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How Biden got it so wrong

He disastrously bungled the exit from Afghanistan, and the damage will be long-lasting, catastrophic and perhaps irrevocable.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on ending the war in Afghanistan at the White House on Aug. 31, 2021.
TNS

Like many fellow Americans, I know a number of men and women who served in Afghanistan. And whatever you think of the imprudence of the Afghan war, there is no doubt our U.S. service members were doing an important job there, and have more than earned our respect and gratitude.

With them in mind, they certainly deserved an end to this war after 20 years. But they didn’t deserve to end it this way. Nor did the Afghan people. The last few weeks have been difficult to process, and impossible to defend.

And yet, that’s just what President Biden did on Tuesday in a speech to the American people, inexplicably calling our Afghan withdrawal “an extraordinary success.” With all due respect to the president, that is preposterous.

Biden is not a stupid man. Nor is he an evil man, or an incompetent man. I still believe Biden is the right person to lead our country through a very tumultuous and fragile time.

However, and let me be very clear: He has disastrously bungled Afghanistan, and the damage from that will be long-lasting, catastrophic, and perhaps irrevocable.

It boggles the mind. There was no good reason — absolutely none — to end our military engagement in the haphazard, irresponsible manner that Biden chose to. There were countless other options at his disposal besides rushing an operation he promised would be “safe and orderly,” then proved anything but.

All that has happened — the immediate collapse of the Afghan government, the emboldening of ISIS-K, a mad crush of Afghans and Americans desperate to leave the Taliban-controlled failed state, and even the needless deaths of U.S. service members to terrorist attacks — was predictable.

And everything that will invariably happen next — increased instability in the region, a rise in terror attacks, new threats to American national security, distrust by our allies, dismissal by our enemies — is known to Biden as well. He is not new to this arena. As a Daily News editorial pointed out, Biden himself warned 20 years ago that “If we leave Afghanistan in chaos, it will be another time bomb waiting to explode.”

So what accounts for such a miscalculation? How can we explain why a smart, experienced and decent man would make the absolute worst decisions? The lamentable answer, per the new normal: politics.

Generals are always prepared to fight the last war, the saying goes. But in America’s increasingly irrational and decreasingly substantive politics of personality, presidents are always prepared to fight the last president, too.

Biden’s election was, if nothing else, an overwhelming mandate to undo the Trump era. And he began right away.

There were a whopping 25 executive orders in January, many of which were a direct response to former President Donald Trump’s actions, from strengthening the Affordable Care Act to extending COVID-19 relief, ordering mask mandates for federal workers, to addressing climate change.

In February, Biden issued an “Executive Order on the Revocation of Certain Presidential Actions,” undoing seven of Trump’s past executive orders or memoranda.

In toto, he’s signed 55 executive orders, 34 presidential memoranda, 109 proclamations and 20 notices. He issued more executive actions in his first 100 days than Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush combined.

While that speaks in part to the intransigence of today’s Congress, it’s also a clear attempt to dismantle his predecessor’s legacy. Biden’s voters are, undoubtedly, not complaining.

But when it comes to war, it’s often more complicated than merely dismantling.

For one, there are things presidential predecessors did — or didn’t do — for a reason, because generals advised them to, or allies expected them to, or complicated circumstances demanded it.

For another, some things can’t be undone easily.

There’s a reason President Barack Obama couldn’t simply close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, as he promised while campaigning. There’s a reason Trump couldn’t renegotiate a better Iran nuclear deal, or the Paris climate accord, as he promised. And yes, there’s a reason Obama — and Trump — couldn’t just quit Afghanistan.

Instead of making decisions methodically, even it meant staying longer than he wanted, Biden seems to be fighting his predecessors.

It’s a bad strategy, no matter who’s employing it. Trump’s attempts to undo the Obama doctrine were often confused and ill-advised by generals. Obama’s desire to undo the Bush doctrine led to a considerable miscalculation in Syria.

When it comes to war and foreign policy, presidents must be clear-eyed, nonpartisan and rational. Biden’s Afghanistan blunder was not the result of clear-eyed thinking, experience and logic, but a misplaced focus on personality, politics and posterity.

S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.

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