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Biden's Tone on Afghans' Plight Is 'Strikingly Cold'

President is resolute about withdrawal, but criticism mounts as Taliban keeps advancing
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2021 1:21 PM CDT
Americans Don't Seem to Care About Afghanistan (For Now)
A Taliban fighter stands guard over surrendered Afghan security member forces in the city of Ghazni, southwest of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Friday.   (AP Photo/Gulabuddin Amiri)

(Newser) – President Biden is enduring the harshest criticism of his presidency to date in the wake of the Taliban's swift spread throughout Afghanistan. As of Friday afternoon, the group had completed its takeover of the south and now controls two-thirds of the nation, reports the AP. All eyes are now on the capital of Kabul, which remains in government hands for the time being. A sampling of opinions:

  • As recently as last month, Biden was saying—incorrectly, as it turned out—that the Taliban wouldn't be able to run roughshod over the country as American forces pulled out. "Who knows what he will be saying next month?" writes Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. "And, frankly, who cares? On Afghanistan, Biden's credibility is now shot." What's more, this could hurt America's reputation elsewhere, particularly in regard to China, writes Rachman.

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  • "This is a horrible, epic defeat and disaster," writes Shay Khatiri at the Bulwark. Yes, it is "technically true" that most Americans in opinion polls want US forces to come home. "But it would be more accurate to say that they don't care about Afghanistan—until they have to, and then they will care about it a lot." Just wait until the inevitable photos begin to emerge of Taliban brutality, warns Khatiri.
  • At Axios, Mike Allen notes that top Biden aides "derive comfort from the fact that the American public is behind them—an overwhelming majority support withdrawal from Afghanistan—and they bet they won't be punished politically for executing a withdrawal." But hawks such as Sen. Lindsey Graham are warning of longer-term terror implications.
  • Susan Glasser at the New Yorker writes that Biden's comments on the fallout for the Afghan citizenry have been "strikingly cold" for a politician known for his empathy. She's also been struck by the lack of serious debate on all this since Biden announced his decision four months ago. "Political calculation by both parties is part of it, undoubtedly, as well as the all-too-pressing problem of too much else terrible going on, with American democracy in crisis and a horrible summer coronavirus surge." But the time is now upon us. "So, the question must be, and is starting to be, asked: What will come next from this disaster?"
  • In a New York Times essay by Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, Kagan rejects Biden's explanation that a deal struck by former President Trump with the Taliban left him no choice on the withdrawal. "The way [Biden] announced the drawdown and eventual departure of American troops—at the start of the fighting season, on a rapid timeline and sans adequate coordination with the Afghan government—has in part gotten us into the current situation."
  • The situation on the ground is indeed grim, but Walter Shapiro writes in the New Republic that the only thing worse than leaving Afghanistan would be staying. "After $1 trillion and 2,312 US military deaths in Afghanistan, Joe Biden appears determined not to be sucked into another face-saving combat mission to stave off the apocalypse," he writes. "Sadly, another surge, another fantasy about a negotiated settlement, will only delay the inevitable."
(Read more Afghanistan exit strategy stories.)

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