- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Biden administration on Sunday deflected blame for the rapid fallout from the U.S. troop from Afghanistan, racing to stem the political bleeding from the biggest foreign policy challenge of his young presidency.

The White House was reeling from images of U.S. diplomats and civilians scrambling to evacuate Kabul as the Taliban advanced into the Afghan capital

The situation grew direr after reports that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had fled the country and that thousands of militants from the Islamic State group and al Qaeda had been released from prison.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the Biden administration was in a no-win situation because President Trump signed an agreement with the Taliban last year that set a May 1 conditions-based deadline to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Mr. Blinken also blamed the utter failure of U.S.-backed Afghan military forces to defend their country. He said it “happened more quickly than anticipated.”

“The fact of the matter is, had the president decided to keep forces in Afghanistan beyond May 1, attacks would have resumed on our forces,” Mr. Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The Taliban had not been attacking our forces or NATO during the period from which the agreement was reached to May 1.

SEE ALSO: At least seven dead in chaos at Kabul airport as U.S. troops scramble to maintain order

“The offensive you’re seeing across the country now to take these provincial capitals would have commenced, and we would have been back at war with the Taliban,” he said. “I would probably be on this program today explaining why we were sending tens of thousands of American forces back into Afghanistan and back to war, something the American people simply don’t support.” 

Republicans said the Taliban refused to uphold their part of the peace deal, but the Biden administration nevertheless plowed ahead with the withdrawal.

“I think the secretary has been devoid of reality this whole time since the decision was made in May,” Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think it’s an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.” 

“This is going to be a stain on this president and his presidency, and I think he’s going to have blood on his hands for what they did,” said Mr. McCaul, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

For his part, Mr. Trump on Sunday called on Mr. Biden to resign.

“It is time for Joe Biden to resign in disgrace for what he has allowed to happen to Afghanistan, along with the tremendous surge in COVID, the Border catastrophe, the destruction of energy independence, and our crippled economy,” Mr. Trump said in one of two statements sent out early Sunday evening.

SEE ALSO: ‘No way to hide it’: Biden faces friendly-fire on Afghanistan from key moderate Democrat

“What Joe Biden has done with Afghanistan is legendary,” he said in the other. “It will go down as one of the greatest defeats in American history!”

Rep. Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican, said both the Biden and Trump administrations deserve blame.

“They walked down this path of legitimizing the Taliban, of perpetuating this fantasy, telling the American people that the Taliban were a partner for peace,” Ms. Cheney said on ABC’s “This Week.” “President Trump told us that the Taliban was going to fight terror. [Former Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo told us that the Taliban was going to renounce al Qaeda.”

“None of that has happened. None of it has happened,” she said.

Ms. Cheney said the deteriorating situation exposes the fallacy of campaign promises that “we’re going to end endless wars.”

“What we’re watching right now in Afghanistan is what happens when America withdraws from the world,” she said.

Mr. Pompeo, who is considering a presidential run in 2024, called attempts to blame the Trump administration “pathetic” and said the Biden administration should move to “crush” the Taliban entering Kabul.

“I can assure you if I were still secretary of state with a commander in chief like President Trump, the Taliban would have understood that there were real costs to pay if there were plots against the United States of America,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Even as the Taliban were capturing provincial capitals and other cities across Afghanistan, polls showed that most U.S. voters backed the troop withdrawal.

A Chicago Council Survey released last week found that 70% of Americans — including 77% of Democrats, 73% of independents and 56% of Republicans — agreed with removing the troops.

The unraveling situation, however, is changing the political dynamic and opening the door for Mr. Trump and others to cast the Biden administration as soft and misguided on the world stage.

“Tragic mess in Afghanistan, a completely open and broken border, crime at record levels, oil prices through the roof, inflation rising, and taken advantage of by the entire world,” Mr. Trump said in a statement Friday. 

“Do you miss me yet?” He asked in all capital letters.

Looking to dull the attacks, Mr. Biden announced Saturday the deployment of about 5,000 troops to help evacuate U.S. personnel as the Taliban advanced. 

He said in a statement that Mr. Trump left the Islamist group “in the strongest position militarily since 2001” when he left office and insisted that his rationale for withdrawing the U.S. military from Afghanistan was the right course.

“One more year, or five more years, of U.S. military presence would not have made a difference if the Afghan military cannot or will not hold its own country,” Mr. Biden said. “An endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.”

Republicans reminded viewers Sunday that Mr. Biden, citing the strength of Afghan security forces, slapped down the idea that a Taliban takeover was inevitable.

“You just had President Biden a few days ago saying you wouldn’t see helicopters evacuating the embassy like Saigon, and yet here we are,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican. “This is President Biden’s Saigon moment, and unfortunately it was predictable.

“It seems like many in President Biden’s intelligence community got this devastatingly wrong,” he said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.” “He was either widely misled by his own intelligence or he was misleading the American people deliberately.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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