Jim Geraghty’s written two posts today making the case that something is up. I’m not sold on his first post. His second is more persuasive.
The first post argues that Biden’s chat with George Stephanopoulos was filled with enough contradictions and awkward stammering that, paired with his low visibility lately, we might reasonably conclude that his health has become an issue. Whether you agree comes down to a gut check on how you felt about the interview. I didn’t see it as out of the ordinary for Biden. His answers were emphatically not good but he didn’t seem checked out to me. If anything, he was combative to a surprising degree considering the political moment calls for a more sympathetic tone and sympathy is what he’s supposed to be good at.
Also, if his health was in such a state that his aides feared he needed to be kept away from public view, why would they let him give an interview? They could have made an excuse that he needed to cancel because there’s a national-security crisis and it’s consuming all of his time.
Even his contradictions, like when he claimed that the Pentagon never asked him to leave 2,500 troops in place, smell to me more like a weaselly politician lying in the name of passing the buck than an old man being forgetful about what he was told.
But Geraghty has a point about Biden’s movements lately. They’re deeply weird given the magnitude of the emergency the country’s facing.
One: Is it normal for an American president to take 36 hours to respond to an urgent call from the U.K. Prime Minister? Sure, some delay, during an ongoing foreign crisis, is to be expected. But a day and a half?
Two: As of this writing, shortly after 2 p.m. Eastern time, President Biden has no events listed on his schedule for today, tomorrow, or this coming weekend. The Federal Aviation Administration has pushed back the flight restrictions for “VIP travel” around Wilmington, Delaware from Friday at 12:30 p.m. Eastern to 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, August 23. Despite the severity of the current crisis, it appears Biden still plans to spend the weekend at one of his homes in Delaware.
That really is strange. Why wouldn’t the president want to be at the White House at a moment like this, signaling that he’s in command and his administration is on the case? Hiding out in Delaware makes it seem like he’s on vacation while U.S. troops struggle to maintain order at the Kabul airport with the Taliban outside the gate. Given the total disorder in American planning in Afghanistan over the past month, having Biden squirreled away in another state feeds the impression that no one’s in charge. Or, worse, that he doesn’t really care.
Which, maybe he doesn’t:
Biden’s foreign-policy record has one other through line: the betrayal of people who have sided with the United States against its enemies and who, in the aftermath of American withdrawal, face a future of oppression, brutality, and death. And these betrayals of people in foreign lands seem to leave Biden unmoved. There is a troubling callousness to it all, a callousness that is at odds with empathy that Biden has clearly shown in other areas of his life.
According to my colleague George Packer’s biography of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Biden has argued that the United States does not have an obligation to Afghans who trusted the United States.
“We don’t have to worry about that. We did it in Vietnam. Nixon and Kissinger got away with it,” Biden told Holbrooke. Biden also “reportedly pushed back on the argument that America had a moral obligation to women in Afghanistan,” according to The Washington Post.
It’d be reassuring in a way if we could blame his callousness this week on senility. We can’t. He’s an OG America Firster when it comes to refugees, it seems.
But that doesn’t mean Geraghty’s wrong to be suspicious. I don’t understand why Biden didn’t call Boris Johnson back sooner either. And it’s downright bizarre that he would remain at home while the Kabul crisis plays out, knowing that it looks to the world like he’s hiding in a bunker because he’s embarrassed and overwhelmed. The optics obviously require him to head back to the Oval Office, yet he hasn’t. Why not?
There must be a reason.
I should note that the White House did post this photo yesterday:
This morning, the President and Vice President were briefed by their national security team on the evolving situation in Afghanistan. They discussed the evacuations of U.S. citizens, SIV applicants, and vulnerable Afghans, and the monitoring of any potential terrorist threats. pic.twitter.com/aRejPzOhgp
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 18, 2021
He’s still chairing natsec meetings. Whether he’s coherent at those meetings or whether the photo was mainly just for show are separate questions. He didn’t seem addled during yesterday’s public remarks on COVID, though. Could he be having a health issue that’s physical rather than mental?
Here’s the latest:
The @WhiteHouse called a lid at 3:36 p.m.
No eyes on Biden today.
— Nikki Schwab (@NikkiSchwab) August 19, 2021
Hoo boy. I’ll leave you with a new statement from the man who’d be commander-in-chief right now if not for Biden. As others have noted in response to it: Wouldn’t you want to withdraw the military before you bombed their bases?
Statement by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America pic.twitter.com/zAaAH1WT2y
— RSBN 🇺🇸 (@RSBNetwork) August 19, 2021
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