Sources: White House believes scenes of slaughter in Afghanistan will boost support for Biden's withdrawal decision

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Incredibly cynical and depressing. And quite possibly correct.

“The public opinion is pretty damn clear that Americans wanted out of the ongoing war and don’t want to get back in. It’s true today and it’s going to be true in six months,” said one Biden ally. “It isn’t about not caring or being empathetic about what’s going on over there, but worrying about what’s happening in America.”…

White House officials believe Americans’ horror over graphic images of the chaos in Kabul and pleas from Afghans who fear they will be killed by the Taliban will morph into support for the president’s decision to pull troops from the country by Aug. 31 after a 20-year war.

They expect the Afghanistan story to recede from the headlines, replaced by the resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the economic recovery and other issues, people familiar with the matter said.

Ross Douthat articulated that logic in a series of tweets a few days ago. If Afghanistan couldn’t stand on its own for even a few weeks after America withdrew, that only proves that staying was folly, no? The nation-building project had failed utterly. And the more chaotic and brutal the final chapter in Kabul is, the clearer that failure becomes.

In which case, I suppose this is … good news for the Biden administration?

By the logic of “the worse, the better,” maybe it makes sense that they’re seemingly prepared to leave Americans behind on August 31. If the public is pro-withdrawal now, imagine how supportive they’ll be when the Taliban is posting videos of Americans being beheaded.

The Taliban will hopefully/presumably think twice about executing Americans, knowing that Biden will come under intense public pressure to avenge the dead if they do. Executing our Afghan “friendlies” is a whole other ballgame. The purge is under way:

The Taliban have begun rounding up Afghans on a blacklist of people they believe have worked in key roles with the previous Afghan administration or with U.S.-led forces that supported it, according to a report by a Norwegian intelligence group.

The report, compiled by the RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses and seen by Reuters, said the Taliban were hunting individuals linked to the previous administration, which fell on Sunday when the Islamist militant movement took Kabul.

“Taliban are intensifying the hunt-down of all individuals and collaborators with the former regime, and if unsuccessful, target and arrest the families and punish them according to their own interpretation of Sharia law,” said the report, dated Wednesday.

The Taliban are primitive in some ways but surprisingly competent fascists in others. The Times reports that they’re “combing through records at the ministry of defense and interior and the headquarters of Afghanistan’s spy service, drawing up lists of operatives to search for,” and that they’re using electronic equipment to sweep the homes of Afghan military officials when they go looking for them. With help from Pakistan, they may also be able to exploit the biometric data of Afghans gathered by the U.S. military to identify and punish the “traitors” in their midst. Certain aspects of this slaughter will be highly “sophisticated.”

Others won’t be:

Amnesty International reports today on an incident from early July in Ghazni province, after the Taliban overran a village there. Villagers fled, but a few returned to try to gather food and supplies for their waiting families. The Taliban captured, tortured, and murdered nine of them. One victim had the muscles of his arm sliced off. Another had his hair pulled out. A witness told Amnesty that when they asked the Taliban why, they were told, “When it is the time of conflict, everyone dies, it doesn’t matter if you have guns or not. It is the time of war.”

Is news like that apt to make Americans more or less supportive of ceding the country to these savages?

“I think they’re underestimating just how hawkish the DC media establishment is,” said Kaylee McGhee White of the White House’s gamble that chaos in Kabul will rally the public behind withdrawal. That’s true, and it’s not just a matter of being hawkish. The months to come will bring dozens of stories of vivid human-rights abuses of the sort I wrote about above that the media won’t be able to resist covering as a matter of simple sensationalism, with the overt or implicit subtext that those abuses wouldn’t be happening if the U.S. had stayed put. That may sour American opinion on withdrawal, to the extent that it hasn’t soured already.

And of course the complete incompetence of the evacuation effort will sour it further. Americans may support withdrawal but they don’t support national humiliation, which is what Biden’s team has engineered. The White House can pretend if it likes that voters will distinguish the overarching strategy from the abysmal tactical execution but I don’t think it’ll shake out that way. When Americans think of withdrawal, they’ll think of Saigon 2.0. And no one will feel good about that.