Afghanistan getting less US media attention isn’t surprising. US withdrawal was a compelling and highly relevant story, and now it’s over.
What stands out here is how little coverage Afghanistan got before. They didn’t care about the war, they cared only about the US leaving. https://t.co/10t0dzQN1a
— Nicholas Grossman (@NGrossman81) September 19, 2021
*Whispers* can we all acknowledge that a lot of the caterwauling about Afghanistan last month was just a wee bit overstated? https://t.co/7Vl9lVVlEo
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) September 20, 2021
Sometimes, things do not go as badly as we feared they would…
Remember Afghanistan? It would be understandable if some readers did not, since mainstream media coverage of events there has nosedived over the past few weeks. If you recall, however, a month ago, a lot of U.S. analysts and commentators (myself included) were fretting about the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the rapid Taliban takeover of the country. The frenzied efforts to get Westerners and Afghan allies out of Kabul in the face of a Taliban deadline of Aug. 31 seemed daunting.
The take industry was churning out a lot of copy during this period, most of it heavy on the pessimism. I would wager, however, that Noah Rothman, online editor of Commentary and an MSNBC columnist, generated the most hyperbolic take of the past month. He tweeted, “This is the worst display of presidential maladministration in my lifetime.”
Now this was quite the empirical claim. Was the Biden administration’s handling of Afghanistan in August really the worst? Worse than 1983 terrorist attack in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines? Worse than trading arms with Iran for U.S. hostages held in Lebanon? Worse than standing idly by while genocide tore apart Rwanda? Worse than failing to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks? Worse than deciding a year after 9/11 to prioritize the invasion of Iraq over finishing the mission in Afghanistan? Worse than the planning for postwar Iraq? Worse than the response to Hurricane Katrina? Worse than the confused intervention in Libya and the schizophrenic intervention in Syria? Worse than the abandonment of the Kurds in Syria? Worse than the initial federal response to the coronavirus pandemic? Worse than fomenting an armed insurrection at the U.S. Capitol? That is quite the maladministration!…
I suggested that we revisit this question in a month — and hey, what do you know, it is a month later. Has Rothman’s dire prediction come to pass?
It would appear not. Contra Rothman’s supposition, In the latter half of August, the U.S. military and allied forces were able to ferry considerable numbers of people out of Afghanistan. In his Senate testimony, Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that in August, the United States and its allies “completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety.” This includes most of the Americans whom Rothman referenced in his tweets (though, to be fair, it is possible that he was unknowingly relying on inflated numbers at the outset).
Not all Americans got out before the Aug. 31 deadline, but in the weeks since, more have departed Afghanistan. Even conservative editorials blasting the Biden administration as not doing enough acknowledge that more Americans have left in recent weeks. The Qataris, who have functional ties with both the Taliban and the United States, have brokered multiple flights out of Kabul with dozens of U.S. citizens on board. Chartered flights out of Mazar-e Sharif have been slower, and U.S. officials have acknowledged some difficulties there. Nonetheless, the State Department confirmed that at least one plane has departed from there, as well…
… This was not even close to the most sordid example of U.S. government maladministration of the past four decades. Indeed, despite a tsunami of negative (but accurate) media coverage, the public polling on Afghanistan is clear: Surveys from Monmouth and Quinnipiac show that more than two-thirds of respondents approve of the withdrawal of U.S. troops regardless of how it was executed (roughly the same numbers as from two months ago). It is difficult to argue that this outcome represents the worst foreign policy decision in 40 years…
I overreacted to the initial debacle as well but it's clear that we got our act together rather quickly. And there have been *so many* examples of gross maladministration in the last 40 years that I'm not sure this even makes the top 10. https://t.co/r7YRwFfJsB
— James Joyner (@DrJJoyner) September 20, 2021
Compared to the scenario you painted last month — tens of thousands of Americans being used as bargaining chips by the Taliban — the situation for the United States has gotten demonstrably better. https://t.co/7Vl9lVVlEo https://t.co/BcF72DLVHK
— Daniel W. Drezner (@dandrezner) September 20, 2021
‘Totally not partisan, tho.. ‘
U.S. allies in Europe see an increased risk of terrorism because of the way the Biden admin handled the withdrawal from Afghanistan, @SenatorHagerty says after meeting officials in the U.K. and Brussels.https://t.co/zaXmH4sDPP
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) September 5, 2021
… “The result is that we have a heightened exposure to terror now,” Senator Bill Hagerty, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, said in an interview Sunday after returning from the 48-hour trip. The view among the officials he spoke with is that the U.S. “put the world at risk, or at least the world of our allies.”
The Tennessee Republican’s meetings in the U.K. included Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative chair of the House of Commons defense committee. Ellwood, an army veteran, has called the U.K.’s own withdrawal “an operational and strategic blunder.”…
Hagerty said there’s concern “that Afghanistan becomes the world’s greatest arms bazaar where our adversaries from around the globe will be able to go in to secure American military equipment that they can reverse engineer, that they can use, that they can modify.”
In Brussels, he met with German, Italian, Turkish and U.K. envoys to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. All of them told him that they want to see more consultation in the future, Hagerty said…
All the best Europeans agree that somebody should do something about this. And by ‘somebody’, they meant ‘the Americans, preferably’.