Biden tries reset after nightmare week in Kabul

“Our determination to bring every American citizen home and evacuate our Afghan allies is unwavering,” said the president, after canceling a weekend in Delaware to stay close to his national security and disaster management teams.

His remarks – which raised even more questions when an official later clarified Biden’s statements about extending a safe zone around Kabul airport – gave a strong sense of political reset after a week in which footage of helicopters taking off from the US Embassy in Kabul projected the impression of a humiliating retirement after a 20-year war that ended in defeat.

Rarely has there been a time in this Presidency when confidence in the President’s word and its truthfulness has been more important. The outbreak of the Delta variant of Covid-19 across the country is now averaging 150,000 new cases per day, six weeks after Biden declared partial independence from the virus. While the president has little control over Americans who have refused to be vaccinated and left themselves vulnerable to the disease, the extension of the emergency threatens the economy and Democratic prospects in the 2022 midterm elections Meanwhile, millions of American schoolchildren are returning to face-to-face classes amid a political war over masks and with parents frantic with concern over a virus that now poses a greater threat to children.
And Biden starts the week with another headache as the House of Representatives returns to consider a bipartisan infrastructure plan and a $ 3.5 trillion spending plan that revealed strong divisions within the Democratic caucus. As his sense of state is scrutinized abroad, Democratic tensions will test the president’s domestic political skills that were highlighted when the Senate got both measures 50-50.

A critical moment in the Afghan evacuation

Biden’s point-to-point briefing on the expansion of US rescue efforts from the Roosevelt Room of the White House came after he also demonstrated authority in dealing with the deadly floods in Tennessee and the impact of tropical storm Henri. His comments on the flooding that killed 21 people and the storm that hit the northeast were particularly moving. And his decision to speak in detail about these two challenges ahead of his update on Afghanistan may have hinted that the White House believes the tragedies unfolding on American soil may concern Americans more than those of the world. whole.

Yet the great peril of the evacuation from Afghanistan and the impact it could have on Biden’s political fortunes was highlighted when he warned that ISIS’s Afghan affiliate posed a threat to the forces. Americans and those who want to flee.

“Every day we have troops on the ground. These troops, innocent civilians at the airport, are in danger of being attacked from a distance by ISIS-K,” Biden said. This reality reflected the fundamental vulnerability not only of US troops, but also the fact that the president’s political position depended on events beyond his control in Afghanistan.

After the staggering collapse of the Afghan state and the successful march of the Taliban to Kabul, the White House had to endure days of unflattering media coverage and speculation about the impact of the fiasco on the leadership reputation of Biden and his colleagues. immediate political prospects.

But if the US airlift continues without incident in the days to come, all those who need to be extracted can leave Afghanistan, and US troops exit without causing casualties, the worst damage to Biden’s reputation could be avoided. in the United States – if not among the dismayed allies abroad. Despite all the confusion, the evacuation could end up being considered a success.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Biden’s optimistic report, some 28,000 people have flown from Kabul since August 14, and a willingness to rescue all in need accurately reflects the facts on the ground where thousands of people are stuck in Kabul airport and thousands more. wait outside, according to CNN sources.

On several occasions over the past week, the rosy picture of events offered by the White House has been contradicted by eyewitnesses in the Afghan capital, raising questions about Biden’s candor or his mastery of a chaotic situation. There were new questions on that score on Sunday. The president hinted that US troops had extended a safe zone around the airport and gave the impression that they were now carrying out unspecified operations to extract citizens who could not reach the entry points there. . But a senior administration official later clarified that it was the Taliban who would open new entry points and that US operations at the airport had not been changed or expanded.

Political return

Biden’s struggles last week appear to have already caused some political erosion, but also support arguments that his presidency is not completely hostage to events in Afghanistan so far. In an NBC News poll released on Sunday, his approval rating dropped to 49%, from 53% in April, although he remains better than anything ex-President Donald Trump has achieved. But only 25% approved of the way he handled the withdrawal from Afghanistan. A CBS News survey, meanwhile, showed 74% of Americans believed the pullout had gone very or somewhat badly.

And the president faces atrocious political choices in the coming week. It is still far from certain that with Taliban control he will be able to root out all American citizens or Afghan translators and others who have worked with American forces. It was reported on Sunday, for example, that local staff at the now-abandoned US Embassy had no way of crossing Taliban cordon to reach evacuation flights at the airport.

Biden said there had been discussions within the administration about extending his Aug.31 deadline for the operation to be completed.

Any decision to end the airlift before all Americans and Afghans eligible to come to the United States leave it would trigger a torrent of criticism in Washington. But the rescue effort is razor-sharp, dependent on the tacit cooperation of the fundamentalist Taliban and is a target for terrorist groups.

“A great nation is a nation that keeps its word,” Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska warned Fox News on Sunday.

“We are talking about men and women who risk their lives to protect Americans. They fought hand in hand with our troops and we made promises to them,” Sasse continued.

Republicans seek to use the crisis to create a narrative that Biden is incompetent and to broaden criticism to his handling of border policies, the resurgence of the pandemic and the economy.

Biden adamant he was right to quit the war in Afghanistan

While Biden’s remarks appeared to be a tacit acceptance by the White House that some of last week’s criticisms were rooted in fact, Biden offered no concessions on his larger point – which he is right to end. at war.

“The question is, when is the right time to go? he said Sunday, after pulling out a map from his pocket listing 2,448 combat deaths in Afghanistan and over 20,000 wounded. “I’m not about to send your son and daughter to fight in Afghanistan,” the US president said in a direct appeal to US viewers. He also insisted that history would justify his decision as logical, fair and rational.

“My job is to make judgments, my job is to make judgments that no one else can or will make,” said the president.

Why Biden's exit from Afghanistan was not a good policy

Biden and pro-liberal commentators have repeatedly sought to blur the line between the chaos of withdrawal and the decision to leave. They also described Biden’s critics as all eager to prolong a hopeless war.

But the most accurate accounts of his leadership failures have focused on the administration’s failures to predict the fall of Kabul, the collapse of the Afghan armed forces, and the lack of preparation and sufficient manpower for a bridge. massive air force to save Americans and others.

Biden was not held responsible for the strategic decisions of three previous presidents that led to defeat in Afghanistan, as some of his supporters claim. And honest critics have included details of the hypocrisy of former Trump administration officials like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who negotiated a plan for an even earlier US withdrawal with the Taliban as part of the process. of an agreement that included the release of extremist prisoners who swelled the ranks of the Taliban. In the latest example of his habit of siding with American enemies who threaten his political opponents, Trump bizarrely praised the fundamentalist group at a Saturday night rally in Alabama, calling them “fierce fighters, great negotiators “.
Some pro-Trump Republicans and conservative media commentators have already started to question the idea of ​​the United States accepting thousands of Afghan refugees, raising familiar slanders about the possibility that they may have ties to terrorists. Apparently, with that in mind, Biden said no planes were flying directly from Kabul to US soil. And he said all Afghans eligible to enter the United States were subject to security screening.

In one of the most surprising twists and turns of this crisis, Biden’s signature empathy was fleeting following heartbreaking scenes at Kabul airport as Afghan civilians cling to American planes, and several died. after take off.

But on Sunday, he said he “felt sick to his stomach” at the images on television and had been pressured by veterans in the United States to save their former translators. Many of these veterans had criticized the lack of preparation for the US withdrawal effort.

“It’s heartbreaking. We see it, we feel it. You can’t look at it and not feel it,” Biden said, referring to the humanitarian situation of the Afghans.

The president promised to welcome to the United States the Afghans who helped the United States in its longest war “because that is what we are. It is what America is.”

While Biden’s political position may depend on completing the US exit from Afghanistan without serious US casualties and returning all Americans home, the country’s partners abroad – and history – will probably also judge it on the extent to which this commitment is fulfilled.

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