At a White House press conference on the Afghanistan withdrawal last Thursday, President Joe Biden was asked by Fox News’ Peter Doocy whether he bore “any responsibility for the way things have unfolded over the last two weeks.” Biden’s response began the way one might expect, considering he claimed just days before that the buck stops with him.
I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late,” Biden said.
In the same breath, however, the president went into his favorite excuse for the Afghanistan debacle: “But here’s the deal...you know as well as I do that the former president made a deal with the Taliban that he would get all American forces out of Afghanistan.”
Pointing to former President Donald Trump’s 2020 deal with the Taliban to remove American forces from Afghanistan has been popular among President Biden and other White House staff. On the facts of the deal, they are not wrong. The Trump Administration did reach an agreement with the Taliban to remove American forces from Afghanistan, and it is a blot on the former president’s foreign policy record. According to the Washington Post, the deal negotiated by Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo required that the United States and other NATO countries decrease their troop presence from around 14,000 to around 8,600 within 100 days and that they execute a complete withdrawal in just under 10 months. The deal also stipulated that some 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the United States would be released.
Such a deal is an abomination, fueled by Trump’s misplaced belief that the Afghanistan conflict was a “forever war” or that it was not in America’s interest to maintain troop presence in the country. In his quest to be seen as the “dealmaker-in-chief,” Trump periodically demonstrated a willingness to bring to the table those who had no place sitting across from the United States, therefore legitimizing some of the most reprehensible individuals on the planet. The Taliban – a group that willingly sheltered Osama bin Laden and other architects of the deadliest terror attack to take place on American soil – should never have been legitimized by the president and secretary of state, and the Trump Administration did a disservice in doing so.
While Trump’s agreement with the Taliban was a mistake, President Biden seems to be under the impression that he was obliged to make good on the deal. He was not. Presidents have remarkable discretion (relative to other government powers) in the area of foreign policy under Article 2 of the Constitution, and no one president is required to continue the foreign policy of another. President Biden himself understands this basic reality of foreign policy, which a casual glance at his record proves. He overturned Trump-era policy by rejoining both the Paris Climate Accord and World Health Organization on his first day as president (just hours after taking the oath of office). He has signaled a willingness to negotiate a nuclear treaty with Iran as recently as Aug. 27, further demonstrating his desire to undo his predecessor’s foreign policy decisions.
Biden knows that his hands were not tied by the Trump Administration, but he will continue to imply otherwise so long as he needs to “take full responsibility.” The not-so-secret truth is that this is Biden’s policy. He wanted out of Afghanistan just as badly as Trump did. In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Biden admitted that he would have “tried to figure out how to withdraw those troops” even without a Trump-Taliban agreement. He saw an opening to remove troops and went for it without looking back. This was his call and no one else’s. Trump made a bad deal, but this botchery and the heart-wrenching casualties that have come with it are on Biden.