Axelrod says Biden should have ’embraced’ failures of Afghanistan exit

Obama-era strategist David Axelrod said Monday that President Biden should have taken more responsibility for the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan when addressing the nation for the first time since Kabul fell to the Taliban.

Axelrod, who was one of former President Obama’s top strategists, said on CNN just after Biden’s address that it would have suited the president better had he “embraced” the failure of the U.S. troop withdrawal because it ultimately occurred under his watch.

“I thought that his case for why we had to get out was strong, it was compelling, and I think he had to do that as well. But I do think that he needed to take responsibility,” Axelrod said.

“I think he would have served himself well if he had just embraced it. Yes, there were failures on the part of the — clearly on the part of the Afghans. Yes the government there is corrupt. Yes Donald Trump left him with a mess. All of that is true, but he is the commander in chief now. He is in charge of this operation, and he should have said it did not go as it should have and taken responsibility for that,” Axelrod later added.

Axelrod’s assessment came just after Biden addressed the nation on Monday for the first time following a chaotic day in which the Taliban took over Kabul and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. 

During his speech, Biden attributed the swift collapse of the country to the decision by Afghan political leaders to flee and a failure by the Afghan military to fight. He argued that the developments reinforced the decision to exit the country after 20 years of war.

Before Biden spoke from the White House East Room, Axelrod called the state of affairs in Afghanistan “a failure” and said the president “needs to own that failure.”

“It’s fine to say the Afghans didn’t fight. That is true. We invested $90 billion or so in the army and the police there. They folded immediately. That is true. You can blame the Trump administration, but he is the commander in chief now,” Axelrod said.

“And he can blame intelligence too, and obviously this was a huge intelligence failure, but in these moments I think people respect presidents who say, ‘This is on me. This was on my watch. This was a failure. We’re gonna learn from it, and we’re gonna do everything we can in the coming weeks and days and weeks and months to make good our promise to our partners in Afghanistan who helped us during these 20 years to escape the wrath of the Taliban,’” he added.

Axelrod also said Biden could have shared more about what went wrong. While Biden acknowledged the Taliban advanced more quickly than expected, the former top strategist said, “Well, that’s like a pretty big fact, and there are all kinds of implications of that.”

“I was thinking when he said, you know, we will continue our counterterrorism operations, that we’re going to have our eyes on the ground there. Well, presumably they had eyes on the ground now, and so why did we fail in anticipating what happened?” Axelrod said.

A number of GOP lawmakers have criticized Biden for his handling of the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan.

Rep. Michael McCaul (Texas), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Sunday that Biden is “gonna have blood on his hands” for the pulling of troops from Afghanistan and that the administration “totally blew this one.” 

Tags Barack Obama David Axelrod Donald Trump Joe Biden Michael McCaul

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