Biden, Harris AWOL amid Kabul chaos under Taliban

Here is a very simple question regarding the national humiliation of a Taliban blitzkrieg that took back Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of U.S. involvement there: Why didn't we hear from the president of the United States as this incredible foreign policy crisis exploded over the weekend? Why did it take until late this afternoon to explain to Americans and the world what was happening and the import of what they have been seeing for the past two days or more?

Here was President Biden's original schedule for Monday as Afghans loyal to the U.S. are being killed, forced into hiding, left in the lurch as U.S. officials flee, or panicked into trying to board U.S. aircraft at Kabul’s airport: "In the morning, the president will receive the President's daily brief at Camp David. This meeting will be closed [to the] press."

And that's it. 

ADVERTISEMENT

 

Late Monday morning, the White House announced that Biden would finally return to Washington and deliver remarks on the situation in Afghanistan. These will be Biden's first public remarks about Afghanistan in nearly a week. 

Why did it take so long?

Another question: Where is Vice President Harris, who bragged about playing a key role in Biden’s decision in April to withdraw from Afghanistan? 

  

ADVERTISEMENT

Perhaps when Harris eventually takes a question from the press again – it's been a while since we've seen that happen – then someone could ask about her thinking around this decision. (In a related story, she has yet to hold even one formal press conference since taking office more than 200 days ago.) 

Here's the president's own words in July on what would and would not happen in Afghanistan, how it would in no way resemble the chaotic U.S. evacuation from Saigon in April 1975: “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy of the United States from Afghanistan. It is not at all comparable."

 

And here’s his evaluation of the Afghan army’s ability to fight the Taliban: "I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped."

 

… and his prediction of how the Afghan army would perform: "They’ll continue to fight valiantly, on behalf of Afghans, at great cost."

 

ADVERTISEMENT

It’s also worth noting there will be no White House press briefing today, which have been held daily Monday-Friday to this point almost without exception. 

An Axios piece summed up Biden's performance here: "Rarely has an American president's predictions been so wrong, so fast, so convincingly as Biden on Afghanistan.”   

 

For those who say this is just like Saigon, it ultimately could be much worse, because Vietnam hasn’t harbored terror organizations such as al Qaeda or ISIS. The Taliban obviously did so in the past and well may again, knowing that the current administration doesn't have the vision, the planning or the backbone to stop it from doing basically whatever it wants. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The administration is being hammered by military analysts on TV, too, for the poor planning and timing of the U.S. exit. The question is the same: Why did Biden announce the departure of U.S. military personnel at the onset of the fighting season instead of completing the process in the dead of winter, a time when the Taliban retreats to its bases in Pakistan?

The Pentagon has at least taken questions from the press, although the answers inspire no confidence. On Friday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, who was a CNN analyst during the Trump era, called on Afghans to unite. Of course, this was laughable against the backdrop of the Taliban conquering major cities on their way to eventually seizing control of Kabul. The Taliban, given its history, has no interest in unity, particularly when having the upper hand militarily. 

 

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenHillicon Valley — Blinken unveils new cyber bureau at State World Bank halts Sudan operations in response to coup Senators urge Biden to waive sanctions on India over Russian defense system purchase MORE spoke of the situation on Sunday — but, again, his answers were less than confidence-inspiring and were contradicted by the facts on the ground in Kabul. He told ABC News that "This is manifestly not Saigon” and reiterated on CNN: "Remember, this is not Saigon."

Now, for the Afghan people, particularly women, the future looks hellish. As the Wall Street Journal reports, retribution against any civilian suspected of having assisted the U.S., executions of captured Afghan soldiers and forced marriages for young girls have already begun, with more and worse likely to come. 

ADVERTISEMENT

 

Things are considered so dire there that some people reportedly tried to flee by clinging to the outside of a C-17 plane as it took off. 

 

For our allies, the future of American involvement and support looks questionable. But if U.S. officials were offering little to nothing in the way of reassurances or answers, China’s state media had some — a mocking observation that Kabul’s transfer of power was “more smooth” than America’s last January.

As for the American people, next month's marking of 20 years since 9/11 will be more ominous than ever, knowing that Afghanistan may once again become a fertile training ground for terrorists looking to upstage 9/11 in the next big attack. And at the moment, they are being subjected to endless media reports of panicked evacuations from Kabul’s airport, which one human rights worker described as “Saigon on steroids,” and alarming but unanswered questions about America’s military, intelligence and diplomatic competencies. 

So why did the president's advisers hide Biden and his vice president for so long when the world needed to hear from them immediately? We've heard more so far from the Taliban than the U.S. commander in chief.  

 

When the going gets tough in Biden's Washington, apparently, the tough go on vacation and don’t answer questions. 

Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill.