In a White House address last Thursday, Biden announced that the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan will be completed by Aug. 31, ahead of his self-imposed deadline of Sept. 11. Gen. Scott Miller, the top American general in Afghanistan, departed the country on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Taliban has continued to make rapid gains across Afghanistan, claiming last Friday that it had seized 85 percent of the country’s territory. Western officials have warned that the U.S.-backed Afghan government in Kabul could soon fall.
The criticism from Bolton — who went on to serve as Bush’s U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations before returning to government as former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser — comes after Bush himself denounced the drawdown in an interview on Wednesday.
The former president told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle that Biden’s withdrawal was a mistake that would yield “unbelievably bad and sad” consequences. Afghan women and girls, in particular, could “suffer unspeakable harm” at the hands of the Taliban, he said.
On Friday, Bolton described Bush’s comments as “something really remarkable,” especially given the former president’s preference for avoiding public criticism of his successors.
“It’s how former presidents ought to behave. He’s tried to stay out of politics, and it’s been very rare when he’s come forward and said anything like the passage you just showed,” Bolton said, referring to Bush’s interview.
“But I think it’s because he remembers 9/11,” Bolton added. “It’s 20 years ago now, and some people weren’t born, and a lot of people don’t remember very well. George W. Bush is never going to forget it. I think those of us who were in his administration at the time are never going to forget it.”
In arguing for a continued American military presence in Afghanistan, Bolton acknowledged he did not think a terrorist attack against the U.S. “is going to come the day after Taliban takes back over.”
“I do think it’s going to take more time, and that’s really what the risk is,” he said. “I would rather defend innocent American civilians there than in the streets and the skies over America.”
Bolton also predicted that if the Taliban succeeds in toppling the Afghan government, “the hand of the extremists in Pakistan will be strengthened, and the risk of a Pakistani Taliban takeover of that government increases substantially.”
A Taliban-run government in Pakistan “would have control of dozens or scores of nuclear weapons,” Bolton warned, adding that a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would also inhibit American efforts to monitor “what Iran is up to.”
“This was a central strategic position for the United States,” he said. “We’re giving it away. We’re getting nothing in return.”