Historians will pinpoint Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan as the moment when Americans began to lose trust in their president
When historians look back at the pivot point for the Biden presidency—and what originally set up the coming expected Democrat meltdown in Tuesday’s midterms—they will point to Afghanistan, and the series of disastrous decisions the president made in July and August 2021. They not only led to the worst foreign policy debacle for the Unite States since the fall of Saigon in 1975. They also led the public to wonder whether the president they had just elected, was truly fit for office. It’s a question that’s only gathered negative momentum since.
Although Biden and the media would try to blame the chaos that resulted from his mishandling of Afghanistan on President Donald Trump, the truth was Biden had inherited a stable if uncertain situation in Afghanistan. While Trump had made it clear he was pulling American troops out of Afghanistan and winding up America’s longest war, he had also not set a timetable for departure. And no one—least of all the Taliban—doubted whether Trump would send U.S. troops back in-country if needed. The man who had stamped out ISIS was not a person to mess with.
When Biden took charge, however, he threw out any pretense of a carefully staged or thoughtful withdrawal.
First came the decision on July 2 to shutter Bagram Air Force base, the central hub of the U.S. presence and security. Six days later Biden shocked everyone, including the Afghan government, by announcing he was speeding up the U.S. withdrawal deadline to August 31—two weeks earlier than originally planned. By July 21 the Taliban controlled half of Afghanistan, despite Biden’s assurances to Americans that the collapse of the country was “not inevitable.” Three weeks later the Taliban took the capital Kabul, where the remaining American presence had shrunk to the U.S. embassy perimeter.
What happened next was a human tragedy and a series of disastrous optics. While Biden assured the public there would be no images of helicopters leaving the U.S. embassy roof as happened during the abandonment of Saigon in 1975, what they did get were images of desperate Afghans chasing after a U.S. C-17 on the Kabul airport runway–even clinging to the plane’s wheel wells as it took off, then falling to their deaths. Meanwhile, the embassy grounds were swamped by thousands of Afghans fleeing Taliban retribution.
Biden’s other broken promise was that no Americans would be left behind. In fact, hundreds of Americans were stuck in-country along with thousands of Afghans who had loyally served with us against the Taliban. It required private agencies like Project Dynamo to do what the Biden team was unwilling or unable to do, namely making sure Americans who wanted to get were able to get out.
Then on August 16 came the suicide bomber attack that killed 13 U.S. service members, followed by a botched attempt to take out another would-be bomber, which resulted in the death of an Afghan aid worker and seven children.
At the same time, Biden’s statement in an interview that none of his generals had disagreed with the decision to flee Afghanistan, turned out to be another falsehood.
But perhaps the final blow to Biden’s reputation came with the air strike on Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri as he was visiting Kabul. If the president and his team hoped this would make Biden look bad and bold—as when Donald Trump had taken out IRGC head Suleimani–the public realized this really meant Al Qaeda was back in business in Afghanistan.
In effect, we had come full circle, back where we were when Operation Enduring Freedom was first launched more than 20 years earlier. The Taliban decided to underline our humiliation with a victory parade with some of the $7 billion of captured US equipment, from Humvees to attack helicopters. That video became the emblem of the worst U.S. foreign policy disaster in more than 40 years—and the image of Biden as not only incompetent but dishonest.
That impression was reflected in the polls. When Biden first announced plans for a withdrawal from Afghanistan in April, his approval rating stood at 52.5 percent. By the end of August, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed his approval had slumped to 43 percent. It’s never recovered since.
If the Tuesday midterms turn out to be a disaster for Democrats, they can blame their policies on crime, on the border, on COVID lockdowns, and their promotion of CRT and drag queens in kindergartens.
But in the end it’s their president’s decisions in Afghanistan that set them off on their downward spiral. It was during July and August 2021 that–to paraphrase Winston Churchill–those terrible words were first pronounced against them: Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.
Starting with their chief executive.