American debacle in Afghanistan: Blinken and Austin should resign, or be fired

Heads Must Roll: Accountability for the American Debacle in Afghanistan

Who is responsible for the decisions that led to the U.S. surrender to the Taliban and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and their foreseeable and foreseen consequences?

Ultimately, President Joe Biden is responsible for what is happening in Afghanistan.  Moreover, he is responsible for appointing a group of yes-men to form his foreign policy and national security team.

He decided to name people he knew and was comfortable with, or people who fit his identity politics and racial preference for particular positions.

He by-passed the leading Defense Department candidate, Michelle Fluorney, to name an African American, Lloyd Austin, who had nowhere near her experience and qualifications, as Defense Secretary. Fluornoy, despite being the leading female defense expert in Washington, and the leading candidate–period–was the wrong race, and Biden wanted to appoint a black to a top national security position.

Biden chose to be his Secretary of State a person who had worked with him for 20 years, and with whom he was very comfortable. Anthony Blinken was not likely to oppose, or at least to strongly oppose, any policy or decision Biden supported.

Susan Rice, the most experienced and qualified candidate for a top foreign policy position, was passed over, despite the fact that she is African American, and incongruously appointed to a top domestic policy position in the White House. Rice has a feisty personality, is extraordinarily smart, and might well have opposed President Biden on a foreign policy issue. Biden solved this by shunting her off to be the head of the White House Domestic Policy Council.

Biden thus ensured that his key foreign policy advisers at Defense and State would be friends he liked, who would never mount serious opposition to him on foreign policy matters.

Austin appears to have been mostly silent in internal policy debates, or at least there have been no reports of him taking strong positions.  He oversaw the Pentagon preparation for a withdrawal of all U.S. forces, after Biden decided to proceed with Trump’s February 2020 withdrawal agreement with the Taliban.

Austin then completely bungled it.  He should be held accountable, and either resign or be replaced.

Anthony Blinken has been an unusually lightweight and ineffective Secretary of State. There is no public evidence that he opposed Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. His public statements, particularly in the last two weeks, suggest that he believes in the illusions that Biden and the government have been publicly espousing about what has been going on in Afghanistan.

Blinken lacks the stature of someone like Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Colin Powell, or Madeline Allbright. The Secretary of State he calls to mind is Al Haig, full of bluster but seriously lacking  in negotiating skills and strategic vision.

Blinken articulated and pushed Biden’s inane talking point that U.S. foreign policy would be aimed at benefitting the American middle class, He needlessly engaged in a propaganda show in Anchorage, Alaska in the first bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart and his and the Chinese delegations, in March 2021. An important opportunity to establish cooperative working realationships at lower levels, on a myriad of issues where China and the U.S might cooperate (e.g., North Korean nuclear proliferation, climate change) were needlessly sacrificed in order to put on a propaganda show for the U.S. domestic audience.

Blinken’s diplomatic skills were suggested by the U.S. failure to consult before the withdrawal decision with NATO and other allies who have formed part of the coalition providing military, civilian, and financial assistance to Afghanistan for the last 20 years.

Finally, Blinken failed completely to manage an orderly transition in which U.S. diplomats, contractors, and others the U.S. vowed to protect might safely be evacuated from Afghanistan in the event of a collapse of the government and armed forces.

Blinken must go, and be replaced by a new Secretary of State of great stature, experience, and independence of mind, who will be able to stand up to President Biden whenever necessary to protect the nation’s interests.

William Burns, a former Deputy Secretary of State with vast diplomatic experience, has apparently done a good job of getting good intelligence to Biden and other members of his foreign policy team. It is not clear what role Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence, had in Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops.

Biden’s little group of people he is comfortable with, which has apparently succumbed to the well-known phenomenon of “groupthink”, must be broken up.  It must be renewed with new members of great stature who can help guide Biden to better decisions on the critical foreign policy decisions facing the United States.

Blinken and Austin must go.

Someone must be held accountable and pay the price for the monumental debacle in Afghanistan which we are witnessing.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.