Biden and a Disaster Named Afghanistan

Americans care little about the outside world, even when they are involved. Afghanistan could be an exception.

There has been a dominant consensus since at least the middle of the 20th century that Americans pay relatively little attention to international issues. As a result, these issues tend to have a rather minimal effect on American domestic politics. Of course, the two world wars or, much most recently, the invasion of Iraq, held a central place in public debate, but they remain exceptions.

As tragic as the humanitarian and geopolitical disaster unfolding in Afghanistan since the return of the Taliban to power is, as shown by images of Afghans hanging onto American planes taking off from Kabul, it remains a distant matter a good number of Americans.

So what might the political repercussions of this military debacle be for Commander in Chief Joe Biden? Before the start of the withdrawal of American troops from Kabul, a clear majority of voters already supported the president on the question. Even amid the rout of the Afghan army and government, 1 in 2 Americans still supported withdrawal from the country. That is far from marginal.

But American public opinion has been so polarized in recent years that the approval ratings of the last three presidents, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Biden, moved only slightly during their respective terms. Two enormous partisan blocs, Democratic and Republican, have already largely rendered their verdicts on Biden as they had, conversely, on Trump.

In other words, Biden no doubt cannot expect big gains from Republicans even when things go well, although he can still hope to maintain support from hard-core Democratic voters. That ensures him some stability, even in times of crisis.

This stability is not entirely immutable, either. In the case of Afghanistan, the primary risk for Biden is that the scale of the catastrophe is such that the issue goes beyond the simple framework of foreign affairs and becomes one of a general perception of presidential incompetence.

Even if the three preceding presidents have also proved ineffectual on this impossible issue, and Trump authorized the pull-out of American troops before his departure from the White House, Biden remains responsible in the eyes of the public. Ultimately, he has to defend himself for having ignored the advice of military commanders who implored him not to depart in this manner, and for having ordered the withdrawal of troops before having even evacuated American personnel.

Biden has not had to defend himself much up to now. First, as a presidential candidate, he spent eight months underground before the election, judiciously preferring to let the incumbent president defeat himself. In office, he waited nearly two months before holding his first press conference, something not seen from an American president in a century.

Then, during the week that Afghanistan fell back into the hands of the Taliban, the president spent half his time on vacation at Camp David and took three days before speaking publicly, reading from a teleprompter without answering a single question from reporters.

This only fueled the grumblings of major media outlets which, for the first time, really, since the Democratic primaries, are relentlessly hounding Biden and his administration.

When Biden finally did respond on Wednesday to questions from ABC News host George Stephanopoulos, he asserted that nothing could have been done differently despite having publicly assured, barely a month ago, that there would never be a scenario like what had been observed in the last few days.

For the very first time in his presidency, the average approval rating for Biden has fallen below 50%.

Maybe this withdrawal from Afghanistan will, too, be one of the exceptions.

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About Reg Moss 42 Articles
Reg is a writer, teacher and translator with an interest in social issues especially as pertains to education and matters of race, class, gender, immigrant status, etc. He is currently based in Chicago.

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