Chris Wallace to Tony Blinken: Does the president not know what’s going on in Afghanistan?

Blinken doesn’t give him a straight answer either. Hoo boy.

A rough paraphrase of their exchange:

— “I want to assure you and the American people, Chris, that we’re working around the clock to bring everyone home safely.”
— “Mr. Secretary, the question was, ‘Has the president’s brain turned into egg salad?’”

No, actually, I don’t think Wallace is asking about Biden’s mental acuity so much as he’s asking whether the president is surrounded by “happy talk” from his advisors about the situation on the ground that’s making him come off as a nincompoop in public remarks.

I suspect Biden knows the truth about how tense and squalid the evacuation at the airport is but can’t resist the reflex bred into him by 50 years in Washington to engage in happy talk himself despite the entire American public knowing that he’s wrong. But it’s not impossible that his aides are hiding unpleasant realities from him. Why, the Telegraph has sources claiming they’ve been doing it for months:

One former defence official, who is in regular contact with senior White House aides, suggested that there was not much pushback from concerned officials [against Biden’s withdrawal plans] because they were “too afraid”.

People are simply too afraid to tell Biden (and) Jake Sullivan (his National Security Adviser), they’re wrong. It’s one thing to crack down on leaks (as Mr Biden has done), it’s another thing to allow a mistake like this,” they told The Telegraph.

“This White House is very disciplined, especially when it comes to leaks and such. But the downside of discipline is if you’re running things like an autocracy, and you broker no dissent internally, that’s not what the purpose of a White House staff is.”

Others told The Telegraph that they urged him, without success, to keep open Bagram Air Base, which has more runways than Hamid Karzai International Airport and has long been the beating heart of American operations in Afghanistan.

If it’s true that his staff is biting their tongues and setting him up not only to fail but to sound like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about then there’s no excuse for him not to start firing people once the crisis has passed. Especially since this is already starting to bite Democrats politically, raising the chances of a huge red wave in the midterms. This Times story quotes party loyalists as high up as a member of the DNC’s executive committee calling the withdrawal process “a bone-headed mistake, unforced error… There is no real excuse. This was morally and politically a disaster and just bad policy.” A Dem Senate candidate in North Carolina told the paper Afghanistan has come up at the last six or seven town halls he’s done, which is noteworthy given that Americans don’t care much about foreign policy.

But this isn’t really about foreign policy now, is it? It’s about national humiliation and elementary competence by the smart set that got elected promising a return to professionalism in Washington. “[T]here’s a certain point when Democrats will begin to question whether he’s got the right stuff,” Frank Luntz told the Times about Biden’s declining poll numbers. Leaving ourselves exposed in Kabul to the point where we’re now relegated to operating on the timetable of jihadist primitives is a sharp blow to the pride of all but the most left-wing Americans. And the Taliban knows it, and is rubbing salt in the wound:

National pride can be rebuilt, though. International trust may be harder:

There are two things at this point that can be said in Biden’s semi-defense. One, per Clarissa Ward, is that the speed of the Taliban offensive into Kabul was so unexpected that the Taliban themselves were surprised by it. “I’ve spoken to Taliban fighters who say that even they have been amazed. When I reported on CNN last week that US security officials thought Kabul might be surrounded in 30 days, I thought this was a vast exaggeration,” she wrote over the weekend. “I don’t know anyone who didn’t think the same.” That’s no excuse for a U.S. military-intel industry that’s rolling in taxpayer dough to have failed to foresee what was coming but it does speak to how dynamic the situation on the ground was.

The other point is that the evacuation does seem to be picking up speed:

Biden claimed yesterday that there’s a “plan” in place to get Americans stranded in Kabul out. Who knows if that’s just more happy talk from his aides leading him to sound like an ignoramus but WaPo notes that Qatari diplomats who are still in Kabul have begun shepherding U.S. citizens to the airport successfully. “American citizens have been instructed to meet at rally points in the city, and the diplomat then accompanies them to guarantee safe passage,” per the paper’s sources. Qatar has been a go-between for the U.S. and the Taliban for years, even hosting meetings between Mike Pompeo and Taliban leaders in 2020. The Qataris may be the only group left that can operate outside the wire to retrieve our people without triggering some sort of Taliban response. Cross your fingers.

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