Joseph R. Biden Jr. ’s surrender in Afghanistan and the chaotic, inept and shameful way he effected the capitulation have left an indelible stain on his presidency. The distortions he used Tuesday to justify his actions compounded his historical blunder.
The president offered a false choice, saying he could either “follow the agreement of the previous administration . . . for people to get out or send in thousands of more troops and escalate the war.” Set aside the fact that Mr. Biden has reversed many of his predecessor’s policies. The president’s statement ignored the reality that American airpower and support assistance kept the Taliban in check in recent years with minimal risk to U.S. military personnel.
Mr. Biden bragged he had “ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan—the longest war in American history.” The war hasn’t ended, just the U.S. role, and even that probably only temporarily. Islamic jihadists are still waging the wider War on Terror. They’re celebrating our humiliation and making plans.
Mr. Biden also declared the only “vital national interest” the U.S. had was “to make sure Afghanistan can never be used again to launch an attack on our homeland.” That was, he claimed Tuesday, achieved when Osama bin Laden was killed in May 2011 leaving al Qaeda “decimated.”
Mr. Biden neglected to mention that he opposed the strike that killed bin Laden. He also left out the finding by the Defense Department that a reconstituted al Qaeda is working closely with the Taliban. With America’s exit, Afghanistan can once again become a sanctuary from which terrorists launch attacks against the West.
Mr. Biden also claimed Tuesday that “we were ready” when the “assumption that the Afghan government would be able to hold on beyond military drawdown turned out not to be accurate.” Pretending that what we’ve witnessed resulted from careful preparation may have been his most absurd statement. Plenty of reports have demonstrated how much the Biden administration was caught off guard, including believing it had the “luxury of time”—18 months or so—before the Afghan government might collapse.
Then there was Mr. Biden’s neat little rhetorical trick, identifying “ISIS-K terrorists” as “sworn enemies of the Taliban” while not identifying the Taliban as “sworn enemies of America,” which they are. Neither group may like each other but last week’s bombings should have reminded the president that doesn’t much matter when they have set their sights on us.
Mr. Biden also sketched “the threats of 2021 and tomorrow” that he worries about, namely Islamic terrorists in Syria, Iraq, the Arabian peninsula and “across Africa and Asia.” But there’s little sign he knows what to do or will commit the necessary resources. The president has explicitly said he’ll withdraw from Iraq this year. And, of course, a terrorist attack from al-Shabaab won’t make an assault from al Qaeda any more welcome.
Adding yet another classless touch, Mr. Biden blamed American citizens trapped in Afghanistan for ignoring “multiple warnings and offers to help them leave.” At least he’s rhetorically consistent, always claiming the buck stops with him as he blames everybody but himself for what’s gone wrong. This is petty and defensive.
The president finished his Tuesday address by promising a future that’s “safer” and “more secure.” We’ll see, but given his record over the past few weeks, Mr. Biden is probably among the least credible people on the planet to offer such assurances.
Even in our highly polarized atmosphere, where partisans stubbornly cling to their team colors, Mr. Biden’s approval ratings have plummeted. Since Aug. 1, his numbers in the RealClearPolitics average have dropped from 51.3% approve to 45.8% approve, and in the FiveThirtyEight.com average, from 51.5% approve to 46.7% approve.
These losses aren’t only because of Afghanistan. The president’s ratings are dropping on his handling of Covid, the economy, immigration and crime, too. I bet they get worse in the months ahead, despite attempted P.R. resets.
Mr. Biden’s shaky and listless performance has demolished the idea that he’ll be a credible contender in 2024. Also wrecked is any sense that Vice President Kamala Harris is an acceptable heir. The president’s failures and shortcomings are hers as well, while she’s failed to produce success in virtually every responsibility she has been given to handle.
But who could emerge to replace them? Both the White House and the aging apparatchiks of the Democratic Congressional leadership will discourage new faces from making their ambitions known. And Mr. Biden’s actions and Tuesday’s speech diminished what little good will he has among swing voters, which will also hurt Democrats if Republicans make 2022 about checks-and-balances. It ain’t a pretty picture.