The media told us that President Trump was callous, uninformed, indifferent to facts, unwilling to listen to experts, willing to inflict incalculable damage to our interests — leaving allies abandoned, enemies emboldened and America with its reputation in tatters.
But now, in a tragic turn of events, so much of what the press said about Donald Trump applies to Joe Biden.
Biden’s disaster in Afghanistan — which has cost the lives of 13 US service members and scores of civilians — places this dynamic in stark relief. Announcing in April that the US would leave Afghanistan, the president took no cognizance of the actual terms of Trump’s negotiated deal with the Taliban. Whatever its shortcomings, the so-called Doha Agreement regulated the Taliban’s military actions, while requiring good faith negotiations between it and the Afghan government of President Ashraf Ghani. Given that the Taliban was in breach of Doha, and the required negotiations were unsuccessful, the United States was entitled to leave the pact. It certainly could not be held to any specific evacuation deadline.
Biden, ignoring all these policy “details” — like Trump was once said to do — simply decreed that the United States would depart Afghanistan by the anniversary of 9/11, no conditions attached. He thereby placed optics over substance, politicizing what is sacred in the process — as Trump was also once said to do. (At the same time, by changing the withdrawal deadline from Trump’s date of May 1 not once but twice, to Sept. 11 and then to Aug. 31, Biden clearly found flexibility in Doha where he wanted it.)
Even as US intelligence warned of the Taliban’s advance, and even as the estimated timetable for its victory was radically foreshortened, Biden and his administration continued to spin. Another way of putting it: They spurned the experts, choosing instead to live inside a bubble of “alternative facts.”
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby talked about “very capable” and “very sophisticated” Afghan military units, while White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Afghan forces “have what they need.” In a phone call with Ghani, Biden went further still, pressuring the Afghan leader to claim that military conditions were positive “whether it is true or not.” One must wonder: While building false confidence in the Afghan military — the better to blame it later — did Biden ever consider the consequences of giving US citizens in Afghanistan, or our Afghan allies, false confidence in their continued safety?
Biden’s response to the Taliban’s victory and the Afghan government’s collapse is in line with the caricature the media gave Trump, that of an uncaring leader acting unilaterally in the world.
As chaos ensued in Afghanistan, with American citizens trapped, Afghan allies betrayed, and scenes at the Kabul airport reminiscent of Saigon in 1975, Biden mustered little empathy to go along with all his finger-pointing and fact-ignoring. The president complained of Trump’s Doha deal, which he “inherited,” as if it afforded no opportunity to pivot. He conveniently derided the Afghan military’s “will to fight.” He claimed, fantastically, to “have seen no question of our credibility from our allies around the world.”
Perhaps Biden missed the speech of Tom Tugendhat, a combat veteran of Afghanistan and chairman of the UK’s parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee. Tugendhat expressed his “grief and rage — the feeling [of] abandonment of not just a country but the sacrifice that my friends made.” Or perhaps the president was unaware of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement, lamenting the “bitter, dramatic, and awful” conquest of Afghanistan by the Taliban.
As the Afghanistan disaster shows, what the mainstream media said of Trump is true of Biden. And the consequences have only begun to unfold.
Augustus Howard is a columnist focusing on national politics and foreign policy.