Clueless Joe Biden’s reference to the United States’ humiliating Afghan surrender and retreat as an “extraordinary success” recalls George Bush’s much maligned “Mission Accomplished” banner from 2003, even if the mission of the ship that flew that banner was accomplished and Bush himself said “our mission continues.” Let’s see if the media lets Biden off the hook, easy to do because he answers press questions infrequently, reluctantly and somewhat incoherently, his representatives dissemble with impunity, and most journalists are his ideological soulmates.
It is a talent, to be sure. Biden could have termed the voyage of the Titanic an “extraordinary success” as well, affirming that “we always knew of potential icebergs and planned for them” and “the heroic crew saved more than 700 people of the 2200 passengers.” If Biden had been emperor of Japan in 1945, perhaps he would have labeled Hiroshima and Nagasaki as “urban renewal projects” while ignoring the devastating loss of life. Sometimes is just best to admit defeat, as Japan and Germany did, and as even the United States did after Vietnam. That is honorable, and enables the vanquished to learn lessons and draw conclusions. Putting a positive spin on a debacle is possible only for people who know they will not be held to account by government, media, or citizenry. It is unhelpful, even weirdly obsessive, the way the American media looks at everything through the prism of elections (2022, 2024) rather than focus on policies, solutions and achievements.
The bottom line is that the United States defeated the Taliban in 2001 and now the Taliban is back in power, with all their brutality and jihadist evil, and again with the capacity to threaten the US or shelter those who would. When American citizens are aghast and ashamed at the surrender, American allies are horrified and despondent, and American enemies are jubilant, it is a safe guess to say that America lost. And when that enemy is dressed in your own uniforms, carrying the weapons you left behind ($90 billion worth of weapons) and riding around in your own military vehicles, feigning that there was some glorious achievement in Afghanistan is delusional.
Biden often intones that the buck stops with him, but that buck actually just pauses momentarily for a photo op before being passed on to any number of more productive foils. Donald Trump is always a handy target; he might have signed an agreement with the Taliban but Biden has overridden every other Trump initiative, so why not this one? The intelligence community failed miserably, presumably the same community (“all seventeen agencies!”) that detected Russian meddling in the 2016 election and failed to detect the Arab terror of September 11, 2001. Notice, by the way, how within days after Biden cited intelligence shortcomings and the failures of his experts, this same intelligence community that bedeviled Trump with its timely leaks quickly leaked the conversation Biden had with Afghani president Ghani asking him to pretend that the situation in Afghanistan is stable and its military prepared. They will get you “seven ways from Sunday,” begging the question (perhaps answering it) of who are the most powerful actors in American politics. And the Afghan government and army come in for its share of blame too but shorn of American air support it forfeited any putative advantage it had over its enemies.
One way to avoid blame that has been increasingly popular is to wrap oneself in the glory of the troops, odd in this case, because many of the troops interviewed are angry and disheartened at the way the withdrawal process unfolded. Another way is to focus on one small element of the debacle – the evacuation of personnel – to the exclusion of everything else and claim that a success. Still another is to deflect, criticizing anyone who notes the chaotic retreat or the terrible loss of life by American forces put by their commander-in-chief in an impossibly insecure position by saying that critics “want to stay in Afghanistan forever!” Certainly, no one wants American troops stationed in a foreign country forever – it is not like Afghanistan is Germany, Japan or South Korea… But changing the topic from the conduct of the withdrawal to the fact of the withdrawal is a shallow rhetorical trick that is only sustained through repetition each time it is pointed out.
And there is one other way that Biden avoids accountability – donning the mantle of mourning. It has become unseemly and manipulative for Clueless Joe to constantly invoke the memory of his late son Beau, and especially pretending somehow that Beau died in combat. It seems it is done less to be empathetic and more to immunize him against any criticism. But parading one’s old bereavement in the face of the newly bereaved is cynical and selfish unless the mourners request it. Many of the military families whose loved ones were killed in the last week found it off-putting, and Biden tone deaf or, perhaps, just clueless.
That exploitation of mourning is unbearably cynical. Looking back at a more dignified era and more dignified individuals, George H. W. Bush lost his young daughter to leukemia when she was four years old. It was certainly a traumatic event, one which even seventy years later he would recall only with tears. But I do not remember Bush (or his son the president, who lost his younger sister) ever once using it for political and manipulative purposes, referring to the loss in speech after speech in the hopes of shielding himself from criticism. I don’t remember it because it never happened. And I do not doubt that Biden does it because it tests well in polls and is thus entered into the teleprompter that he haltingly reads.
Biden and his inadequacies has become an object of pity across the world. America deserves better but it is not readily apparent how the situation can change. There will be a scapegoat; my bet is that General Milley, head of the Joint Chiefs, finds his way soon to early retirement. It is still inconceivable that Biden can last four years as president but his successor is even more problematic – incompetence exacerbated by arrogance and identity politics. The US looks weak because, sadly, it is weak, with a feckless leadership addicted to printing and spending money, making inane pronouncements and incapable of resolving any societal problem. Wrapping itself in the flag will not deter evildoers across the globe and may just encourage them.
On Rosh Hashanah, the fate of all individuals is decreed, as well as the fate of nations. “Which is destined for the sword and which for peace, which for hunger and which for abundance?” The world has endured a rocky road in the last year. May this year and its curses come to an end, and may the New Year be filled with blessings for the deserving, those amenable to G-d’s morality and kindnesses.