Joe Biden emerged at the White House Sunday afternoon, about 20 minutes after the 4 PM Eastern time he slated, to address the crisis in Afghanistan and the Tropical Storm Henri as it batters the U.S. east coast.
Biden opened his remarks discussing Henri, and stumbled badly over the name of the current head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and said he has spoken with each of the governors in the storm zone. He read off a list of things the federal government is doing to deal with the storm.
After spending several minutes on the storm and urging Americans to get vaccinated, Biden turned to the situation in Afghanistan. He claimed the U.S. has evacuated 11,000 individuals out of the country he abandoned, and which then fell to the Taliban a week ago, triggering the massive crisis there.
He promised that “Any American who wants to get home will get home.” He also promised to remove Afghans who worked with the U.S. and NATO, and then said a total of over 30,000 have been evacuated since August 14.
He said the evacuation would have been “hard and painful” no matter when it began, “It’s just a fact.”
It would have been one hell of a lot less painful if he had used Bagram Air Base and kept it operational during the evacuation rather than shutting it down and pulling the military out with thousands of civilians (and vast quantities of military hardware) left behind. He keeps ignoring this stone-cold operational fact. Shuttering Bagram left the military without a viable base of operations in a country controlled by an extremely hostile force.
Biden noted that he has activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) to use commercial aircraft to “augment our airlift capacity.” He activated the CRAF on Sunday, a largely symbolic effort since none of the civilian airliners will be used to fly any person out of Kabul itself. They will be moving evacuees from one staging area to another outside of Afghanistan. Activating the CRAF does nothing to secure HKIA in Kabul or get anyone out.
Biden said we would help the Afghans who fought alongside the U.S. because “that’s who we are.” Such a line would carry more weight if Biden and his administration had not spent the past months including during the campaign denouncing America as systemically racist. Does a systemically racist country go out of its way to help anyone?
Biden mentioned ISIS-K, which is threatening to attack Americans stranded in Afghanistan. ISIS-K has been empowered by his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan with no plausible security plan, of course. The ISIS-K threat is his doing. ISIS had been defeated during the previous administration.
Biden thanked the military and civil servants who are doing “extraordinary” work in Afghanistan.
Then he wrapped up his remarks and called for press questions. As per his custom, Biden visibly referred to a list on his podium when calling for questions, indicating that the reporters and their questions have been pre-approved. The questions were certainly soft given the circumstances. No one asked if he has been lying or just doesn’t know what’s going on, for instance.
In response to one question, Biden said he hoped the government could evacuate everyone by August 31, his arbitrary deadline, but might adjust that deadline depending on the pace of the evacuation.
Biden took a question about a CBS poll finding that a majority of Americans disapprove of his handling of Afghanistan and do not see him as an effective leader.
“I haven’t seen that poll,” he fired back. That’s irrelevant, of course. The poll exists and he is sinking in all of them.
Then he offered his usual false choice, to either get out now or escalate the war. This ignores all of the tactical blunders he made or approved, and the decision to peg withdrawal to the 20th anniversary of 9-11, forcing a withdrawal during the fighting season. It ignores how shuttering Bagram impacted the evacuation, and how our allies have responded to being left in the dark, which they all say they were. It ignores the abject humiliation the catastrophe has caused to America’s image and standing in the world.
Biden made an appeal to the Taliban which he says is “seeking legitimacy” in the eyes of the world, despite the fact that there’s no evidence of that. He said they have “by and large” allowed Americans to pass through and get to the airport. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has contradicted this twice since Friday.
Biden said Russia and China would have been happy to see the U.S. “bogged down” in Afghanistan. U.S. forces were far from bogged down there or anywhere. There were about 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he decided to withdraw. There are about 7,000 there now just securing the airport. If the situation deteriorates further, he could be forced to deploy even more. What China and Russia have now is a multitude of opportunities to demonstrate that the United States is an unreliable ally. China has already rattled its saber at Taiwan in direct response to Biden’s Afghanistan disaster.
Joe Biden offered no new insights or facts, no evidence of command or leadership, just the same arguments, and dodged numerous facts and issues. Sky News, where I happened to watch his remarks, reacted by saying that he isn’t being straight with the American people and isn’t showing much empathy for what’s happening. It’s hard to argue with that.
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