Biden ran on competence and empathy. Afghanistan is testing this.

For most of last week, in the midst of the worst foreign policy crisis of his young administration, the president who won the White Hous...


For most of last week, in the midst 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 struggled to demonstrate much of one or the other.

The chaos in Kabul and his own conflicting messages have left President Biden struggling to assert his command over world events and seemingly more determined to wash Afghanistan’s hands than to express concern over the humanitarian tragedy unfolding on the ground.

Mr Biden’s team contends it won’t matter in the long run because Americans agree with his decision to pull out after 20 years of war and don’t care what happens in Afghanistan as long as their fellow citizens are safely extracted. Afghanistan is America’s longest war, spanning four presidencies, and none of those presidents has found a way to successfully disengage.

But the End of tumultuous game of Mr. Biden’s withdrawal nonetheless undermined some of the most fundamental premises of Mr. Biden’s presidency – that unlike his erratic and self-centered predecessor, he brought foreign policy seasoning, adult judgment in the room and an excess of empathy in the Oval Office.

“I just had the feeling that he was so engrossed in the decision itself that he forgot the basics of the implementation,” said Leon E. Panetta, the former defense secretary who served alongside Mr. Biden in the administration of President Barack Obama. “The American people may be with you on the decision, but if they see the chaos they will be very worried that the president does not act together. “

David Axelrod, a former Obama strategist, said he was confident most Americans agreed with Biden that it was time to complete the operation in Afghanistan. “The way it ends, at least so far, is more problematic,” he said, “and runs counter to some of his main perceived strengths: competence, mastery of foreign policy, Supreme empathy It is as if his eagerness to end the war outweighed the planning and execution.

After days of scathing criticism from allies and adversaries alike, Mr. Biden tried to repair some of the damage Friday with a half-hour appearance in the East Room of the White House where he claimed the evacuation operation had “made significant progress” while acknowledging that the footage of desperate Afghans chasing planes and putting a baby back on barbed wire had been “heartbreaking” and “heartbreaking.”

Blamed earlier in the week for not having consulted the allies, Biden insisted that he had now called on the British, German and French leaders. Mocked for spending time at Camp David, where he had gone for the summer vacation, as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, Mr Biden delayed plans to fly home on Friday afternoon. in Wilmington, Del., through Saturday.

Mr Panetta said Mr Biden appeared to have realized he at least mismanaged the message and needed to make adjustments. “I just felt like he was back on his feet today compared to the start of the week,” he said.

Beyond repeating that “the responsibility ends with me”, however, Mr Biden conceded no error on his part and again deflected harsh criticism by focusing on his desire to end the war. rather than directly tackling what many see as the botched execution of that decision. .

“There will be plenty of time to criticize and guess when this operation is over,” Biden said. “But now, now, my focus is on getting this job done. “

As he has been doing all week, Mr. Biden has been making assertions apparently at odds with reality. His description of a smoother evacuation contrasts with the lingering confusion at Kabul airport, where flights were suspended for hours on Friday until they resumed at the end of the day. His assertion that there was “no question of our credibility” with NATO allies belied the deep frustration in European capitals. And while Mr. Biden praised the “precision” of the operation, he could not say how many Americans were still in danger.

The comments came after other suspicious statements earlier in the week. A month after I said it was “highly improbable” the Taliban would take control of Afghanistan and there were “no circumstances” that would lead to a chaotic, Saigon-like exit, Mr Biden told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos this week that chaos was in fact always inevitable. While several reports have indicated that military leaders argued that a small force should be kept in Afghanistan rather than withdrawing altogether, Biden insisted that “nobody told me this that I remember.”

At times, the president has shown little sense of the human toll as the Taliban have returned to power. Asked about photos of fleeing Afghans crammed into planes and some even falling to death after trying to sneak aboard, Mr Biden interrupted. “That was four days ago, five days ago,” he said, when in fact it was two days earlier and barely made less gruesome by the passing of a few sunsets. .

While widely disavowing any mistakes, Mr. Biden instead pointed the finger at with his predecessor Donald J. Trump, the now ousted Afghan government, endangered Afghan security forces and even Afghan civilians who he said resisted the earlier evacuation. He avoided blaming the Taliban, presumably to avoid upsetting them during the execution of the evacuation.

Losing the public perception of basic skills can be dangerous for a presidency. Jimmy Carter learned this during Iran’s hostage crisis that began in 1979 and ultimately cost him his re-election a year later. George W. Bush learned this during the ill-fated response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Critics of Mr. Trump have never considered him particularly suitable for a position, but his handling of the coronavirus pandemic l ‘undermined again.

Mr. Biden’s stumbles were particularly striking given that the longtime senator and former vice president brought more experience in national and international affairs to the White House than any newly-appointed president in more than three decades. But his aides maintain that Americans will look beyond the turmoil of the past few days to see the big picture.

“What Americans are seeing is a president who has the courage to believe this is the right decision for our country, even when that decision is difficult,” said Kate Bedingfield, White House communications director. . “They see a president who has promised to end America’s longest war and kept his word, and who takes responsibility when things don’t go perfectly because the responsibility lies with him.”

Team Biden’s cold political calculation is that the outrage expressed by Washington’s political class and the gruesome images shown by the national media will have little lasting effect on Americans who will soon forget the messy start but remember that the president brought out the United States. of a failed war.

They might be right. Newspapers from places like Phoenix, Fresno, Jacksonville, Minneapolis and Providence had no headline Afghanistan stories on Friday. Historically, Americans haven’t voted much on foreign policy unless it directly involves Americans, which is why Mr. Biden’s main priority has been to bring out his own citizens without victims or grievances. ‘hostages.

“Biden thinks he gets away with it as long as there aren’t any Americans being killed on the ground, which is a big if because a lot of things could go wrong,” said Ian Bremmer, president. of the Eurasia group, a geopolitical risk. solidify. “But I agree with him. I think it’s fair. At the same time, he added: “I am amazed at how poorly he handled this with the allies. “

Perhaps the political danger for Mr. Biden is that the chaotic exit will provide fodder for a larger Republican argument that he is falling short and has left the United States humiliated on the world stage. The heckling images are like political manna for campaign ad creators who will undoubtedly try to portray Mr. Biden as another Mr. Carter.

Some of those who have criticized Mr Biden have nevertheless said the final verdict has yet to be written. It will depend, they said, on its ability to provide security not only to Americans trying to leave the country, but also to Afghans who have worked with the United States for the past two decades, even if it takes longer. as long as August from Mr. Biden. 31 deadline.

“The president still has a lot of power over how this will be viewed and the impact on our reputation for compassion and competence,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey. “It all depends on whether he is prepared to do the right thing and allow our military to do what they can do to save everyone without considering an artificial deadline.”

This chapter could be written in the coming days and weeks.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Biden ran on competence and empathy. Afghanistan is testing this.
Biden ran on competence and empathy. Afghanistan is testing this.
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