Opponents and allies are both pulling their hair out in the face of the fiasco produced by Biden, and the situation could get worse.
What happened to Joe Biden? A politician with half a century of experience in his pocket, a resilient survivor, and still, it seems he has forgotten everything he learned.
The first rule of the smart, cunning foxes in Washington is to do only what pays political dividends to yourself and to your supporters. Biden blatantly broke this rule when he decided on an untimely withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. The entire coalition is also largely to blame for ordering the withdrawal.
The manner in which the operation was conducted is one of the most disastrous initiatives by any American politician — ever. The New York Post cruelly compared the situation to Dunkirk, referencing the massive Word War II evacuation of more than 300,000 British and Allied soldiers trapped on the French coast. Biden turned a possible victory into defeat.
The second rule in Washington is not to give ammunition to the enemy. Biden managed to push and break limits. Now, the allies are the ones who are despairing in the face of this fiasco.
Why was the enormity of the events in Afghanistan produced by so many serial errors? Ryan Crocker, ambassador to Afghanistan under the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president, wrote, “There is one overarching answer: our lack of strategic patience at critical moments, including from President Biden. It has damaged our alliances, emboldened our adversaries and increased the risk to our own security. It has also flouted 20 years of work and sacrifice.”
“Strategic impatience” is an elegant way of saying what others are describing in harsher words.
Tony Blair, who ruined his reputation with unconditional support for the American invasion of Iraq and hailed Biden as “the right man at the right time” when he was elected, wrote of the Afghan disaster, “We didn’t need to do it. We chose to do it. We did it in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the forever wars,’ as if our engagement in 2021 was remotely comparable to our commitment 20 or even 10 years ago, and in circumstances in which troop numbers had declined to a minimum and no allied soldier had lost their life in combat for 18 months.”
Without naming its source for obvious reasons, the British government told The Telegraph that Biden seems “slightly alienated from reality.”
The detachment from reality contributes to the wreck of the third rule for skilled politicians: control the narrative. Every time he gives a speech or an interview, Biden digs a bigger hole.
He obviously has a permanent crisis committee and follows a tight script, trying to appear mature, responsible and in charge of a situation that only gets worse, and better not to mention what would happen if Americans got stranded in a country dominated by the Taliban and had to be abandoned by the troops with a deadline to leave Kabul airport, the only space the troops occupy today.**
The problem is that his words sound hollow, even when he pretends to assume all responsibility for the withdrawal, and then blames the Afghans in general and Donald Trump in particular, creating the impression that he will soon summon the Wicked Witch of the West.
Many of his words are also incompatible with the facts, which, in this digital age, unfold in real time before the eyes of the world. The situation is not under control, and the string of desperate Afghans by the airport only foreshadows even more critical scenes. There are Americans — no one officially speaks in numbers, but they are not few — who can’t get through the burgeoning number of people trying to reach the departure area. And absolutely everything depends on the collaboration or resistance of the Taliban.
Like a “banana republic,” according to a high official yesterday or even five minutes ago, statements fly out the window quickly. In literally minutes. Biden says there is no information about mistreatment of U.S. citizens, then Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin tells Congress that “we’re also aware that some people, including Americans, have been harassed and even beaten by the Taliban.”
Biden has put himself in a situation where only fragments of his statements can be believed.
When he said, for example, “I cannot promise what the end result will be or what it will be without risk of loss,” he spoke the truth.
He really can’t promise. The situation he set up, with the complacency and consent of high civil and military leadership, is so volatile it could incinerate his presidency of a mere seven months. Or trigger a crisis of unspeakable proportions.
When experienced politicians like Biden give the impression of living in an alternative reality, suggesting that Americans will soon be relieved to close the Afghan chapter because al-Qaida is “finished,” then it’s time to be afraid.
And this is a growing sentiment among allies who depend on the United States for their own security.
Biden is a smart politician who made a string of serious mistakes, and the results are still apparent; he has placed himself in unnecessary trouble, despite the problems any withdrawal from Afghanistan would cause.
His political future will play out in the coming days, and the air of false security he has been trying to convey shows he knows this very well.
An additional detail: The Taliban has already warned they will not accept an extension of the deadline for the total withdrawal that the president himself established, Aug. 31.**
*Editor’s note: The original content of this article is available with a paid subscription.
**Editor’s note: All American troops departed from Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 30.