Editor’s Note: Peter Bergen is CNN’s national security analyst, a vice president at New America and a professor of practice at Arizona State University. Bergen has reported from Afghanistan since 1993. His new book is, “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
President Joe Biden claimed in his speech to the nation on Monday that he was bound by the Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan. However, there are multiple flaws with this argument.
Second, the agreement said that the Taliban would enter genuine peace negotiations with the Afghan government. That didn’t happen either.
Third, the US-Taliban agreement was negotiated without any input from the Afghan government – which, after all, was the elected government of the country. Conveniently for the Taliban, they don’t believe in elections.
So, the Biden administration felt bound to an agreement made by the previous administration with an insurgent group that had excluded the actual government of Afghanistan.
But not long prior, the Trump administration jettisoned the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement, which was negotiated by the Obama administration with a sovereign state and with some of the United States’ closest allies, the British, French, and Germans. That agreement was actually being adhered to by the Iranians, according to the American intelligence community.
That didn’t stop Trump from abandoning the Iranian nuclear agreement in 2018, which he often described as a terrible deal, even though it was actually working.
Now, the Biden administration is saying it had to adhere to Trump’s genuinely terrible deal with the Taliban, even though it wasn’t working at all.
What the administration has done in Afghanistan doesn’t make much sense. Biden could have easily said the Taliban had reneged on their agreement with the United States so he could continue to keep a relatively small US military force in Afghanistan to advise and assist the Afghan Army and to support the Afghan Air Force to thwart Taliban advances.
But Biden also believes in the merits of leaving Afghanistan regardless of Trump’s agreement with the Taliban. He argues that the US can’t be mired in endless wars, even though the American presence in Afghanistan had shrunk to only 2,500 troops – particularly few for a force of 1.3 million active-duty US service personnel. That small force helped to sustain the Afghan military physically and psychologically, not least with close air support.
Now, the Biden administration unilaterally has pulled the plug on the US troop presence in Afghanistan, which cratered morale among the Afghan military and population. It also precipitated thousands of Western-allied soldiers to head for the exits, as well as the many thousands of contractors in Afghanistan that were, among other things, keeping the Afghan Air Force aloft.
And now the white flags of the Taliban flutter all over Afghanistan. It did not need to be this way.