- - Saturday, April 17, 2021

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted in a memoir that Joe Biden has been wrong on every national security issue that he has ever been involved in. Like the French in the Hundred Years War, Mr. Biden appears to have forgotten nothing and learned nothing. He is showing this regarding both Iran and Afghanistan.

The Iranians are clearly determined to get nuclear weapons. They may be willing to delay that goal to get rid of sanctions, but — like the Germans after World War I — they will subvert international attempts to monitor their weapons program. President Obama was so desperate to get a deal in 2015, that he got virtually nothing in return for a worthless agreement. The Iranians continued bad behavior in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. 

Our new marshmallow in chief appears to be heading in the same direction. The Israelis are made of sterner stuff; they showed it last week with a non-kinetic attack cyber-attack on an Iranian nuclear facility that was clearly engaged in weapons work. Few informed observers doubt that Israel will act kinetically if they believe Iran is on the cusp of getting the bomb. Perhaps President Biden believes that Israel will do his job for him, but if that happens, he will appear to be an even weaker sister than our opponents in the world are obviously learning that he is.

Regarding Afghanistan, President Trump was wrong in agreeing to a May 1 deadline for withdrawal. He was pandering to the isolationist far right of his party; by setting an arbitrary Sept. 11 withdrawal, Mr. Biden is surrendering to the far left of his. As with Iran, by taking the military card off the table, Mr. Biden is leaving himself with no diplomatic leverage.

In leaving Afghanistan, the president is ostensibly freeing himself to concentrate on Russia and China; what conclusions these two bad actors are drawing from Iran and Afghanistan? It is very possible that Vladirmir Putin and Xi Jinping will try to see how far they can push before the president acts. That situation will make the world a far more dangerous place. 

Afghanistan is not an “endless war.” Our presence there more closely resembles our continued involvement in Germany, Japan or Korea. Quite frankly, our service people in those countries stand a statistically greater chance of dying in a traffic accident than our forces serving in Afghanistan. Other than isolationists on the far left and right, few Americans think about Afghanistan — or Iraq for that matter — at all.

Frankly, there is no political risk to keeping troops in Afghanistan indefinitely. That fact will change if it is revealed that al Qaeda or ISIS has created a major enclave in the country after the withdrawal on Sept. 11. Then, Mr. Biden will have the kind of dilemma that Mr. Obama faced in Iraq in 2014; Mr. Biden currently looks weak; in that case, he will look foolish as well.

It is ironic that the current U.S. footprint in Afghanistan resembles what Vice President Biden was arguing for in 2010. Either he was wrong then, or he is wrong now. At no point did he ever advocate cutting and running. If we leave Afghanistan without the Taliban having ousted what is left of al Qaeda, we will not only have failed in our initial mission, but we will have allowed the Taliban to claim a moral victory.

The Kabul government is a very imperfect governing mechanism, but it is far better than the alternative. Continued U.S. presence offers an assurance to those who desire some form of democratic government that the U.S. has not abandoned what they fought for. Most of Afghanistan’s citizens now reside in urban areas and a majority of them have no desire to return to repressive theocratic rule. We have spent billions and lost more than 2,000 lives to ensure that Afghanistan will never again become a terrorist haven. Whether trying to build a democracy along the way was a good idea is now moot; we are where we are.

Mr. Biden wants to be remembered as a president in the mold of FDR or LBJ. He should reflect on one thing. There is a reason why Jimmy Carter is never asked to speak at Democratic conventions. He is viewed as a weak and vacillating leader, and his party wants to forget him. Mr. Biden is beginning to look like Mr. Carter. If that continues, 2024 may look a lot like 1980. Wherever he is, Ronald Reagan is probably having himself a good chuckle.

• Gary Anderson lectures on Alternative Analysis at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. 

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