US President Joe Biden speaks on his Build Back Better economic agenda, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 11, 2021.
Bergen: Afghanistan an unforced error blowing up on Biden's watch
01:46 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Alice Stewart is a CNN political commentator, member of the Student Advisory Board at the Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University, and former Communications Director for Ted Cruz for President. The opinions expressed here are her own. View more opinion at CNN.

CNN  — 
Alice Stewart

President Joe Biden on Monday defended his decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan. The problem with such a double-down is that the President is not only responsible for his decision – he’s responsible for its execution. And the execution has gone incredibly poorly. In a matter of days, the Taliban have overrun the country and assumed control of Kabul, while thousands of Afghans, afraid for their lives, attempt to flee on flights bound for Europe, the US and elsewhere.

Biden’s insistence that he has made the right decision solidifies his policy position as one of abandonment – even if it comes at the cost of allowing the Taliban, who have a history of harboring terrorists, to assume power once again. Whereas the George W. Bush doctrine was based on the use of preemptive force as a legitimate strategy for national defense, the Biden doctrine appears based on desertion as a component of failed foreign policy.

Just before Biden acknowledged in his speech that the buck stops with him, he tried to pass the buck to former President Donald Trump, saying he “inherited a deal cut by my predecessor.” While that’s partially true, the full truth is that Trump’s deal was conditions-based – the Taliban were required to uphold certain commitments, such as not providing safe haven to al Qaeda.

Once the Taliban did not meet all those conditions, Biden should not have felt obligated to abide by the deal. Over the weekend, former Trump officials said Trump would not have followed through with withdrawal if the Taliban and Afghan government had not successfully held final talks first – and it was clear peaceful transition was possible.

In Biden’s adamant defense of his decision, he asked “how many more generations” of our troops need to fight in Afghanistan’s civil war? But he presented a false choice. It does not have to be a matter of fighting indefinitely – or complete withdrawal. We can and should leave a small contingent of US forces in Afghanistan to assist with military air support, keep the Taliban at bay and prevent another potential 9/11.

How many troops would that have required? Well, in January, the US military announced the reduction of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500. Former Trump National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday this would have been a sustainable level of commitment.

A lot has changed since the President announced last Wednesday he had approved additional troops to help with the full withdrawal of diplomatic personnel. As of today, the Taliban have taken control of Afghanistan – and fear and panic can be felt widely across the country.

The irony is that as a consequence of the Taliban’s swift takeover, Biden called for an additional 5,000 troops to aid in the evacuation mission in Kabul. That number had grown to 6,000, as of Monday, and could perhaps increase if more troops are needed to help in the evacuation of Americans and our Afghan allies in the days ahead. So instead of reducing the number of American forces, in the short-term, Biden has dramatically increased that figure – and with it the risk of additional loss of American life.

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    Much of politics abides by the Pottery Barn rule: you break it, you own it. In this case, since Biden overruled the advice of top military leaders per Politico, he must take responsibility for fixing the mess that is Afghanistan today. His new goal must now be to secure the airport, assure evacuation of Americans and our Afghan allies, and leave several thousand troops on the ground to prevent further trouble from the Taliban.

    The alternative – Biden’s doctrine of abandonment – simply cannot stand. It weakens America in the eyes of our enemies and leaves our national security, the very reason we first entered Afghanistan, in a more precarious state.