The Lesson the Administration Will Not Learn

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Among the many distressing aspects of President Joe Biden‘s catastrophic mismanagement of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is his refusal to countenance criticism or consider the possibility that there was anything wrong with his decision-making.

True, both Biden and his secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said that the lessons of the war must be learned. But even before either man spoke of the lessons of Afghanistan, it was obvious they had no intention of studying them, much less using them to “shape how we think about fundamental questions of national security and foreign policy,” in Blinken’s words

Days before the Taliban began appearing in public with al-Qaeda kingpins, Blinken, Biden and their top associates met with Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, in Washington. In their meetings, they demanded that Israel accept and adopt the administration’s policies on Iran and the Palestinians. Those policies are based on the same erroneous assumption that informed the administration’s ill-conceived withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The basic assumption that stands at the heart of the calamitous Afghan withdrawal is that anti-American terror groups and regimes in developing nations are not hostile toward the U.S. because of what they believe or seek to achieve. Biden and his advisors believe that groups like al-Qaeda, as well as regimes like the Taliban, the Iranian regime and Hamas, hate America and its allies because the U.S. and its allies have somehow wronged them. Right those wrongs, so the logic goes, and the antagonism will disappear.

As Biden and his advisors see things, once the U.S. announced it was withdrawing from Afghanistan, the war was effectively over. The Taliban was only fighting America because the U.S. was in Afghanistan. This explains the administration’s lack of concern about the $90 billion worth of U.S.-made weapons now under Taliban control. The Taliban won’t turn those weapons on America, so the thinking goes, because now that the U.S. has left, the Taliban has no problem with it. Biden and his advisors applied the same logic to sharing the names and biometric data of U.S. citizens and the America’s Afghan allies with the Taliban. The Taliban won’t harm those people now that U.S. forces have withdrawn.

The Taliban made no effort to hide their scorn for the administration’s self-delusion. They blocked U.S. citizens and America’s Afghan allies from reaching the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. They let ISIS terrorists get through to kill 13 U.S. servicemen and women and 170 Afghan civilians. They let thousands of ISIS and other terrorists out of jails. But Biden and Blinken refused to notice. They said the Taliban were now partners, and that was that.

In this light, Biden and Blinken’s prioritization of the Taliban’s withdrawal deadline over keeping faith with U.S. citizens trapped in Taliban-controlled territory makes sense. They think that now that U.S. forces are gone, everything will be fine. It will be possible to “deter” the Taliban from taking hostages or mistreating women and girls through diplomacy, especially at the UN.

As Biden and his team showed in their meetings with Bennett, the same assumptions about U.S. responsibility for other people’s hostility toward it applies to their view of Iran and the Palestinians.

Israel is increasingly alarmed by Iran’s escalating nuclear activities. Tehran has doubled the pace of its uranium enrichment. It is enriching uranium to near bomb-grade levels of purity, and it is developing the uranium metals that form the core of nuclear warheads. On August 5, Israel assessed that Iran is on schedule to become a nuclear-capable state able to build an arsenal whenever it wishes by mid-October.

Bennett hoped to impress the urgency of the moment on Biden and his advisors. But they weren’t interested. Biden ended the conversation at his public appearance with Bennett by insisting that the U.S. was “putting diplomacy first and seeing where it takes us.” He insipidly added, “If diplomacy fails, we’re ready to turn to other options.”

Like the Taliban, the Iranians aren’t moved by Biden’s conciliatory posture. They view Biden’s diplomatic outreach as a sign of weakness and have responded with strength. Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held a sham presidential election in June that elevated Ebrahim Raisi to power. Raisi has long been one of the regime’s chief executioners. He is still under U.S. sanctions for the central role he played in the murder of 30,000 anti-regime dissidents and their families in 1988.

Unsurprisingly, Raisi filled his cabinet with likeminded fanatics. He appointed Mohammad Eslami to serve as the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. Eslami has been under UN sanctions since 2008 for his nuclear proliferation activities.

Iran is exploiting Biden’s appeasement to run out the clock. Iran’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, said this week that the Raisi government will need another two or three months to get up and running before it will be willing to return to nuclear talks with the U.S.

By Israel’s calculations, Iran will by then have already achieved nuclear break-out capabilities.

If Biden and his advisors were willing to revisit their assumption that Iran is anti-American because the U.S. hasn’t always been nice to Iran, they would recognize the implication of Khamenei’s elevation of Raisi and his henchmen. But as Biden’s rejection of Bennett’s sense of urgency showed, no reassessment of that core assumption is in the offing.

Then there is the administration’s fixation with the Palestinians—and hostility to Israel’s national rights. Biden and his advisors demanded Bennett permit the U.S. to open a consulate in Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, for the Palestinians. There is no precedent for a foreign nation opening a legation in a host nation’s capital city to serve a third entity. Such a U.S. move would not simply signal that the U.S. supports a divided Jerusalem. It would indicate that the U.S. no longer recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over its own capital.

Beyond the stunning hostility toward Israel revealed by Biden’s demand, the fact is that there is no practical need for a Palestinian consulate in Jerusalem. The U.S. embassy in Jerusalem conducts all the consular activities that were carried out previously by the old consulate. And as former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman explained to Newsweek, “If Israel agrees to [Biden’s demand], that will signal a future division of Jerusalem against the wishes of both the American and Israeli people.”

Biden wasn’t finished. He also demanded that Israel bar the American Jewish owners of buildings in eastern Jerusalem from asserting their property rights to the buildings now occupied by Palestinian squatters in the Shimon HaTzadik/Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Demanding that Israel deny Jewish U.S. citizens their property rights simply because they are Jewish is not merely anti-Semitic. It is also anti-American.

Biden and his advisors demanded that Bennett begin actively funding the Palestinian Authority and enable the U.S., Europe and Qatar to reinstate their lavish funding of Hamas’ terror regime in Gaza. This, despite the fact that facilitating funding to Palestinian entities that fund and engage in terrorism is unlawful under U.S. law.

Finally, resonating the strategic insanity behind their decision to give the Taliban responsibility for the Kabul airport’s perimeter security, Biden and his advisors demanded Israel cede control over territory it requires to defend itself and its citizens in Judea and Samaria to the Palestinian Authority.

Bennett leads a tiny faction in Israel’s Knesset. He enjoys the support of 5 percent of Israeli voters. He won his premiership by betraying his right-wing voters and political bloc to lead a government controlled by parties of the Left, the radical Left and the Muslim Brotherhood.

With no public support behind him, Bennett is the weakest premier Israel has ever produced. He was therefore in no position to argue with Biden and his advisors. Instead, he pretended Biden’s empty remark about “other options” on Iran meant that the U.S. supports Israel’s efforts to prevent Iran from achieving military nuclear capabilities. And Bennett falsely claimed that he didn’t discuss the Palestinians with Biden or his advisors.

This is a disaster for Israel, of course. But at some point, Bennett and his partners will either be compelled by events to defend the country in defiance of Biden or be ousted from power and replaced by leaders who are willing to do so.

In his address on Tuesday, Biden doubled down on his failure. He insisted the U.S. performance in the withdrawal was flawless. It was the Afghan military, the U.S. citizens who didn’t get out in time and the Trump administration that were to blame for everything that went wrong. The Taliban had nothing to do with anything. Only Donald Trump, and those in Afghanistan who trusted the U.S., were to blame.

Despite Biden’s indignant protestations, America’s enemies are independent actors, not mere products of alleged American or Israeli or Western misdeeds. Their animosity will not disappear if the U.S. withdraws, stands down or forces its allies to stand down.

By surrendering in humiliation to the Taliban, Biden and his advisors empowered U.S. enemies and weakened U.S. allies. Until the U.S. learns this lesson, and stops indulging in narcissistic foreign policy fantasies in which America and its allies are the only ones on stage, America will move from defeat to defeat.

Originally published in Newsweek.

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