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Mark Hillman’s Capitol Review - Afghanistan will haunt U.S.

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PICT Politician - Mark Hillman
Mark Hillman

New presidents often find themselves tested early in their administration; their performance is revealing to allies and enemies alike.

JFK’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and subsequent summit with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, about which Kennedy remarked, “He just beat the hell out of me!” led the Russians to believe they could place nuclear missiles in Cuba.  The ensuing “Cuban missile crisis” brought the USA and USSR to the brink of nuclear war.

By contrast, Ronald Reagan’s firing of 11,000 air traffic controllers who illegally went on strike eight months into his first term indicated to the Soviets that he should be taken seriously, a fact noted by Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill after a visit to Russia.

It’s hard to imagine a failure more completely self-inflicted than President Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Our enemies have learned that Americans – not just Biden – have lost our collective resolve.  We no longer elect presidents who remind us that our enemies are still preoccupied with the U.S., even when we no longer care about them.

Like Presidents Obama and Trump, Biden was following public opinion: Americans want our forces out of Afghanistan.  We value expediency more than honor.  How were the 2,500 Americans in Afghanistan intolerable to a public unbothered by 53,000 in Japan, 35,000 in Germany, and 26,000 in South Korea?

By doing so many things precisely backward, Biden turned withdrawal into humiliation:

  • He removed military personnel and abandoned fortified air bases before evacuating civilians.
  • He let an arsenal of U.S. weapons fall into the hands of our enemies.
  • He didn’t consult our NATO allies who had fought beside us since 2001.

At least 10,000 Americans and some 80,000 Afghans who risked their lives to help us were left to “do the best they can.”  Great Britain, France and Germany, who came to our aid after 9/11, were all left to evacuate their own people at greater risk.

When American troops left Bagram air base, they literally deserted their Afghan allies in the middle of the night and cut power supplies making it easy for Taliban militia to take control.  More than 2,000 armored vehicles, 40 aircraft and drones, and thousands of guns, rockets and night-vision goggles were left for our enemies, giving them a tremendous advantage over remaining Afghan fighters who fought bravely when backed by U.S. air support and intelligence.

Biden never served in the military and has led a comfortable life since being elected to the Senate in 1972, but he callously disparaged the courage of the Afghan people – more than 70,000 of whom died fighting the Taliban.

America didn’t just leave with a black eye.  Instead, we look like the spoiled kid who decided the job was “just too hard” and slinked back home.

That Biden wouldn’t stand up to the “rag-tag” Taliban won’t go unnoticed by Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Iran, al Qaeda or ISIS.  Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair predicted, “Russia, China and Iran will see and take advantage.  Anyone given commitments by Western leaders will understand them as unstable currency.”  Chinese state-owned media is already taunting Taiwan about the “unreliability of U.S. commitment to its allies.”

Although I was young, I remember Jimmy Carter’s presidency.  America seemed helpless.  We didn’t have the courage to stand up to the Russians.  We couldn’t defend our embassy in Iran.  We were at the mercy of the Middle East for our fuel.

Today, Biden seems alarmingly Carter-esque.  He begs OPEC to increase fuel supplies while shutting down the Keystone pipeline.  He panders to Iranians to revive their futile nuclear agreement.  He was backhanded by Putin who can’t wait to get US troops out of his neighborhood.

Former defense secretary Robert Gates’ 2014 observation – that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades” – was prophetic.  Unlike his predecessor who was often uninformed but never wanted America to appear week, Biden seems to fear flexing America’s muscle.

A strong, decisive America relentlessly defends our people and our allies, stands up to international thugs and bullies, and keeps its commitments.  Without that kind of leadership, the world is a more dangerous place – not just for the people of Afghanistan, Taiwan or Ukraine but for Americans, too.

Mark Hillman served as Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer.  To read more or comment, go to