Biden to Ghani in late July: Fake it if you're losing, mm-kay?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Does this leaked transcript of a call between Joe Biden and now-former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani show Biden unprepared for the collapse in Afghanistan, as Reuters suggests? Or does it show that Biden was worried enough about the prospect as early as July 23 to urge Ghani to essentially fake winning? Biden told Ghani that to keep support in place that he had to “project a different picture” than that which was already emerging in Afghanistan — “whether it is true or not”:

Biden lauded the Afghan armed forces, which were trained and funded by the U.S. government. “You clearly have the best military,” he told Ghani. “You have 300,000 well-armed forces versus 70-80,000 and they’re clearly capable of fighting well.” Days later, the Afghan military started folding across provincial capitals in the country with little fight against the Taliban.

In much of the call, Biden focused on what he called the Afghan government’s “perception” problem. “I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden said. “And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”

Biden suggested a change in military leadership as one solution, but oddly thought a press conference might be enough:

Biden told Ghani that if Afghanistan’s prominent political figures were to give a press conference together, backing a new military strategy, “that will change perception, and that will change an awful lot I think.”

The American leader’s words indicated he didn’t anticipate the massive insurrection and collapse to come 23 days later. “We are going to continue to fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to make sure your government not only survives, but is sustained and grows,” said Biden.

Two weeks earlier, Biden had insisted that the US departure would not turn into another Saigon. He also insisted that “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.” By this time, however, Biden had ordered the military to abandon Bagram and had stopped providing the intelligence and logistical support that the Afghan armed forces desperately needed to retain cohesion against the Taliban. And this was two weeks before the Taliban finally sacked the capital of Nimroz province, its first successful takeover of a government-backed city, a move which explicitly violated the terms of the withdrawal agreement that Biden was executing.

It was also weeks before the Biden administration began its full-out evacuation mission. This transcript shows just how much Biden and his team ignored their responsibilities to Americans and our allies in the final weeks of the collapse. They knew that the Afghan army was having trouble against the Taliban and yet dithered until the terrorists came to the gates of Kabul to secure egress out of the city. Nimroz fell on August 6, and yet the US didn’t bother to start getting its embassy staff out until more than a week later.

No matter how one interprets this transcript, nothing in it makes Biden look good. That leads to one more point: who leaked the transcript to Reuters? It had to be someone in the White House, State Department, Pentagon, or intelligence community, someone who is very unhappy with the way Biden is handling his job. It’s a strange parallel to the Donald Trump/Volodymyr Zelensky call that led to an impeachment effort involving Biden himself. One has to wonder whether this transcript got leaked for the exact same purpose — to give Congress reason to impeach Biden. If so, that’s a terrible abuse of power within the administration by a faceless bureaucrat of some sort … and an example of karma.