Biden: Afghanistan and Ukraine

By Thomas Schmitt

The GBC Roundtable on February 9 th set out to chronicle the good, the bad, and the ugly of the Biden Administration thus far. We had no trouble with the ugly, focusing specifically on the Afghanistan withdrawal for a significant portion of our discussion. We did not spend nearly as much time on the “good,” but there was one thing that we mostly praised: Biden’s handling of the war in Ukraine. We discussed several other topics, but it may be insightful to isolate these two military events as a way of looking at Biden’s tenure. Understanding the political reactions to Biden’s approach in Afghanistan vs. Ukraine can help us understand the public perception of the administration— something we were clearly concerned about, as our discussion concluded with a scramble to identify potential presidential candidates for 2024.

The withdrawal from Afghanistan was a mess. On that, we all agreed. However, there was less consensus on how much of that mess was the Biden administration’s fault. We launched into a thorough conversation about the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, missteps during previous administrations, and how much the Biden administration really knew before executing the withdrawal. Many members expressed frustration and regret about the U.S.’s fundamental mission in Afghanistan; it was an ill-conceived fool’s errand, doomed to fail. Consistent failure to resolve deep-seated corruption and incompetence within the Afghan government created an untenable fragility. Perhaps, Biden was just ripping off the Band-Aid— the consequences regrettable but necessary. Indeed, many of us thought that. But that did not shake the images of Afghans clinging to retracting airplane wheels; the burial of thirteen U.S. soldiers; the Taliban triumphantly hoisting their flag within days. There must have been an egregious miscalculation, a profound gap in strategy or information, some immense screw-up that caused the chaos which followed. And if not— if the administration had all the necessary information and appropriate calculations, this was an even more shameful incident. We may never know the intricacies of the withdrawal, but the American people saw what they needed to see. After Afghanistan, Biden’s approval ratings plunged to depths from which they have never truly recovered. It has irrevocably damaged his credibility.

Even Biden’s admirable stance in Ukraine has not generated the resurgence of public support that he likely hoped for. The media, democrats, and even some republicans have expressed consistent admiration or at least respect for Biden’s unwavering commitment to protecting Ukraine. Members at the roundtable expressed a similar sentiment, arguing that Biden has been commendable, providing direct aid while pushing other countries to cut ties with Russia. I count myself in this camp. We cannot allow Russia to crush a democratic government. If we are to be the noble hegemon, we must be a bulwark against expansionist, murderous, dictatorial tendencies— especially when the dictatorship in question is Russia! President Biden has acted accordingly. His clandestine visit to Kyiv on 2/20 was a logistical masterpiece, in stark contrast with the disaster in Afghanistan. There, Biden seemed strong. He seemed right. It almost washed the foul taste out of my mouth from Afghanistan— almost. 

It seems, however, that most Americans have not been lulled. Polls show that support for pro-Ukraine congressional funding is falling. And efforts in Ukraine have hardly distracted people from Afghanistan (this alone did not cause this spiral, but it certainly gave it a good push along the way), inflation, and a rapidly, concerningly aging President. Biden’s steadfast determination to support Ukraine is commendable on its own. He has pursued the honorable, moral path despite waning political motivation. But Democrats (myself included) turn towards 2024 with anxiety and uncertainty, and it’s clear Ukraine just isn’t enough. Democrats now must hope for detrimental Republican infighting or some unforeseeable triumph if they hope to re-capture the white house.

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