In his first interview since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, President Biden was thoroughly defiant about his decision to pull all U.S. troops, and did not admit error in any aspect of the shambolic operation despite loud criticism from both Republicans and Democrats amid the troubling scenes in Kabul.
Speaking with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Biden said that a withdrawal from Afghanistan — a withdrawal he has long sought — would be a mess no matter what.
When Stephanopoulos tried to get Biden to admit negligence by asking whether what happened on the ground had been a failure of “intelligence, planning, judgment, or execution,” Biden began to say it wasn’t a failure at all, before pointing to the fleeing of the Afghan president and the “collapse of the Afghan troops we had trained” as the proximate cause of the problems.
When Stephanopoulos asked how he had reacted to pictures of the chaotic scenes at Kabul’s airport, Biden snapped that the scenes depicted had happened “four days ago, five days ago” (it was actually two), and that the problems had hardened the resolve of American troops to restore order to the airport, which they have.
And asked if the whole affair could have been handled any better, Biden offered a flat “no.” “The idea, somehow, that there was a way to get out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” he said.
Perhaps the loudest criticism coming Biden’s way has centered on the administration’s inability to predict how quickly the Taliban would sweep through the country. That miscalculation left thousands of Afghan allies, many mired in bureaucratic delays, stranded in the country as the Taliban moved in. There are also a large number of Americans — perhaps as many as 15,000 — left in the country.
On the matter of timing, Biden said, “I think there was no consensus. If you go back and look at the intelligence reports, they said that it was more likely to be sometime by the end of the year.” (The New York Times reported earlier this week that much of the intelligence analysis was considerably more pessimistic than that.)
When pressed, Biden also said that U.S. troops would remain in the country until all Americans who want to leave have exited the country, even if that means going beyond the current August 31 deadline for withdrawal. He was a bit fuzzier on the plight of Afghan allies. He revised Stephanopoulous’s estimate of that cohort from 80,000 to the 50-65,000 range, but said that that he committed to “get everyone out that we in fact can get out, and everyone who should come out.”
Though Biden’s approval rating has edged down recently, the scenes out of Afghanistan seem unlikely to become a defining issue for voters, if history is any guide. And the war in Afghanistan as a whole remains deeply unpopular with Americans. An AP-NORC poll released on Thursday showed that about two thirds of Americans didn’t think the war had been worth fighting, though only 47 percent give positive marks to Biden on international affairs.