by W. James Antle III, Politics Editor| August 26
In the days before the twin explosions rocked the international airport in Kabul and left U.S. service members dead, former President Donald Trump and his associates sought to differentiate their planned withdrawal from Afghanistan from the one being carried out by President Joe Biden.
“How dare Biden force our Military to run off the battlefield in Afghanistan and desert what now have become many thousands of American hostages,” Trump said in a statement through his political action committee earlier this week. “We had Afghanistan and Kabul in perfect control with just 2,500 soldiers and he destroyed it when it was demanded that they flee!”
It was part of a series of statements in which Trump hit Biden on Afghanistan and said he would have handled the withdrawal better, complete with forwarding commentary from others calling the Taliban takeover the incumbent president’s “Saigon moment.” But U.S. deaths, inflicted by ISIS-K , change everything.
Trump’s initial public comments on Thursday were restrained, expressing condolences and only indirectly chastising Biden.
“This tragedy should never have been allowed to happen,” he wrote.
Both Trump and Biden wanted to get out of Afghanistan — a rare point of agreement between the two during last year’s contentious campaign. Trump actually sought to have the last troops removed in May, earlier than Biden, and objected to his successor’s initial choice of Sept. 11 — the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that led to the war in the first place — as the withdrawal date.
But as the U.S.-backed government in Kabul fell much earlier than anticipated and the scenes outside the airport grew increasingly chaotic, Trump’s criticism intensified.
“This Afghanistan Disaster wouldn’t have happened with Trump,” the former president said. “The Taliban knew I would rain down fire and fury if any American personnel or interests were harmed, the likes of which have never been seen. This is a catastrophe of historic proportions.”
Trump claimed he would have removed the remaining troops after evacuating U.S. citizens and allies and retrieving or destroying U.S. military assets in Afghanistan. He is not alone in that contention.
“We always knew that conditions had to be right,” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a possible 2024 presidential candidate and a key negotiator of the Trump-Taliban deal, told Fox News. “This administration just willy-nilly whipped the military out of there, leaving civilians, equipment, all of those things behind.”
Biden and officials in the current administration say that deal tied their hands, leaving them with too few troops to both defend U.S. interests and airlift people out, with no option but to surge additional troops into Afghanistan or complete the drawdown.
“I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late,” Biden said in an exchange with Fox News’s Peter Doocy on Thursday. “But here’s the deal: You know — I wish you’d one day say these things — 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 by May 1.”
“President Biden mocked President Trump for cutting a deal that kept U.S. forces safe,” tweeted former Trump administration official Richard Grenell. “He’s been in DC way too long.”
“Joe Biden ADMITS that Trump’s deal resulted in NO DEATHS of American troops for more than a year,” tweeted former Trump White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
The debate over who lost Afghanistan doesn’t just pit two presidents and parties against each other. It speaks to a major division within the Republican Party on foreign policy ahead of the 2024 election.
“Our secretary of state signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban,” former Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster said of Pompeo in an interview with commentator Bari Weiss. “This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves.”
“Trump dealt with the Taliban,” said Mark Sanford, the former Republican congressman and governor of South Carolina, before bringing up two prominent GOP leaders from his home state. “Now that Biden is president, [former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations] Nikki [Haley] is saying it’s crazy, you shouldn’t do it. [Sen.] Lindsey [Graham] came out today and said the president should be impeached.”
“It hurts them both no matter how hard Trump tries to differentiate himself from Biden on this issue,” said one Republican operative. Others mocked Trump for referring to ISIS-K as “ISIS-X” during his Fox News interview on Thursday night.
For months, polling has shown deepening bipartisan skepticism about the 20-year war in Afghanistan, which former President Barack Obama, Trump, and Biden had considered ending.
With conditions in Afghanistan deteriorating, Trump — who may yet be a candidate again in 2024 — says it didn’t have to be this way.