On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken revealed that “any remaining Americans” left behind in Afghanistan after the U.S. military departs—this time, for good—won’t be forgotten by their government. What the White House will do from afar to save those stranded Americans, Legal Permanent Residents, and eligible evacuees is a mystery. But at least the administration has finally admitted that the American mission in Afghanistan won’t be over on August 31, even if we’re no longer officially executing it.
It would, however, be a mistake to interpret this as an effort by the administration to assume some responsibility for the disaster over which it presides. For weeks, the White House and its allies have been laying the groundwork to blame the predicament in which the Americans stranded behind enemy lines find themselves on these Americans’ own negligence.
“Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home,” Joe Biden promised late last week. Press Sec. Jen Psaki has adopted this curious formulation, too. The administration’s goal, she told reporters, is to ensure that “any American who wants to leave, to help them leave.” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said something similar. “We believe that we have time between now and the 31st to get out any American who wants to get out,” he insisted.
Now, there are scattered reports of Americans in Afghanistan who are reluctant to sacrifice their partners, friends, and families with small children to the mercies of the Taliban. But there are a far greater number of Americans who cannot run the Taliban-administered gauntlet between themselves and U.S. custody. The implication in the idea that the White House is on track to exfiltrate any American “who wants to get out” is that those who will be left behind are trapped as a result of their own actions.
Few in the administration have issued such a callous and offensively inaccurate claim outright. But we’re quickly approaching the point at which the White House’s allies will test this line in earnest.
In an interview with CBS News anchor Norah O’Donnell, America’s Chargé d’Affaires in Afghanistan, Ross Wilson, flirted with this pusillanimous rationale. “We put out repeated warnings every three weeks to Americans going back to, I think, March or April. Each one in stronger terms: Leave now. Leave immediately,” he said. “People chose not to leave. That’s their business. That’s their right. We regret now that many may find themselves in a position that they would rather not be in, and we will try to help them.”
There’s a palpable tension in Wilson’s remarks—as though he is aware of the cravenness of shifting the blame for this disaster onto the aid workers, NGOs, civil servants, and U.S. government employees who woke up one morning to find themselves in a failed state. But others outside the administration are bolder in their advantage seeking. As the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin insisted, “the embassy focused for months on the Americans in Afghanistan,” warning in “ominous” tones of the uncertainty ahead. “Despite all that,” she continued, thousands of Americans chose to “remain across the country.”
Well, maybe they chose to remain because they were getting terribly mixed signals from the administration? “It’s not inevitable,” Joe Biden insisted as recently as July 8 when asked directly if the Taliban would eventually topple the American-backed government in Kabul. “The likelihood that there’s going to be a Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” And even as fighting between the Taliban and Afghan National Forces intensified after Biden withdrew air and logistical support, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Afghanistan did not convey the fear with which the State Department was supposedly overcome. “The U.S. Embassy in Kabul is open & will remain open,” the Embassy insisted on July 4. “We have no plans to close the Embassy.” Indeed, the facility “has well-developed security plans to safely protect our personnel & facilities” should the need arise.
And even if the State Department’s messaging was at odds with itself and the president was projecting undue calm, so what? At best, this exercise in butt-covering is a non-sequitur. Let’s concede that a handful of cables were prescient and should have been observed by all Americans in Afghanistan. That’s irrelevant. They’re still there now. They’re being harassed, beaten, and prevented from accessing the airport. They’re about to be abandoned in the effort to preserve an artificial timetable, at which point the White House hoped to declare America’s commitments to Afghanistan fulfilled.
Now that this unachievable goal is plainly out of reach, the White House and its supporters are hoping to distribute the blame for the disaster to any and all—including the American citizens and green-card holders charged with executing the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
We’re in the end game now. America’s NATO allies are wrapping up their evacuation efforts or have concluded them even though they, too, are leaving their people behind. Government sources tell CNN that the U.S. mission in the country will conclude in mere hours. The Pentagon disputes the claim (“We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can,” Defense Department spokesman John Kirby meekly pledged), but getting American troops and materiel out before next Tuesday will necessarily put a halt to the evacuation of civilians. Indeed, that mission may have functionally concluded already. Overnight, an imminent security threat to the airport in Kabul (which subsequently materialized in a “complex” attack on Thursday morning) forced the State Department to warn Americans against approaching the last remaining evacuation site in the country.
Your American passport used to mean something that no one on earth could afford to ignore. The Biden administration chose to sacrifice that hard-won advantage—no one else. Many will share the blame when we leave the Americans to fend for themselves while they’re surrounded by a vengeful fundamentalist militia. But the fault will not lie with those who have been abandoned by their own government. Some will do their best to make that case. Don’t let them get away with it.