Today’s big question

Does the Kabul catastrophe spell doom for President Biden?

The ‘shockingly naive way’ he went about withdrawing US troops certainly reflects badly on him, says The Wall Street Journal

There are some disasters that US presidents never recover from, said William McGurn in The Wall Street Journal. In the case of Jimmy Carter, it was the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, which left his administration looking weak and inept, and contributed to his election defeat a year later. Will the “debacle” now unfolding in Afghanistan likewise doom Joe Biden’s presidency?

The “shockingly naive way” he went about withdrawing US troops – announcing that they’d be pulled out by 31 August regardless of conditions on the ground – certainly reflects badly on him. Biden believed that the American public, tired of 20 years of war, wouldn’t care what happened when their troops left. But public opinion can change fast. “Americans don’t like looking pathetic before the world, and any re-run of the barbarities visited on people the last time the Taliban held power will be held against him.”

The fall of Afghanistan has badly undermined Biden’s reputation, said Charles Lipson in Newsweek. Only a month ago, after all, he dismissed the possibility of Afghan forces being routed. “The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” he declared.

It’s just the latest of many foreign policy blunders by Biden, said Peter Wehner in The Atlantic. They include opposing the Gulf War, supporting the Iraq War, and reportedly advising Barack Obama to delay the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Robert Gates, secretary of defence under George W. Bush and Obama, wrote in his 2014 memoir that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades”. There you have it.

But the good news for Biden, said Jackie Calmes in the Los Angeles Times, is that “voters have remarkably short attention spans”. By next year’s mid-term elections – and certainly by 2024 – they’ll be thinking about issues closer to home, such as Biden’s ambitious infrastructure spending plans.

For US voters, Afghanistan has never had the same emotional resonance as Vietnam. Polls have long shown the public is both apathetic about US involvement and keen to draw a line under it. Americans tuned out of the conflict during the years US troops were there – the founder of a veterans’ group labelled the campaign “Forgotistan”–and will “almost certainly turn the channel” once the troops are gone.

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