George W. Bush Says Afghanistan Withdrawal Is a Mistake: 'Breaks My Heart'
In rare political remarks this week, former President George W. Bush insisted in an interview that he believes the Biden administration's draw-down of U.S. forces in Afghanistan will have "unbelievably bad" consequences.
Bush's comments came during an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, posted online Wednesday, just days after President Joe Biden announced further details of the withdrawal from Afghanistan of U.S troops.
Bush, citing the progress that he said has been made among women and young girls in Afghanistan due to the presence of U.S. troops, told Deutsche Welle: "It's unbelievable how that society changed from the brutality of the Taliban. And now all of a sudden, sadly, I'm afraid Afghan women and girls are going to suffer unspeakable harm."
"You know, I think it is," said Bush, 74, when asked if the withdrawal was a mistake. "Yeah, because I think the consequences are going to be unbelievably bad. And I'm sad. Laura and I spent a lot of time with Afghan women. And they're scared."
Bush continued by saying he was worried about the fate of those who will remain unprotected once troops are gone from the region.
"I think about all the interpreters and people that helped not only U.S. troops but NATO troops," he said. "It seems like they're going to be left behind to be slaughtered by these very brutal people. And it breaks my heart."
Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced that the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan would conclude on Aug. 31 — fulfilling a goal sought, off-and-on, by his predecessors as the American public became increasingly weary of the war launched in the aftermath of 9/11.
Some observers, however, have echoed Bush in being more wary of an exit and its consequences even as Biden says an ongoing engagement doesn't serve the country.
"The United States did what we went to do in Afghanistan: to get the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 and to deliver justice to Osama Bin Laden, and to degrade the terrorist threat to keep Afghanistan from becoming a base from which attacks could be continued against the United States," Biden, 78, said in a briefing to announce the details of the draw-down. "We achieved those objectives. That's why we went."
Biden continued: "We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. And it's the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country."
His administration has defended the move, which critics like Bush have argued could lead to a Taliban resurgence and the fraying of political and social rights. American officials will begin evacuating vulnerable Afghan interpreters and their families by the end of the month, Task & Purpose reported.
Already, the Taliban claims to have overtaken 85 percent of the territory, a situation described by Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby as "deteriorating security."
Bush's presidency was largely defined by the conflict in the Middle East and he himself faced criticism for his handling of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Mike Walker, a top Army official in the Clinton White House, wrote of Bush's reaction: "Of course, [he] forgets we have been in Afghanistan for 20 years because he looked the other way in 2003 and invaded Iraq before the job was done in Afghanistan."
The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 took place roughly one month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and aimed to dismantle al-Qaeda and remove the Taliban from power.
As New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman noted, Bush's criticism of Biden's announcement of the troop withdrawal comes nearly two years after former President Donald Trump offered an impulsive announcement on Twitter that he wanted to bring all U.S. troops home from Afghanistan by Christmas 2020.
The Trump administration had negotiated a deal with the Taliban to fully withdraw U.S. troops from by May 1, though Biden said it would be "tough" to meet that deadline and subsequently announced a delay.
"It could happen, but it is tough," Biden said in a March interview with ABC News. "The fact is that, that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that [Trump] ... worked out."
Since leaving office in 2009, Bush has been reluctant to comment on his successors, save for a few instances as when he spoke out about the deadly pro-Trump attack at the U.S. Capitol in January and remarked in an April episode of Today that some in the contemporary Republican Party are "isolationist, protectionist and, to a certain extent, nativist."