In recent days, as Kabul has fallen to the Taliban along with the rest of Afghanistan, the Biden administration has promised to evacuate thousands of Afghans who worked with US forces. But a decade ago, when speaking with a senior US diplomat, then vice-president Biden allegedly brushed off humanitarian concerns for the people of that nation and urged a swift withdrawal of US troops, damn the consequences for civilians.
“F— that, we don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam, Nixon and Kissinger got away with it,” Mr Biden reportedly told Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in 2010, according to a report in The Atlantic.
The comparison is a striking one. By the fall of Saigon in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War, the US managed to evacuate roughly 130,000 South Vietnamese, even though this effort largely went against official US policy most of the time. That said, for those who remained, hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese suspected of cooperating with or fighting for the US-backed regime were forced into Communist “re-education” camps.
Meanwhile, as another distant ally, Afghanistan, is captured by another US adversary, the Taliban, the US has committed to evacuating far fewer people, mainly US government personnel and Afghans who worked directly with American armed forces.
Not only that, but President Richard Nixon and his former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State have a deeply complicated human rights effort in the Vietnam War to say the least, have presided over a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia that killed upwards of 150,000 people, many of them civilians.
The Independent has reached out to the White House for comment.
The president defended his treatment of Afghan evacuees in an address from the White House on Monday.
“I know there are concerns about why we did not begin evacuating Afghan civilians sooner,” Mr Biden said. “Part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country, and part of it because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged the US from organising a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, a crisis of confidence.”
There’s no doubt now that a crisis has already unfolded, as thousands of Afghans have swarmed the Kabul airport, trying to get onto evacuation flights.
Commercial travel has been paused, leaving only those with a direct connection to a foreign government able to escape out on military planes.
At least eight people have been killed, including some who reportedly clung to the outside of departing jets until falling to their deaths.