It’s not a formal declaration of contempt, but clearly the reaction to Joe Biden’s Afghanistan rout and especially his speech goes well beyond MP Tom Tugendhat. Nor did Biden provide the only target of Parliament’s ire. Boris Johnson had to endure a day of harsh criticism for his lack of preparation for, and influence over, the humiliating end of the joint mission in Afghanistan.
The Daily Telegraph’s headline broadcasts the “dishonour” directed at the American president:
🇬🇧 Parliament Holds The President In Contempt
▫MPs and peers unite to condemn ‘dishonour’ of US president’s withdrawal and his criticism of Afghan troops left behind to face Taliban
▫@benrileysmith▫https://t.co/KPk4Y2jRNB 🇬🇧#frontpagestoday #TheDailyTelegraph #UK 🗞 pic.twitter.com/fa4PkFIqjd
— 𝙵𝚛𝚘𝚗𝚝 𝙿𝚊𝚐𝚎𝚜 𝚃𝚘𝚍𝚊𝚢 📰 (@ukpapers) August 19, 2021
Joe Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal was condemned as “catastrophic” and “shameful” on Wednesday as the Houses of Parliament delivered an unprecedented rebuke to a US president.
MPs and peers from across the political spectrum, including Boris Johnson, put some blame for the Taliban’s takeover and the chaos that followed on Britain’s closest ally.
Mr Biden was accused of “throwing us and everybody else to the fire” by pulling out US troops, and was called “dishonourable” for criticising Afghan forces for not having the will to fight.
And where exactly was Johnson in all this, MPs asked. They see this as the worst blow to British prestige since the Suez crisis, also the product of mishandling the US-UK relationship:
But it was not just Mr Biden who faced criticism, with Mr Johnson and his ministers told they had overseen the worst disaster in British foreign policy for 65 years.
The Prime Minister was accused of not doing enough to rally allies to support Afghanistan as the US departure became apparent, including by his predecessor, Theresa May.
And it gets worse for Johnson. Not only did he not have any influence over the decision to rapidly retreat, it turns out that Biden wouldn’t even return his phone calls until late Tuesday night:
A line in our reporting tomorrow:
‘Mr Johnson had been attempting to get Mr Biden on the phone to discuss Kabul falling from Monday morning. The pair eventually talked at close to 10pm on Tuesday.’
— Ben Riley-Smith (@benrileysmith) August 18, 2021
Lest one thinks that this only reflects the Daily Telegraph’s point of view, the BBC also collects a few headlines from the British press. A sampling of the lowlights:
- MPs condemn Biden over ‘shameful’ US withdrawal — Times of London
- MPs lambast Johnson over Afghanistan ‘humiliation’ — The Guardian
- JOHNSON HUMILIATED — Daily Mirror
- Johnson & Raab Shamed: ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL – Metro
The Metro helpfully includes a subhead of ‘You cannot co-ordinate an international response from the beach.’ Someone should tell that to Joe Biden.
This development is important to note for more than just partisan reasons. Democrats pushed Biden in 2020 on two major themes: foreign policy expertise and a restoral of American influence abroad after the Trump term. There’s no doubt that Trump rubbed a lot of our allies the wrong way, but he never generated the kind of anger that would lead the British parliament to openly express across-the-spectrum contempt for him, formally or not. That’s a first for an American president.
It also provides a sobering look at the damage Biden has done to American influence with this incompetent and deadly flight out of Afghanistan. If and when Biden needs the UK for a security issue more in tune with Biden’s priorities, who will come to his aid? In fact, after watching Biden’s incompetence in Afghanistan, who in their right mind would partner with his administration in any military/security venture, no matter how necessary? Our allies are already openly discussing their post-American future, as contempt for Biden and his team has spread far beyond Westminster.
The next time Biden calls, he might wait a long time to get an answer. A very long time.