Nobody cares who lost Afghanistan
The fall of Kabul is a tragedy. It is not a political responsibility for Joe Biden.
President Joe Biden delivers a speech on Afghanistan in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on August 16, 2021. (Photo by Oliver Contreras / Sipa USA) (Sipa via AP Images)
“We trained, and no attention was paid to this, our army had a unit there training,” said the president, “and it made a very capable army.” But “some army units refused to take up arms against some of their same ethnic or religious backgrounds.” And so “it was agreed that it no longer made sense … and we retired.”
That’s not President Joe Biden in his Monday address on the withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is President Ronald Reagan at his April 1984 press conference after the US military withdrawal from Lebanon. Seven months later, Reagan was overwhelmingly reelected.
The only difference between what Reagan said in April 1984 and what Biden said on Monday is that Biden put it even more simply than the president remembered as the Great Communicator. “The Afghan army collapsed,” Biden said,
sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the events of the past week reinforced that ending US military involvement in Afghanistan was now the right decision. American troops cannot and should not fight a war and die in a war that Afghan forces are unwilling to fight on their own.
It is a cold political truth that voters do not punish American presidents for political failures beyond American borders as long as the failures do not harm Americans directly. Even in the 1952 election, when Dwight D. Eisenhower echoed Senator Joe McCarthy’s accusation that the Democrats “lost” China, his coup de grace against Adlai Stevenson was not that half a billion people in a distant country were now subject to communist government. It was that nearly two million American soldiers fought in Korea, and more than 36,000 of them died there. Ike promised to bring the troops home.
The intervention in Lebanon, a multinational effort aimed at quelling fighting between Israel, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization, resulted in the deadliest day in the history of the United States Marine Corps since World War II. That was the October 1983 suicide bombing of a Navy barracks in Beirut. Two hundred and forty-one Americans died. “These facts”, Reagan said, “Making so evident the bestial nature of those who would assume power if they could get away with it and drive us out of that area.” However, six months later we left. At the April press conference, Sam Donaldson of ABC News asked Reagan, “Mr. President, last October you said that the presence of US Marines in Lebanon was critical to our credibility on a global scale. And now you have withdrawn them and ended our presence … to what extent have we lost credibility? “All Reagan could say in response was,” We may have lost some to some people, but situations change. ” Then he blamed the Lebanese military.
The approval of Reagan’s work was unaffected. According to data from the survey of Project of the American PresidencyReagan rose four points, from 49 percent to 53 percent, in polls conducted before and after the attack, and remained at 54 percent in surveys conducted before and after the withdrawal. A booming economy was far more important to American voters than the trials and tribulations on the Mediterranean coast.
Today, with images of helicopters leaving Afghanistan, many people compare Biden to President Gerald Ford and the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Ford announced the end of US involvement in Vietnam a week earlier, at a speech at Tulane University. He said: “The United States can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam, but it cannot be achieved by waging a war that is over as far as the United States is concerned.” The the audience erupted in applause. (Biden ended his remarks on an equally patriotic note: “It’s the right decision for our people. The right one for our brave service members who risked their lives serving our nation. And it’s the right one for America.”) press conference a week after the fall of Saigon, the big news was that the president angrily lobbied Congress to finance the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees, which he did a couple of weeks later. Despite the triumph of the North Vietnamese, Ford was rewarded in surveys; By early June, it had gone from 44 percent approval to 51 percent.
Perhaps the accusations that Biden screwed up the recall will hurt him. But one of the most famous presidential press conferences occurred after President John F. Kennedy failed in his April 1961 attempt to overthrow Cuban dictator Fidel Castro by sending 1,400 CIA-trained Cuban exiles to the Bay of Pigs. Kennedy said the famous, “There is an old saying that says that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.” When asked for the details of what went wrong, Kennedy objected: “I have said everything that I think can usefully be said.” He then added that he was not trying to “hide responsibility because I am the responsible government official.” Your approval rating rose 78 to 82 percent.
The past is not necessarily a prologue. Biden has yet to respond to allegations of intelligence failures and poor planning. A sudden and brutal loss of freedom for Afghan women and girls may erode Biden’s base support. The destabilization of the region could fuel a new wave of international terrorism. But history suggests that Americans will look inward soon enough.
Osama bin Laden, according to Lawrence Wright’s book, The looming tower, believed that Reagan’s withdrawal from Lebanon demonstrated that the United States would “flee in a panic” after “two or three strong blows.” You may have learned the wrong lesson. After bin Laden dealt the United States with one of his hardest blows in history, American troops flooded his region and stayed for 20 years, killing him in the process.
However, in general, American voters do not enjoy the foreign military adventure. The fate of Biden and his Democrats likely depends on how America fares. Afghanistan no.