The collapse of Afghanistan in August 2021 found President Joe Biden in a familiar spot: on vacation.
According to a new book by journalist Franklin Foer, the vacationing Biden reacted to news of then-President Ashraf Ghani’s flight from the Afghan capital of Kabul with characteristic self-control.
“Biden exploded in frustration” and yelled “Give me a break!” Foer wrote.
On Sunday, Fox News described this account of the Afghanistan withdrawal from an advance copy of Foer’s book, “The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and the Struggle for America’s Future.”
Penguin Press released the book Tuesday.
According to Foer, the Biden administration had expected an orderly transfer of power to the Afghan government, including the Taliban, by Aug. 31, 2021.
Instead, on Aug. 15, 2021 — three days after his vacation began — the president learned that the Taliban had overrun much of the country and would soon enter the capital.
Biden was not the only member of the administration enjoying a late-summer getaway. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki also had left Washington, D.C.
But chaotic scenes from Kabul, where desperate would-be refugees tried clinging to landing gear on U.S. transport planes, convinced administration officials that they had a crisis on their hands.
Indeed, according to Foer, “images of Afghans falling from the sky” persuaded Psaki to cut her vacation short.
“I’m contemplating coming back,” Psaki wrote to then-White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.
“I’m sorry. I think you need to,” Klain replied.
Now that the publisher has released the book, readers can peruse Foer’s narrative if they so desire.
In the meantime, the brief passages described by Fox News leave three familiar impressions
First, there was incompetence. It is not clear by what mystical force the Biden administration “expected a gradual handover of responsibility” (Fox’s words, not Foer’s) in Afghanistan. What could have persuaded them that the Taliban would have held out for 20 years only to acquiesce in a U.S.-imposed government?
In any case, the chaotic and tragic withdrawal proved that the administration had not prepared for what occurred.
Second, Biden’s “Give me a break!” exclamation, while understandable given the circumstances, reminds us that the president often has failed to control his emotional outbursts.
Stories of leaders erupting in anger have endearing elements only after the eruption has spurred successful action. We like history’s gruff generals who suffered no fools and led their armies to victory.
When the emotional eruption occurs in the midst of fatal flailing, however, it only accentuates the incompetence. We like our gruff generals much less when they vent frustrations in the middle of a retreat.
Finally, it seems appropriate that Biden received the dreadful Afghanistan news while on vacation.
I am not one to criticize any politician who leaves Washington, D.C. for any reason. The sooner the better in most cases. Government officials do infinite harm, and the republic can get along very well without them.
In this case, however, the complaint is more visceral, for Biden’s behavior offends some of our deepest sensibilities. The president’s perpetual relaxation amid crises has made him look like a languishing aristocrat. After the devastating Aug. 8 wildfire in Maui, for instance, he did not cut short his multiple vacations. He could not even bother to comment on the tragedy.
Politicians who spend half a century in government grow to enjoy and then to expect its privileges. That is how they become older, modern versions of Marie Antoinette.
In that sense, Biden receives more blame than he should, for in fact he only represents an entire ruling class.
Never forget that every member of that ruling class failed us in Afghanistan.