Over the past week the world has watched with shock, horror and anguish at the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. In one of the most shocking videos being shared, desperate Afghan parents pass their babies over razor wire to troops at a compound at Kabul airport. The seriousness of the situation put pressure on Biden to deliver an address to the world, which he eventually did.
However, like several aspects of the Biden presidency, his response to the crisis has been disappointing. On Monday, 16th August he delivered a speech where he explicitly blamed the withdrawal on his predecessor, Donald Trump, saying that he “inherited” the deal Trump negotiated with the Taliban.
Biden made this statement as if his foreign policy was bound to that of his predecessor. This is simply not true; the Constitution gives the President broad powers over foreign affairs and does not bind him or her to the actions of their predecessor. Of course, on other issues, Biden had little issue reversing a number of Trump’s foreign policy initiatives, for example by re-joining the Paris Climate Accords within hours of being inaugurated.
Biden then went on to essentially blame the Afghan army for failing to confront the Taliban without realising that although Afghan forces often conducted ground operations, they were dependent on NATO and US air power, which had already been withdrawn, to successfully deter the Taliban. The speech was widely criticised, especially among Republican politicians. Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) said the President has “no one to blame for this debacle but himself”.
Then on Wednesday, 18th August came the interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. When asked about the statement he made on July 8th where he said that the takeover by the Taliban was “not inevitable”, he said there was “no consensus” and blamed the timeline given by intelligence reports, who predicted a fall by the end of the year.
He said this even though newly released information demonstrates that US spy agencies predicted an increasingly pessimistic picture of the effect of the US’ withdrawal on Afghanistan this summer, warning of the rapid collapse of the Afghan military even as Biden publicly said the opposite. Stephanopoulos then asked that if the US was going to withdraw, why not ensure all necessary precautions are made, such as evacuating US citizens and securing exit routes. Biden once again blamed the intelligence community. The interview was an incredible display of Biden’s inability to take responsibility during what could arguably be the worst foreign policy episode of his presidency.
President Biden’s response in the media has been abysmal and poll numbers have reflected the dwindling support the American president has. According to a POLITICO poll, support for the American withdrawal is down from 69% in April to 49% in August, a drop of 20 points. Furthermore, his approval ratings have fallen below 50% for the first time in his presidency. There has also been bipartisan criticism of his handling of the withdrawal. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del), who is an ally of the President said that the withdrawal of U.S. troops should have been “carefully planned to prevent violence and instability”. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass), who served in Iraq called the withdrawal a “disaster”. Lastly, Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, called the withdrawal a “shameful failure of American leadership”.
The disastrous (but entirely preventable) unravelling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is likely to leave a stain on Biden’s legacy. At this year’s Munich Security Conference Biden said that “America is back”, but nothing seems further from the truth now. The withdrawal not only shows a neglect of the US’ role as the guarantor of the liberal order, but Biden’s inability to adequately prepare for Taliban takeover has left US citizens trapped in Afghanistan, which will stain his legacy. Biden portrayed himself to be the sensible President, one who the world could trust to make the right decisions. However, the last few days have shown the complete opposite and just how Jimmy Carter never recovered from the Iran crisis, Biden is unlikely to with the Afghanistan fiasco.