The first third of Joe Biden’s speech defending the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal was full of lies, blaming everyone but himself while also claiming it was a big beautiful evacuation, and done in completely bad faith.
“Mr. Biden described the evacuation as if it were a triumph, and that his Administration had planned for such a contingency in case the Afghan military collapsed. This is, literally, unbelievable. Multiple media reports have revealed that the White House was caught by surprise and preparing for vacation en masse when Kabul fell,” concluded the Wall Street Journal editorial board. “The President even had the ill grace to blame Americans for not leaving Afghanistan sooner, and Afghans for not fighting. But his own government clearly felt no urgency, as the U.S. Embassy had to frantically destroy documents in the final hours.”
The rest of the speech was not as bad — it seemed the writers were very eager to pivot to the popularity of the decision to leave itself, if not among the press or the leadership class, among the voters — which is not an unwise approach. Biden’s Republican critics would therefore be wise to focus on the former portion, not the latter. If a year from now most Americans are saying “hey, it was a mess, horrible, but he made the hard call and at least we got out”, then Biden’s spinners will have succeeded.
The way to prevent that is to sound a note that focuses dead-on on the thing that everyone is actually pissed off about: the disastrous cluster of a withdrawal that looks very much like Biden’s Katrina moment — a catastrophic failure that shakes American faith in the military authority and the capacity of our government to do their jobs. Biden’s declaration of an exceptional performance is the target, and ought to be. That’s what the families of the dead American soldiers care about — they’re not mad about leaving, they’re mad the leaving was so botched that their sons and daughters died. Their priorities should inform Republican critics.
In any Republican administration, Gen. Milley and SecState Blinken would be headed for the exits — instead, Biden maintains that they and their underlings did nothing wrong. He even has the gall to blame desperate people who foolishly believed his words about Afghan stability for not getting out sooner — maybe the most audacious deployment of a “well, but you were out late in that skirt” commentary I’ve ever heard. It was his own falsehoods and those who parroted them that kept people there, and he’s pretending like it never happened.
A more troubling consideration than yelled-out lies would be: is Biden so delusional that he actually believes the spin he’s being given? As we see in this Reuters call, handily leaked by the Deep State, Biden’s concerns the last time he spoke to then-Afghan President Ghani was not the risk for his military, but the need to ‘change perception’.
In the call, Biden offered aid if Ghani could publicly project he had a plan to control the spiraling situation in Afghanistan … Biden lauded the Afghan armed forces, which were trained and funded by the U.S. government. “You clearly have the best military,” he told Ghani. “You have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well.”
Days later, the Afghan military started folding across provincial capitals in the country with little fight against the Taliban.
In much of the call, Biden focused on what he called the Afghan government’s “perception” problem. “I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden said. “And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
Biden told Ghani that if Afghanistan’s prominent political figures were to give a press conference together, backing a new military strategy, “that will change perception, and that will change an awful lot I think.”
The American leader’s words indicated he didn’t anticipate the massive insurrection and collapse to come 23 days later. “We are going to continue to fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to make sure your government not only survives, but is sustained and grows,” said Biden.
So was Biden’s position that he was lying then, that he was misinformed, or that the people underneath him weren’t telling the truth? It would be good to know, considering that the actions that followed led directly to the deaths of hundreds of Afghans and 13 Americans. It would be good to know who made what decision at DOD about leaving behind equipment, at State about processing Afghan interpreters, at the CIA about what we knew on the ground — and if these decisionmakers have any justification for keeping their jobs.
There is one more important aspect that should be appreciated about this moment, and that is the damage it has done to Biden’s brand as an empathetic comforter. The media played this up to an insane degree during 2020, and this colossal blunder and encounters with a host of Gold Star families has done much to eliminate it. The speech didn’t help this any, in word or tone.
Nor will what comes next — images and stories from Afghanistan that would make anyone with a pro-refugee sign in front of their house hang their heads in shame. Those happen to be a lot of the same white suburban voters the Democratic Party needs to succeed, and who made a difference in 2020. Their buyer’s remorse for Biden had already been growing before this moment. Turning it around seems like an endeavor far too great for a president who seems so very small.