In other words, Jim Webb’s warning from earlier this week has become prophecy. An anonymous administration official told Reuters that no one should expect any accountability from within the White House over Joe Biden’s catastrophic retreat from Afghanistan and abandonment of American citizens, legal permanent residents, and Afghan allies to the Taliban. Firing anyone would contradict Biden’s bizarre declaration of victory from earlier this week:
White House officials told Reuters that firings have not been discussed, but the administration expects Congress to aggressively investigate the turbulent exit from Afghanistan in hearings.
One Biden administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said any dismissal would be seen as a tacit admission that the president had erred in removing troops unconditionally from the South Asian nation.
That’s not going to fool too many people, especially with the constant drip-drip-drip of reporting on Americans still stuck in Afghanistan. The White House may hope that the national media will tamp down that reporting to allow the Biden administration to move on to its domestic agenda, leaving stranded Americans without even a platform for efforts to get back to the US. In fact, Jim Geraghty thinks that effort has already begun:
Mark it down, Thursday, September 2 is the day that vast swaths of the U.S. national media turned their attention away from the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and the Americans stranded there, and turned to domestic news stories.https://t.co/Qi2fWSrMz7 pic.twitter.com/md2ANiDRGl
— Jim Geraghty (@jimgeraghty) September 2, 2021
That’s hardly sustainable, however, especially since such a strategy relies on the cooperation of the Taliban. They have all sorts of reasons to embarrass and humiliate the United States, not just in light of revenge for 20 years of war but also to maintain their prestige among radical-Islamist competitors in Afghanistan. Hostaging for such purposes — and also for fundraising — has a long history among such groups. There’s much more likelihood of this turning into Tehran On Steroids than quiet negotiations. The Biden administration may be looking at the Lebanon hostaging campaign by Hezbollah in the 1980s as the best-case scenario — low level but nagging humiliation rather than top-of-the-headlines crisis for months on end.
Even worse, the presence of ISIS makes those risks even worse. When in Syria and Iraq, ISIS used Westerners as fundraisers, but also to make propaganda/snuff films to boost recruitment and demoralize the West. If we don’t get our people out of Afghanistan ASAP, the risks grow each day they remain stranded of ending up in that position. That’s potentially thousands of hostage crises, with multiple groups operating in parallel.
If that doesn’t work, then perhaps Biden and his team will adopt The Syndrome Defense. If everyone’s at fault, then ….
Current and former officials and lawmakers said there is little appetite for Biden to fire or demote top advisers over the handling of the U.S. withdrawal. The Democratic president, meanwhile, has strongly defended his administration’s actions.
Frustrated and angry, officials at the Pentagon have privately blamed the lack of urgency leading up to the airlift on the State and Homeland Security departments, who in turn have blamed the White House for slow decision-making.
“Finger-pointing is an ugly Washington sport … in this case, fingers could be pointed in all directions and probably be right in each case,” said Dan Fried, a former senior U.S. diplomat now at the Atlantic Council think tank.
“A failure like this is collective. Everybody screwed up,” Fried added.
It’s pretty easy to see how this will get used when the “victory” media strategy falls apart. To mix movie analogies, it will become Afghanistan on the Orient Express. If everyone screwed up, then it’s unfair to hold any one individual accountable. That’s still a dangerous strategy, however, because that kind of approach will fire up voters to hand out accountability on their own, and it won’t be Biden’s team in the executive branch that will pay that price at first. It will be Biden’s allies on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue — and when that happens, Republicans will have free rein to subpoena all these officials and demand answers about who knew what and when.
The smart strategy would have been to find a scapegoat and fire him/her to deflect this problem away from the president. The main obstacle to that strategy appears to be Joe Biden himself, whose lifelong shoulder-chip demands that people recognize him as the genius Biden sees himself being, rather than the glad-handing empty suit that he actually is, with a nearly unbroken track record over almost 50 years of getting foreign policy wrong. Like the man Biden replaced, his ego prevents him from acting in his own best political interests and ends up amplifying his problems instead.
Donald Trump paid the price for that flaw in the 2020 election. Unfortunately, thousands of Americans, legal permanent residents, and tens of thousands of our Afghan allies will pay the price for Biden’s ego in 2021 and beyond.