“The buck stops with me,” said President Joe Biden in an address to the nation on Monday after blaming his presidential predecessors for continuing a long war in Afghanistan.
Biden gave the speech in response to criticism of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. After a weekend in which the Taliban effectively took over much of the country, Biden finally addressed the country.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said in his televised address. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
While Biden spent much time in his speech defending his decision to pull American troops out of Afghanistan, he did little to explain why the operation was such a mess, and was eager to shift blame to others. Even many in the mainstream left-wing press, like CNN’s Jake Tapper, noticed.
The images coming out of Afghanistan as the Taliban takes over have been both harrowing and disturbing. A mob of terrified people was seen in videos scrambling onto the Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport runway on Sunday amidst rumors that the Taliban was swiftly advancing on the capital.
People were desperately clinging to an Air Force C-17 aircraft as it took off, and several videos have emerged of those people falling from the plane after it had ascended into the sky.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
In July, Biden spoke at a news conference assuring the country that the drawdown in Afghanistan was “proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart.”
Biden said there were more than 300,000 members of the Afghan National Security Force that the U.S. and NATO allies have trained to defend the country. He said the presence of this military force meant that a Taliban takeover of the country would not be “inevitable.”
On Monday, he blamed Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani for convincing him that the Afghani army would hold up and fight.
In July, when asked about intelligence services that warned that the country would fall to the Taliban, Biden denied that was the case.
And when asked about the comparisons between the Afghanistan withdrawal and the fall of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, Biden vehemently insisted that we would not see a repeat of helicopters pulling hordes of people out of the U.S. Embassy.
“The Taliban is not the south—the North Vietnamese army,” Biden said. “They’re not—they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability. There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the—of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable.”
After the events over the weekend, one can justly ask if what we are now seeing in Afghanistan is actually worse than the fall of Saigon. Was Biden’s July press conference the least accurate and most clearly and quickly debunked news conference in American presidential history?
This rolling catastrophe should hardly inspire confidence in an administration that billed itself as the one bringing the “adults” back in the room, the one that would “build back better.”
Instead, it’s one of self-made disasters and blame-shifting.
We were also assured that the border was secure, and that the surge in illegal immigration after Biden took office was seasonal. In July, typically a time when border crossings are down due to heat, we saw the highest numbers in over 20 years.
In a statement issued Saturday, Biden made the excuse that the Afghanistan withdrawal’s haphazard nature was a result of commitments made by the previous administration, despite the fact that he had already changed the withdrawal timetable.
He simply repeated this line in Monday’s speech.
The excuse beggars belief as Biden eagerly reversed other Trump policies as soon as he took office. If the “Garden of American Heroes” was worth the time to cancel almost immediately upon taking office, surely the conduct of a complex and dangerous military operation launched under a predecessor was worth adjusting depending on evolving circumstances.
Political scientist and foreign policy expert Walter Russell Mead wrote that the Biden administration will now have to deal with the “worst-handled foreign-policy crisis since the Bay of Pigs and the most devastating blow to American prestige since the fall of Saigon.”
At least President John F. Kennedy took “sole responsibility” for the Bay of Pigs disaster rather than blaming his predecessor, President Dwight Eisenhower.
At this point, the best we can hope for from the administration is to control the damage of its blundering as best as possible. Biden’s refusal to accept responsibility is not the response of an adult in the room, and it hardly sustains confidence in an administration flailing on multiple fronts.
If anything, it affirms the weakness of a tottering regime unable to tackle the crises that beset the nation and unwilling to admit it doesn’t have the answers.
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