In early October of 2019, Donald Trump made one of the more morally repugnant decisions of his presidency.
Blindsiding the world with an announcement on Twitter, he ordered a sudden withdrawal of what few US military forces remained near Syria’s northern border.
“It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous endless wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. We will fight where it is to our benefit,” Mr Trump said at the time.
“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”
It was a staggering betrayal of America’s allies, the Kurds, whose help had been invaluable in the fight to crush ISIS.
RELATED: ‘They abandoned us’: Kurds accuse US of betraying them
The US funded, trained and armed Kurdish units throughout the war with ISIS, and in return they did the bulk of the fighting, suffering more than 12,000 casualties in the process.
Mr Trump rewarded that sacrifice by abandoning them, clearing the way for neighbouring Turkey to invade northern Syria and attack them.
“If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey,” Mr Trump warned.
It was a hollow threat.
Within days, more than 100,000 people had been displaced from their homes, and the Kurds had already been subjected to war crimes and executions.
“They abandoned us,” said the Kurdish commander, General Mazloum Ebdi. The US withdrawal was labelled a “stab in the back”.
The words of the retreating American soldiers were just as haunting.
“They trusted us, and we broke that trust. It’s a stain on the American conscience” said one Army officer.
Why am I bringing this up? Because now Joe Biden is doing the same thing, abandoning America’s allies in Afghanistan to be conquered and oppressed by the Taliban.
On Friday the Taliban captured four more provincial capitals, adding to its seizure of Afghanistan’s second and third largest cities, Kandahar and Herat, the day before. It now controls more than two-thirds of the country.
Soon the militants will have encircled the national capital, Kabul.
So, 20 years after the Taliban was swept from power, the return of its evil regime now seems inevitable. Untold human rights abuses will follow.
In fact they’ve already started. Captured Afghan soldiers are being executed, civilians are being attacked, and women are being forced into marriage.
Taliban rule will mean ethnic cleansing, the death penalty for homosexuality, the end of education for women, and many more indignities for the Afghan people. All the progress of the last two decades will be undone.
“Afghanistan is in the throes of yet another chaotic and desperate chapter, an incredibly tragedy for its long-suffering people,” United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said today.
“Afghanistan is spinning out of control.”
He said it was “particularly horrifying and heartbreaking” to see reports of Afghan women having their hard-won rights “ripped away from them”.
Mr Biden has chosen this outcome. It didn’t need to happen. He has decided Afghanistan’s return to the dark ages is an acceptable price for ending America’s longest war.
So far, the politician who campaigned on “restoring the soul of America” hasn’t even had the decency to express regret for what’s unfolding.
“I do not regret my decision,” the President said on Tuesday.
“We spent over $US1 trillion over 20 years. We trained and equipped with modern equipment over 300,000 Afghan forces. We lost thousands to death and injury, thousands of American personnel. They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was no more sympathetic.
“They have what they need. What they need to determine is whether they have the political will to fight back,” she told reporters.
The only somewhat senior Biden administration official to display any real empathy has been Molly Montgomery, a deputy assistant secretary at the State Department.
“Woke up with a heavy heart, thinking about all the Afghan women and girls I worked with during my time in Kabul,” Ms Montgomery wrote on Twitter today.
“They were the beneficiaries of many of the gains we made, and now they stand to lose everything. We empowered them to lead, and now we are powerless to protect them.”
Tellingly, she deleted the tweet shortly afterwards.
RELATED: Map shows the Taliban’s rapid advance
Mr Biden knows he is unlikely to pay any immediate political price for the withdrawal.
Polls consistently show more than two-thirds of Americans support leaving Afghanistan, and you can understand why. Continuing the war indefinitely, at a significant financial and human cost, is not an appealing proposition.
But would staying have been better than the alternative, which is now happening at sickening speed before our eyes?
Will Americans still support the withdrawal five years from now, if the Taliban once again turns Afghanistan into a haven for terrorists to plot attacks on the West?
We all remember what happened after Barack Obama withdrew from Iraq: the power vacuum allowed the Islamic State to rise, and the US was forced to deploy forces to the region again.
But even if those nightmare scenarios don’t happen, Mr Biden has left another dark stain on his country’s conscience. The US, which so often claims to speak from the moral high ground, has hung another ally out to dry. And it will damage the nation’s reputation.
“With America’s allies left in the lurch, prospective partners will think twice before offering up their support in future conflicts,” the military historian Frederick Kagan wrote this week.
“They know that this is not how a global leader acts. And most important, so do we.”
Sam is news.com.au’s US correspondent | @SamClench