Grim images are rolling out of Afghanistan, as the capital city of Kabul fell to the Taliban and the Afghan president flees the country. The debacle has shocked even the mainstream networks, who are comparing it to the U.S.’s chaotic withdrawal from Saigon in 1975 to end the Vietnam War. The Monday edition of the New York Times fronted a damning “news analysis” by long-time reporter David Sanger.
“For Biden, Images He Wanted to Avoid,” appeared beside a lead story on Afghanistan, under the banner headline “Taliban Capture Kabul, Stunning U.S. As A 20-Year Effort Unravels In Days – Panic Spreads as Thousands Try to Escape.”
Sanger, a national security correspondent, was previously petulant over President Trump’s foreign policy actions like the assassination of an ISIS leader in Syria. So it’s striking to read his harsh criticism of Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, albeit while leaving plenty of room to play gotcha with Biden’s emboldened Republican critics with some dutiful invocations of the “Republicans pounced” trope. The headline does subliminally suggest Biden merely has an “image” problem over Afghanistan, not a competence one.
Rarely in modern presidential history have words come back to bite an American commander in chief as swiftly as these from President Biden a little more than five weeks ago: “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States in Afghanistan.”
Then, digging the hole deeper, he added, “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”
On Sunday, the scramble to evacuate American civilians and embassy employees from Kabul — the very image that Mr. Biden and his aides agreed they had to avoid during recent meetings in the Oval Office — unfolded live on television, not from the U.S. Embassy roof but from the landing pad next to the building….
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….
Sanger pointed out Biden’s public silence, then leaped on the “Republicans leapt…” distraction.
Republicans leapt on the images of Americans being evacuated, naturally, and of Ashraf Ghani, the country’s president, who fled without a succession plan and without a deal with the Taliban about the future governance of the country — an agreement envisioned in the Trump-era deal.
Some of those Republicans had short memories. Many cheered on President George W. Bush when he ordered the invasion of Afghanistan to rout Al Qaeda. They went along when he kept adding objectives: sending girls to school, building a model democracy, re-envisioning the Afghan military as a miniature version of United States forces, even if that model didn’t fit.
They applauded when Mr. Bush, in his second inaugural address in 2005, declared it would be the mission of the United States to promote democracy around the world. A decade later, they cheered Mr. Trump for saying America would get out of unwinnable wars. On Sunday, they chastised Mr. Biden for carrying through on the strategy, as if it would be cost-free.
So much for Biden’s decades of foreign policy experience.
But Mr. Biden’s own words make clear he was confident this day would not come for a long time, if ever….