the Russian aggression against Georgia by stating the deal enabled improved logistics to Afghanistan.

    So I suppose in the Democrat school of diplomatic thought, this disaster now is also indispensable to lay foundation for some even worse disaster they are planning in the future.

    Comment by Ivan — August 19, 2021 @ 4:32 pm

  9. I think this will be the bellwether when analysts look back and wonder when the bear market in stocks started.

    Comment by Jeffrey Carter — August 21, 2021 @ 8:35 am

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