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OPINION

Biden’s Afghanistan failures don’t vindicate Trump

The former president is trying to rewrite history.

Members of the Taliban's peace negotiation team met with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Nov. 21 in Doha, Qatar, amid talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Members of the Taliban's peace negotiation team met with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Nov. 21 in Doha, Qatar, amid talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Logic is not the strong suit of partisan cheerleaders. So perhaps it’s no surprise that, against the backdrop of President Biden’s bumbling in Afghanistan, Donald Trump and his acolytes are advancing the notion that things would have been very different had Trump been in office.

For those blessed with the gifts of memory and mental clarity, it’s bemusing indeed to see the defeated former president busily rewriting history, demanding that Biden resign, and generally positioning himself as a latter-day Charles de Gaulle of the 1950s, waiting to be called from retirement to resume leadership of an anxious nation.

This from a man whom voters bounced from office in no small part because of the way he bungled our national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. What we’ve seen in Afghanistan is in many ways the culmination of the policy course he set there. Yet the credulous among us are now expected to believe that he would somehow have avoided a similar outcome.

After the suicide bombing that cost the lives of 13 US service members and at least 169 Afghans, Trump released a video to Fox News declaring that “it would not have happened if I were your president.”

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The video itself didn’t offer any rational explanation for that assertion. But in a follow-up interview with Trump apologist Sean Hannity, who regularly disproves the old adage that no man is a hero to his valet, Trump asserted, contra the attack facts, that the Taliban were so terrified of him that they wouldn’t have dared launch their military offensive until our withdrawal had been finalized.

Here, it’s useful to remember several things.

First, the agreement with the Taliban that then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo oversaw was little more than a cover-your-fail document. It was so weak that H.R. McMaster, one of Trump’s own national security advisers, has said this about it: “Our secretary of state signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban. This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves.” He’s hardly the only administration official who holds the view that the Trump-Taliban agreement conceded far more than it extracted. “The Doha agreement was a very weak agreement, and the US should have gained more concessions from the Taliban,” Lisa Curtis, who under Trump served as the National Security Council’s senior director for South and Central Asia, told the Associated Press.

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No one should forget that Trump cut the Afghanistan government out of negotiations with the Taliban. That sent a clear signal that all he was truly interested in was getting out of the country, without seriously trying to leverage some sort of modus vivendi between the Taliban and the then-government of that nation.

Second, despite his current dishonest assertions that his deal had no deadlines, in late June, before the situation in Afghanistan turned for the worse, Trump was bragging at his MAGA rallies that his agreement had tied Biden’s hands in Afghanistan.

“I started the process,” he said. “All the troops are coming back home. They couldn’t stop the process. . . . They couldn’t stop the process. They wanted to, but it was very tough to stop the process.”

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None of this is to excuse the Biden administration’s failings in Afghanistan. The White House discounted or ignored intelligence warnings that the Afghan forces could collapse rapidly with a US withdrawal. And though Biden likes to make it sound as though he faced an unpalatable binary choice of withdrawing now or sending “tens of thousands” more troops “back to war,” he could have altered the timetable so we didn’t leave until winter weather effectively closed down the fighting season.

The final chapter about Afghanistan won’t be written until we see what happens with the 100 to 200 Americans who remain there and what becomes of the thousands of Afghan allies the United States was unable to remove.

But what can confidently be said is that no matter how one regards the Biden administration’s effort — whether as a failure or a success or somewhere in between — it does not vindicate Trump. Although hardly surprising, it’s, well, de Gaulleing that he would make that claim.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.