Following the ghastly incident on August 26th in Afghanistan that led to the death of 13 U.S. servicemen and more than 170 Afghans, President Joe Biden finds himself navigating highly thorny political choices. With political opponents waiting to capitalize on perceived missteps, and the American people gravely concerned for their national security, Biden’s every move regarding Afghanistan will be under intense scrutiny.
The balance between the domestic political agenda and international standing is just the tip of the iceberg in a dark sea of political issues revealing themselves post-attack. Not only does Biden bear the burden of making sound decisions to protect security interests at home, but he’s also expected to do so in ways that uphold his campaign pledges to bring many years of foreign wars to a close.
President Biden is sandwiched between the criticisms of path dependency and escalating violence. On the one hand, he’s dealing with advocates who question his decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. These critics argue that the Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover of the country and the subsequent violent chaos is a result of America’s hasty exit. They insist that the U.S. bear some form of ongoing responsibility for Afghanistan’s stability.
On the other hand, those with a more pacifist leaning are equally as vocal in their opposition to any suggestion that the U.S. should return to its previous role, sending troops overseas to engage in armed conflict. These critics assert that investment in diplomacy and humanitarian support is the apt solution. They argue that violence has never been and can never be a panacea for resolving conflict.
In addressing both veins of criticism, Biden has highlighted that the original mission in Afghanistan was the disruption of terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks, not nation-building. Staying true to his words, he maintains that it is in U.S.’s national interests to withdraw the troops as it does not serve in America’s benefit to continue a war for another decade or more, possibly with no foreseeable successful ending.
However, the attack on Kabul airport has raised immediate security threats to both U.S. citizens and Afghan allies left stranded in the country. Biden’s promise of ‘no man left behind’ is further complicated by accelerating threats from ISIS-K, a sworn enemy of both the Taliban and the U.S. It is raising questions about whether the U.S. can trust the Taliban’s promises of safe passage for evacuees, taking into account the complex and fluid relationships between Afghanistan’s various militant factions.
In the aftermath of the attack, Biden vowed to hunt down and make the attackers pay the price. His fiery rhetoric highlighted the urgency of the situation, steering the U.S onto a course of potential re-engagement with Afghanistan. However, limited by his own policy against putting boots back on the ground, Biden must rely on drone strikes and other surgical means of warfare to deliver on his promise of retaliation.
Negotiating these treacherous political waters, Biden must demonstrate that his decisions are driven not by the pressure of public sentiment or political opponents, but by a sober analysis of the dangers ahead and the goals he has set for his presidency. It mandates a careful balance of understanding and addressing domestic and global concerns, whilst demonstrating a strategic and eloquitive leadership that reinforces his election pledges.