Looks like the White House has finally settled on a narrative. Let’s hope they do better than the one Jake Sullivan tried earlier this morning. The big question will be whether this crisis is big enough to bring Jen Psaki back from her vacation:
Biden will return to the White House and make remarks on Afghanistan at 3:45 pm eastern today. pic.twitter.com/OiwDEtVz9c
— Olivier Knox (@OKnox) August 16, 2021
The East Room setting would allow Biden to take questions from reporters, if he and his comms team want that to happen. The odds on that are likely nil, especially given the media’s surprisingly critical tenor over the last 24 hours. In order to answer all of their questions — especially referencing Biden’s insistence last month that this collapse would never happen — you’d need a chief executive known for being nimble and thinking on his feet, not one who fumbles his notes at the podium on his prepared remarks.
On the other hand, not even Barack Obama could answer some of these questions. Such as this: Just how unprepared was the Biden administration and State Department for the collapse of Afghanistan? Perhaps the problem was bad intelligence, or maybe it was good intelligence badly received, the question Allahpundit mulled earlier today. Either way, however, how did this administration announce its intent to withdraw in April — and leave evacuation of Americans as an afterthought?
With the Kabul airport besieged, the State Department offered this advice to trapped Americans:
The State Department and Pentagon issued a joint statement Sunday night to say they would “accelerate” evacuation flights for Afghans who served the U.S. mission and take over air traffic control at the airport after the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was “successfully” evacuated. By Monday morning, U.S. troops had reportedly established large barriers and roadblocks on the streets near the airport in an effort to both slow and control the fleeing population.
A security alert Monday from the U.S. Embassy warned American citizens that are set to be evacuated but have not yet left the country to still shelter in place — until they “have been informed by email that departure options exist.”
That’s pretty cute. How long will they have access to e-mail, even if they manage to avoid the Taliban’s reach for a while? If they use satellite technology to maintain contact, even a group as backward as the Taliban will eventually triangulate on such signals as part of their security efforts. This is essentially telling Americans who came to Afghanistan to support their country’s mission that they’re on their own for the foreseeable future — a disgrace that just adds to the pile of disgraces that have taken place over the last few weeks.
Bet on a short speech that attempts to lay as much blame as possible on Donald Trump without mentioning all of the intel and leadership failures that took place on Biden’s watch, and then a quick escape to the residence. Don’t expect any explanation for the lack of preparation for Biden’s withdrawal, a policy he fully embraced for the last decade and for which he prepared not at all for the obvious consequences.
Update: There’s plenty of people who want to support any Biden attempt to shift the blame to Trump, or at least to suggest that Biden is an unfortunate victim of history. David Sanger apparently attempted to float the latter today at the NYT:
News Analysis: "Mr. Biden will go down in history, fairly or unfairly, as the president who presided over a long-brewing, humiliating final act in the American experiment in Afghanistan," David Sanger writes. https://t.co/MHOELj3oEw
— The New York Times (@nytimes) August 16, 2021
This doesn’t address the fact that Joe Biden himself is part of that long-brewing final act. The withdrawal from the Taliban fight has been Biden’s idea since 2009, as the New York Times reported almost exactly twelve years ago:
Mr. Obama met in the Situation Room with his top advisers on Sept. 13 to begin chewing over the problem, said officials involved in the debate. Among those on hand were Mr. Biden; Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; James L. Jones, the national security adviser; and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
They reached no consensus, so three or four more such meetings are being scheduled. “There are a lot of competing views,” said one official who, like others in this article, requested anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations.
Among the alternatives being presented to Mr. Obama is Mr. Biden’s suggestion to revamp the strategy altogether. Instead of increasing troops, officials said, Mr. Biden proposed scaling back the overall American military presence. Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces would concentrate on strikes against Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics.
The Americans would accelerate training of Afghan forces and provide support as they took the lead against the Taliban. But the emphasis would shift to Pakistan. Mr. Biden has often said that the United States spends something like $30 in Afghanistan for every $1 in Pakistan, even though in his view the main threat to American national security interests is in Pakistan.
I mentioned this to a colleague a few minutes ago. His response: “Biden had twelve years to think about this, and this is the best he could do?”