President Joe Biden continued to defend the overall concept of his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and make peace with the Taliban on Sunday, while most of his US critics have centered their ire on his management of the situation rather than the pullout itself.
At a news conference, the president addressed continued criticism of his administration over the issue, which grew over the weekend following an address on Friday in which Mr Biden appeared to deny many of the realities on the ground in Kabul.
While speaking to reporters on Sunday, Mr Biden contended that US adversaries in Moscow and Beijing would have been the only true victors had the US committed to more years of warfare in Afghanistan.
“I think history is going to record this was the logical, rational, and right decision to make,” said Mr Biden.
“If you’re sitting in Beijing … if you’re sitting in Moscow, are you happy we left? C’mon,” he quipped.
His defences differed little from the responses he and his top officials gave throughout last week in response to the shocking images that played on TV screens and across social media last Sunday and Monday, when Afghan civilians including teenagers were killed attempting to escape from the country by clinging to departing US military aircraft.
Those images of hundreds of desperate Afghans on the airport tarmac quickly dispelled the White House’s assertions last weekend that the situation was not comparable to the evacuation from Saigon — a comparison that has now been all but officially acknowledged as accurate — and drove a flurry of appearances from the president over the last few days as the Biden administration attempts damage control.
On Friday, the president again sought to reassure Americans that the evacuations were under control, even while wrongly asserting that Al Qaeda had no presence in the country and that all Americans were able to reach Hamid Karzai International Airport unobstructed by Taliban forces.
His top officials were forced to defend those misstatements on Sunday, and asserted that the US was helping individual Americans reach the airport safely on a case-by-case basis.
The White House has offered few explanations beyond an unwillingness to damage confidence in the now-toppled Afghan government for why more Americans and vulnerable Afghan civilians were not airlifted out of the country before the Taliban took over last weekend.
On Sunday Mr Biden addressed those questions to some degree, arguing confusingly that an evacuation would have been chaotic even had it occurred a month ago when Kabul was still in the hands of Afghanistan’s US-backed government.
“The evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful no matter when it started, when we began,” said Mr Biden on Sunday, adding: “It would have been true if we had started a month ago, or a month from now. There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain.”