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UK lawmakers publicly condemn Biden over ‘appalling’ Afghanistan withdrawal

President Joe Biden speaks to Department of Defense personnel at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Feb. 10, 2021. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)
August 19, 2021

Lawmakers and politicians in the United Kingdom have been criticizing President Joe Biden this week over the collapse of the NATO-backed Afghan government over the weekend.

Johnny Mercer, a Conservative party lawmaker who served as a defense minister until April, told TIME on Monday, “In my view, Biden has made an appalling mistake.”

“We clearly have to find a way to operate without [the U.S.] … in Britain’s interests,” Mercer added. “Not just as a 51st state.”

In another address before Parliament on Wednesday, U.K. Conservative member of parliament Tom Tugendhat, who previously served in Afghanistan as a British Army soldier, criticized Biden after the U.S. president said, “Afghanistan political leaders gave up and fled the country.  The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.”

“I was never prouder than when I was decorated by the 82nd Airborne, after the capture of Musa Qala,” Tugendhat said. “It was a huge privilege, a huge privilege to be recognized by such an extraordinary unit in combat. To see their Commander in Chief [Biden] call into question the courage of men I fought with, to claim that they ran, is shameful. Those who have never fought for the colours they fly should be careful about criticizing those who have.”

Tugendhat wrote in a separate op-ed for The Times calling the fall of Kabul the biggest foreign policy disaster for the U.K. since the 1956 Suez Crisis, in which British troops invaded Egypt and then quickly withdrew under pressure from the United Nations. He wrote that Britain suffers from the “inability” to operate independently of the U.S. military and said Biden’s decision to deploy around 2,500 U.S. troops to assist evacuation efforts from Afghanistan “ended 20 years of British effort in Afghanistan and left thousands of British citizens under Taliban jurisdiction.”

U.K. Treasury minister Huw Merriman also criticized Biden’s remarks on Monday about Afghanistan, tweeting, “Listening in amazement as this total blithering idiot blames the Afghanistan forces, who the Western Allies left behind, for what’s happened. Makes me wonder if he is the Siamese twin of Donald Trump. Tony Blair left us with this mess and we did not try hard enough to clear it up.”

“The more you reflect, the more you realize the speech [Biden] gave last night was grotesque. An utter repudiation of the America so many of us have admired so deeply all our lives – the champion of liberty and democracy and the guardian of what’s right in the world,” a former minister, Simon Clarke, told the Guardian.

Reuters reported former Conservative prime minister Theresa May said, “Was our understanding of the Afghan government so weak? Was our knowledge of the position on the ground so inadequate? Or did we just feel that we have to follow the United States and hope that, on a wing and a prayer, it would be all right on the night?”

U.K. Labour leader Keir Starmer also said, “There’s been a major miscalculation of the resilience of the Afghan forces and staggering complacency from our government about the Taliban.”

“This is an absolute blunder, with long term strategic consequences,” said Tobias Ellwood, chair of the U.K. parliament’s defense committee and a former junior defense minister, Politico reported. “We were distracted by Brexit, by COVID and we were too willing to assume the narrative that the Americans were peddling that it’s time to go home and leave Afghanistan to sort its own problems out, and that wasn’t the correct reading of the situation, nor the correct understanding of the consequences of our departure.”

“Some people won’t get back,” Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Britain’s LBC radio station this week. “I remember literally being in Washington where I was given assurances about certain numbers and literally a few days later, the White House at the time had drawn that down further. It has been a deal that hasn’t delivered what we’d hoped it would deliver.”

Another, unnamed U.K. government adviser, told Politico, “Internationally I think there will be real fury with the Americans. The world went into Afghanistan in part against its better judgment. And we’ve all been left high and dry.”

Malcolm Chalmers, the deputy director-general of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) think tank, said, “I think this has been a real wake-up call for the British government in terms of the rhetoric of the Biden administration. It has been very vocal about the return to multilateralism, the return to putting allies at the center of its foreign policy, but on one of the biggest decisions of the first few months of the Biden administration, on maybe the biggest foreign policy decision Biden has made, the degree of consultation with NATO allies has been very limited.”

“Clearly there was a lot of unhappiness with the policies of President Trump,” Chalmers added.” The government here still believes that the Biden administration is a better and more reliable partner than the Trump administration, but even so, I think this has punctured some of the over-optimistic narrative about how easy the Biden administration is to work with.”