According to President Joe Biden, he had a binary choice: Keep American troops in Afghanistan indefinitely, or withdraw based on the Doha agreement, a peace deal negotiated with the Taliban under President Donald Trump.
“When I came into office, I inherited a deal that President Trump negotiated with the Taliban,” President Biden said during his address to the nation on Monday. “There was only a cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces, or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan and lurching into the third decade of conflict. I stand squarely behind my decision.”
Since Biden chose to withdraw, he and his supporters suggest the repercussions are, at least in part, the fault of Trump. Trump, after all, led the Taliban negotiation effort.
But is this true?
-President Joe Biden, August 16, 2021
False. Completely make believe.
On February 29, 2020, the U.S., under President Trump, signed a peace deal with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, that paved the way for a complete withdrawal by May 2021. The Heritage Foundation summarized the three main legs of the conditions-based agreement:
First, the Taliban agreed that it will not allow al-Qaeda or any other transnational terrorist group to use Afghan soil. To this end, the Taliban agreed to guarantees and enforcement mechanisms to make sure this remains the case. Trust but verify.
Second, the United States and its allies agreed to a timeline to withdraw all forces from Afghanistan. Within 135 days, U.S. forces will drop to 8,600– roughly the number of troops in Afghanistan when Trump entered office. About 13,000 U.S. troops are there now.
International forces will reduce their troop presence proportionately. Then, if the U.S. assesses that the Taliban is living up to its end of the bargain, the remaining U.S. and international forces will withdraw nine and a half months later.
Third, and most importantly, talks within Afghanistan between the government and the Taliban will take place March 10.
This is the most crucial stage in the peace process. It does not matter what the U.S. agrees to with the Taliban; what matters most is what the Afghan government agrees to with the Taliban.
In his address to the nation, Biden presented a false choice: Abide by the peace deal negotiated by his predecessor, or escalate the conflict and enter into a “third decade” of war. Since he, like many Americans, didn’t want to escalate the conflict, Biden maintains his only option was to follow through with the Doha agreement, negotiated under Trump, and pursue a complete withdrawal. Here’s why that’s not true—and why it’s wrong to blame the repercussions of that decision on Trump:
(1) The Taliban violated the Trump-era Doha agreement, so the Biden administration was never obligated to follow it. In exchange for a reduction of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban agreed to reduce its levels of violence in the country and engage in meaningful talks with the Afghan government. However, the Taliban continued violent attacks on Afghan targets, stalling those talks. This alone was enough for the U.S. to justify freezing further U.S. troop withdrawals.
In February, U.S. Army General Scott Miller, who led the U.S. war in Afghanistan for three years, acknowledged so much, telling Reuters, “Taliban violence is much higher than historical norms…It just doesn’t create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan.”
In addition, after agreeing never to raise arms again, hundreds of Taliban prisoners whom the Taliban released as part of the agreement had been recaptured during fighting.
(2) Not only did the Taliban violate the conditions-based agreement, but President Biden effectively acknowledged as much, explicitly saying if we waited for the right conditions, we would never leave.
(3) Upon taking office, President Biden was under no obligation to follow through with the Doha Agreement. Biden had no compunction about scrapping such Trump legacies as the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, seeking to reenter the Iran nuclear deal and allowing Nordstream 2 — opposed by Trump — to go forward. But now he tells us he was bound to honor a Trump deal with the Taliban, even though the deal was effectively defunct already, due to Trump’s foresight in including conditions, and to Taliban violations.
The Trump Administration made its desires to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan clear. But Trump took precautions to avoid precisely the kind of catastrophe we are now seeing. His administration negotiated a longshot, conditions-based peace deal that mandated a reduction of violence and encouraged direct talks between the Taliban and Afghan government. That fell apart; under Trump’s provisions, President Biden was under no obligation to honor that deal.
President Biden went ahead anyway with a complete withdrawal, despite Taliban violations. Now, while telling us the buck stops with him, Biden is nonetheless blaming Trump because he negotiated the deal. The current debacle in Afghanistan is not a legacy of Trump. It is a product of President Biden’s foreign policy, pure, simple and in this case, disastrous.