On Nov. 4, 1979, militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, taking more than 60 American hostages. It was hell for the captured Americans, and Jimmy Carter’s inability to extricate them helped doom him to a one-term presidency.
The way things are shaping up in Kabul, that national humiliation is being recreated on a far, far bigger scale—it is no hyperbole to say that it is starting to look like America’s worst hostage crisis.
At this stage, we are all just guessing about how many Americans remain at risk in Afghanistan. And that’s the problem. Even the U.S. government doesn’t know how many people have to be evacuated from Afghanistan or how, exactly, that can be done.
In rushing the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Biden, in stunning dereliction of duty, didn’t pause to ask about that. The only explanation I can think of is that he assumed, since he was gifting Afghanistan to the Taliban, they would let him make a graceful exit.
He made another assumption as well: that Americans no longer cared what happened in Afghanistan.
Wrong on both counts.
Biden continues to insist that the decisions he made that precipitated this debacle were correct, although he admits things are a bit “messy.”
It’s about to get messier.
Biden’s decision to close the Bagram military base prematurely has limited the evacuation effort to only one airport and one runway. Getting to that airport is proving to be near impossible. Crowds of desperate Afghans outside the fence are too dense to push through, and from the few horrifying videos that have leaked out, anyone willing to run the gauntlet — unprotected and unarmed — faces the threat of random outburst of gunfire, beatings, stampedes, threats from Taliban fighters amped on adrenaline and smoke bombs.
Meanwhile, the Taliban have set up checkpoints—will they even let U.S. citizens, let along Afghan allies, through? The truth is we don’t know.
The chaos in Kabul doesn’t match the madness in Washington. There is no coordinated government-wide effort to work with other countries to get people to the airport. The president is taking long weekends. The vice president (who proudly claimed to be “the last person in the room” when Biden decided to pull out of Afghanistan) is keeping banker’s hours and getting ready to jet off on a resume-building jaunt to Vietnam and Singapore—hardly the nations positioned to lend a hand on the evacuations. Phone calls are going unanswered. Federal agencies are told to do nothing.
And this isn’t even the scary part. This evacuation can happen at only at sufferance of the Taliban. They have Kabul Airport surrounded and can shut this down whenever they want.
Those who believe in the Tooth Fairy are saying this is a “new” Taliban that is less radical than the “old” Taliban. Everyone hoped the Iranian Revolution would be moderate, until the radicals ensured it wouldn’t be. Overnight, the U.S. embassy went from being a safe place to a prison.
Perhaps the Taliban are being bribed to keep the airport open. Maybe they are playing this out for propaganda value. Maybe it’s their insurance card: the longer the Taliban can obstruct evacuation, the more time they have to consolidate power. Maybe it’s all three.
We don’t know what ransom is being extracted. We do know this: Biden, America, and tens of thousands of desperate people still in the Afghanistan cauldron who are owed safe passage out are their hostages.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Post