After inheriting the Afghanistan quagmire from his predecessor, newly elect President Biden was staunchly committed to withdrawing troops from the country despite dissent from military advisers.
Remembering the iron grip they held on former President Obama, Biden refused to be beholden to military leaders in making foreign policy decisions, despite his own lack of military experience. Biden rejected the recommendations of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to delay the U.S. pull-out from Afghanistan, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa reveal in their upcoming book Peril, a copy of which was obtained by CNN.
“The military doesn’t f*** around with me,” Biden said 2009, according to the book.
While he first supported Biden’s plan for a full withdrawal, Blinken switched his position after a March meeting of NATO ministers to advocate for maintaining a military presence in order to maintain diplomatic leverage.
“Previously, he had been foursquare with Biden for a full withdrawal,” the authors write. “His new recommendation was to extend the mission with US troops for a while to see if it could yield a political settlement. Buy time for negotiations.”
Blinken told Biden that NATO ministers were telling him in nearly a unanimous voice that the U.S. should leverage its withdrawal to negotiate a political settlement, the book suggests.
Hoping to delay departure for the same reason, Austin pitched a “gated” withdrawal in three or four stages that would allow the U.S. to exercise leverage over the Taliban.
However, Biden was fearful that objectives would shift into prolonged military involvement in Afghanistan after already two decades of intervention there. In short, he wanted to prevent “mission creep,” the book indicates.
“Our mission is to stop Afghanistan from being a base for attacking the homeland and US allies by al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, not to deliver a death blow to the Taliban,” Biden said during a National Security Council meeting, according to the book.
Those at the top of the military leadership’s chain of command, including commander-in-chief Biden, Blinken, Austin, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, have faced demands to resign for planning and overseeing a botched exit and evacuation from Afghanistan that left 13 American service members dead.
While Blinken has answered to congressional calls to testify on his conduct, Austin denied to appear for a hearing Tuesday, prompting top Democratic Senator Robert Menendez to threaten a subpoena, so the chamber might ensure accountability after the failed mission.