Not what I was expecting.
Not what a lot of others in the commentariat were expecting either judging by the strongly negative reaction on social media this afternoon. The words “tone deaf” are being thrown around, and not unfairly.
This slightly salty summary from Ed is apt:
Let me sum up Biden's speech:
1. Shit happens
2. It's everyone else's fault when shit happens.
3. I'm the only one brave enough to make shit happen.
4. Isn't brave enough to take questions from reporters.
— Ed Morrissey (@EdMorrissey) August 16, 2021
Biden’s political brand is empathy. If ever there was a moment that called for that it was this one, with terrified Afghans desperately looking for a way out of their country to avoid being murdered. I guess Biden calculated that if he showed too much rhetorical compassion, it would have sounded hollow in light of his decision to withdraw. “How can you say you sympathize with them when you knew this would be the inevitable consequences of your policy, Mr. President?”
He couldn’t. So he gave a Trumpy speech instead.
And not only didn’t he take questions, he bugged out of Washington while America is busy bugging out of Kabul:
The president will now return to Camp David, the White House announces.
— Philip Melanchthon Wegmann (@PhilipWegmann) August 16, 2021
The man isn’t going to miss the rest of his vacation for something as minor as the total collapse of American international credibility.
His point about not wanting to sacrifice Americans to defend a nation of Afghans who won’t defend themselves is an appealing one. At least one prominent right-wing nationalist applauded him for it this afternoon. But Biden’s guilty of the same rhetorical trick that Tony Blinken pulled yesterday and was properly challenged on by Jake Tapper. He tried to change the subject in his speech from the gross tactical debacle that led to the scenes playing out today at the airport to his more defensible strategic decision to withdraw. I can’t ask our boys to die for their country when their own boys won’t do it, says Biden.
That’s super, Joe. What’s that got to do with neglecting to evacuate the thousands of Afghans who helped our boys for years before the jihadis rolled into town? What’s it got to do with abandoning Bagram as a base of operations and then having to throw together an evacuation force at Karzai airport when the situation went pear-shaped?
Cutting the power and running away from Bagram Air Base weeks before the final pull-out goes down as one of the strangest military decisions I have ever seen. Choosing a single point of failure, an airport with one runway, for such a sensitive mission. Just beyond strange.
— Tyler Rogoway (@Aviation_Intel) August 16, 2021
The sleaziest element of the speech was Biden checking the leadership box by saying “the buck stops here” but then spending the rest of his remarks shifting blame to others. He blamed the Afghan government and army for not fighting harder. He blamed Trump for handing him a May 1 withdrawal deadline, even though he was always free to rescind that policy. He even blamed some Afghans who’ve been left behind for not availing themselves of the opportunity to leave sooner, as if he and Blinken themselves hadn’t spent the last few months telling everyone who’d listen that the country was in no danger of imminent collapse.
I feel like the guys clinging to the landing gear of that military plane that took off from Kabul this morning probably did want to leave earlier.
And by the way, some Afghans did fight:
In one year the Afghan Security Forces took more casualties than the US did in 20. To say they didn't fight is fucking reprehensible.
— Joe Kassabian (@jkass99) August 16, 2021
Because our planning was so poor, there remains a reasonable chance that many Americans, both soldiers and civilians, will yet end up dying at the hands of the Taliban. There are thousands of U.S. troops stuck at the airport right now, surrounded on all sides. And there are thousands of U.S. citizens stuck in Kabul, unable to get to the airport in the first place:
But as the U.S. military struggles to even secure the airport grounds, thousands of U.S. citizens who didn’t make it there yet are hiding and hoping someone saves them before roaming Taliban gangs find them. In Washington, several congressional offices are scrambling to help, but complaining that the Biden administration is dropping the ball…
Several congressional staffers told me that American citizens in Kabul have been flooding their office’s phone lines, complaining that after being told on Sunday by the State Department to shelter in place and not to come to the embassy or the airport, they have not received any further information and are scared for their lives. Cotton’s office set up an email address for Americans in Kabul who want to be evacuated ([email protected]) to try to get them more help.
“We’ve been screaming at the State Department over this issue,” one senior GOP Senate staffer told me. “This is a s—show everyone saw coming, and they didn’t do a damn thing about it until about 24 hours ago, after days of pounding on them by the Hill.”
If ending the spilling of American blood in Afghanistan is Biden’s highest priority, you’d never know it from the circumstances of the slapdash exit his administration facilitated. This horror show isn’t over yet. Stay tuned.