I believe that Pres. Joe Biden was wrong to pull U.S. troops from Afghanistan and that his administration’s handling of the withdrawal was disastrous. I still support Biden and it’s not because I’m a partisan Democrat.
Yesterday was the darkest day of Biden’s administration and among the worst for America in recent years. The 13 American military personnel and dozens of Afghans killed by suicide bombers converted a decision that was a human rights and strategic mistake into a nightmare. And Biden owns it. He didn’t have to accept the awful agreement with the Taliban “negotiated” by Donald Trump. And once he accepted it, the execution of the withdrawal was all on him and his team.
Republicans are trying to transform this into questions about Biden’s basic competence. There’s good political reason for that. While three in four Americans thought Biden had fumbled the withdrawal even before yesterday’s attacks, two-thirds of Americans wanted out of Afghanistan. Until yesterday, it seemed likely that the mess in Kabul would fade from memory and Biden would reap the benefits of having finally ended a “forever war.”
Time will tell just how lasting yesterday’s tragedy will be in American memory, but it’s still possible that, in the long-run, most Americans will view it as a terrible inevitability in the service of a bigger goal. That’s why Republicans need to use it as a bludgeon to try to knock out one of the pillars of Biden’s popularity: the idea that he is competent.
And that’s one of the reasons that I still support Biden. I believe that he, and most of the people surrounding him, are competent. That confidence has been severely shaken by Afghanistan, at least for the President’s foreign policy team. But compared to the gross incompetence of Trump and his White House, Biden is still much, much better.
In addition, nothing in Biden’s handling of Afghanistan calls into question his fundamental decency. While I think he made the wrong set of calculations in deciding to leave, there’s no question that he believes it was the best thing to do in the long-term interests of the United States. With Trump you always had to look for the evidence of ego or personal self-dealing in all of his decisions. Here, Biden did what he said he would do during his campaign. His motivations are not in question.
But the most important reason that I’m sticking with Biden is that he understands that this is a crucial moment in the fight for liberal democracy, both at home and abroad. He sees his infrastructure and social spending packages as demonstrations that democracy can work to solve big problems. And up until now, he has begun to restore the faith of our allies that America will play an active role in defending and promoting liberal democracy throughout the world. While Afghanistan deals a serious blow to that posture, it doesn’t destroy it. He has time to rebuild it.
Yesterday was an awful day. There may be more awful days to come. But I remind myself that a year ago everything was so much worse under Donald Trump. And I remind myself that there’s so much at stake in Joe Biden’s success or failure.
Note: With regard to Afghanistan, I share the views of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s liberal columnist Trudy Rubin. Rubin has written an excellent piece answering some key questions about the withdrawal.
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