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The day that marked 20 years since 9/11 was always going to be a momentous occasion. It was likely going to be a day of reflection and remembrance. Instead, it now looms large against the precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Instead of honoring those who fought the Taliban for the past 20 years, we are instead witnessing the Taliban control more money, more territory, and more weaponry than ever before. We are seeing once-held Taliban detainees now serve freely and openly in senior levels of the Taliban government.
While our government is far better structured to protect our homeland, addressing evolving threats requires intellectual agility and sound decision-making from the commander in chief. Where today is that sound judgment so desperately needed to protect our country?
To be clear, the disastrous withdrawal by President Joe Biden didn’t need to occur. It could have been averted by the withdrawal plan the Trump administration left for him.
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The Trump plan was based around a conditions-based withdrawal that depended on final successful peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Ghani government.
The Trump administration’s withdrawal plan was designed to have prevented the kind of botched and chaotic mess we witnessed. It was also designed to provide a foundation for the Afghan people to build on in planning the future of their country. In other words, it would have been the basis of a future Afghanistan as designed and built by the people of Afghanistan.
Although Afghanistan belongs to the people of Afghanistan, the threats emanating from that region matter greatly to Americans. So we left a plan in place, along with our broader approach to protecting Americans’ security.
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Today, we are not only witnessing the damage President Biden is doing to America’s credibility around the world, but we are also witnessing the creation of a new Afghanistan that will likely be deeply dangerous and pose a new set of threats to Americans at home. This new Afghanistan, much like America’s withdrawal from the old one, was born on Biden’s watch.
The full picture of the threats from Afghanistan are yet to materialize but based on our experience they are likely to be far darker and complex. To address this emerging threat, we need a commander in chief who is resolute and steadfast in protecting Americans and American interests first.
Stranding Americans in Afghanistan, relying on the Taliban to vet and screen individuals wanting to leave that country, and calling terrorists “businesslike” is not only deeply flawed from a policy perspective but also lacks the leadership needed right now.
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Today, just as then, al Qaeda and its offshoot groups will seize on grievances of how America disengaged, and will quickly build local and global support for their cause.
Today, however, they are newly armed with the advanced assets that America left behind in Afghanistan. Terrorists are also in a better position to build regional and local alliances with a range of actors who are bent on exploiting America’s loss of credibility and standing.
And al Qaeda is only but one of many actors who are both able and willing to harm Americans at home and overseas. The Islamic Republic of Iran, under new leadership and far closer to attaining a nuclear weapon, has little reason not to unleash its proxies—particularly Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Shiite militias in Iraq—as it already has been doing.
China and Russia are also watching closely, and comfortably exploring ways of threatening Americans in the near term as well as, perhaps more ominously (and much like during the Obama-Biden era), building longer-term strategic alliances with America’s adversaries for the right moment to undermine America down the road.
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The new Afghanistan born in August 2021 will undoubtedly be a place that breeds more threats for Americans for years to come. Unlike the withdrawal, the Biden administration needs a strategy and executable plan for its aftermath.
As we mark twenty years since the attacks of September 11, all Americans are watching closely.
John Ratcliffe served as the 6th U.S. Director of National Intelligence during the Trump Administration. He is currently Co-Chairman for American Security at the America First Policy Institute. A Republican, he represented Texas’ Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives from 2015 – 2020.
Chad Wolf served as acting Homeland Security secretary from 2019-2021. He is Chairman of the Center for Homeland Security and Immigration at the America First Policy Institute.