Almost a week ago, CNN‘s Chris Cillizza stated the obvious: The disaster in Afghanistan was calling into question the claim of competence that Biden ran on. Yesterday, the NY Times’ Peter Baker echoed that observation, adding that it’s not just Biden’s competence that is now in question but also his empathy.
For most of the last week, in the fires of the worst foreign policy crisis of his young administration, the president who won the White House on a promise of competence and compassion has had trouble demonstrating much of either.
The chaos in Kabul and his own conflicting messages have left President Biden struggling to assert command over world events and seemingly more intent on washing his hands of Afghanistan than expressing concern over the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on the ground.
…the tumultuous endgame of Mr. Biden’s withdrawal has nonetheless undercut some of the most fundamental premises of Mr. Biden’s presidency — that unlike his erratic, self-absorbed predecessor, he brought foreign policy seasoning, adults-in-the-room judgment and a surfeit of empathy to the Oval Office.
A couple days ago I suggested on Twitter that his comment about people falling off an airplane, “That was four days ago, five days ago!” was going to haunt Biden, not just because he was wrong (it was 2 days at that point) but because it was about as cold and heartless as you could possibly be in that situation. I suggested it was “off brand” and lots of people corrected me that being an obnoxious jerk is who Biden has always been. That’s arguably true but there’s no doubt the media has somewhat successfully branded him as Mr. Empathy and that one statement really did rip the mask off. When you get down to it, Biden is a pretty brittle character who snaps at people when challenged. Empathy isn’t his first response.
The other problem this is creating for Biden is that it’s doing damage to his reputation for accuracy. In a separate story, the Times points out three false or misleading claims he made Friday. His claim that our allies haven’t questioned our credibility was deemed misleading but it’s actually an outright lie. An MP who is also a veteran read Biden the riot act in the House of Commons. It was big news so it’s hard to believe Biden missed it.
The Times similarly said Biden’s claim that “we know of no circumstance where American citizens are — carrying an American passport — are trying to get through to the airport.” There’s plenty of evidence Americans are having a very difficult time getting to the airport, including from CNN‘s Clarissa Ward who reported getting there was very difficult and dangerous. Here’s another report saying this claim is total nonsense. Maybe Biden should watch the news?
.@DavidMuir: "The president said he has no intelligence that the Americans have not been able to get [to the Kabul airport]. The question, obviously—does that square with reporting on ground?"@IanPannell: "I mean—just totally not."
— ABC News (@ABC) August 20, 2021
Finally, Biden claimed that it was time to leave Afghanistan because the threat from Al Qaeda was over. The Times rates that statement “false.”
Al Qaeda’s presence in Afghanistan has certainly been reduced since the United States invaded, but Mr. Biden is wrong to say that the terrorist group is no longer in the country.
A United Nations Security Council report released in June estimated that Al Qaeda still had a presence in at least 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. The Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General said in a report released on Wednesday that “the Taliban continued to maintain its relationship with Al Qaeda, providing safe haven for the terrorist group in Afghanistan.”
After Mr. Biden spoke, John F. Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, confirmed in a news conference that Al Qaeda had a presence in Afghanistan.
Not only are they still there but we know they are already excited about the possibility of a resurgence in Afghanistan. So if Biden is saying we went there to disrupt al Qaeda’s safe haven and therefore the job is done, he’s absolutely wrong about that. My guess is we’ll see evidence of al Qaeda and possibly ISIS setting up new training camps within a few months. The job was done as long as we stayed. Now that we’re leaving, we’re giving terrorists a second chance.
But the Biden administration is very openly counting on the idea that most Americans won’t care about any of that in a few weeks. They may be right if he can get our people out without any casualties, though that seems far from certain at this moment. Biden may get out of this through the last minute mad scramble now taking place in Kabul, but his reputation as a competent and compassionate leader has already taken a significant hit. His fans might forget it but his opponents won’t.