Washington (AP) – Where is this Joe Biden? This Biden, who usually presents himself as a good-hearted president who is close to the people, as a sober and cautious head of government who gives the country some peace and stability. As a politician with experience, heart and flair.
In his worst foreign policy crisis to date – triggered by his decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan – Biden is now showing a very different side. These include those that are difficult to reconcile with the image cultivated by him and his environment. A selection:
THE ANTITRUMP: Biden also won the election last November by presenting himself as an alternative to his controversial predecessor. He came in with a promise to end chaos and drama and instead rule with a steady hand and foresight.
The Washington Post described Biden’s decision to carry out his predecessor’s withdrawal plans in a commentary as a catastrophe, phrasing sharply: “Could it be that Donald Trump didn’t actually leave the presidency? And if so, why do we still have his foreign policy?” In Afghanistan, Biden suffered a “voluntary defeat” – and Trump’s “America First” policy achieved a “spiritual victory”.
DER KÜMMERER: The online magazine “Slate” called Biden the “empathy candidate” during the election campaign. The Democrat uses emotions and personal issues purposefully in his politics, presents himself as a master of compassion. With regard to Afghanistan, however, he now seemed cool and distant. “The scenes we see in Afghanistan are heartbreaking,” Biden said after the Taliban took power in Kabul. Much more sensitive things did not pass his lips.
At the same time, he fiercely defended his controversial course – making it clear that the United States was never interested in creating “a unified, centralized democracy” in Afghanistan, but only in preventing new terrorist attacks on their country.
THE FOREIGN POLITICS: Biden at every opportunity emphasizes his experience and prowess in world politics, which he has built up over the decades: first as a senator, then as vice president to Barack Obama. Yet Biden could not avert the disaster in Afghanistan.
He presents the situation as if there are only two options: withdraw or send thousands of American soldiers as reinforcements to escalate the war with the Taliban. In fact, there were other options between these two extremes: for example, linking the withdrawal to successes in peace negotiations.
THE TRUSTED PARTNER: “America is back” became a mantra Biden at the start of his tenure. America will be out of Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, at least after the necessary evacuation mission has ended. Biden has repeatedly assured allies that a new era of cooperation will begin after the Trump years. The decision to unconditionally withdraw troops from Afghanistan was made alone and against the conviction of other allies – even though he knew this would end NATO’s operation in Afghanistan as a whole.
THE LISTENERS: “Joe Biden really listens,” Foreign Policy magazine said in the election campaign — his predecessor Trump was not known for it. However, in the case of Afghanistan’s withdrawal, Biden listened neither to the experts nor to allies. The unconditional withdrawal warnings were clear and accurate. Instead, it seems as if Biden’s opinion was predetermined.
During the election campaign, he had already promised to end the “endless wars” in the US – the longest was the one in Afghanistan. Biden’s predecessors also wanted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. But because of the dangers, they had been persuaded to refrain from doing so.
SELF-CRITICAL: Biden vowed to openly admit mistakes. Despite a torrent of criticism, also from his own party, he sees no reason to do so in the case of Afghanistan. He only admitted that he had not expected the speed of the Taliban’s triumphant advance, but went on to defend his decision rigorously and almost defiantly.
Biden also said that as president, all responsibility rests with him. But he promptly shifted responsibility for the devastating situation to others: Afghanistan’s impotent political leadership, the country’s armed forces and, last but not least, his predecessor Trump, from whom he inherited his controversial deal with the Taliban. However, there was no compulsion for Biden to stick with Trump’s course.
THE FAMILY PEOPLE: For Biden, US combat operations also have a very personal side that should influence his professional decisions. “I am the first president in 40 years to know what it means to have a child serving in a war zone,” he said in April when he announced his decision to withdraw. His son Beau – who died of a brain tumor more than six years ago – served as an officer in Iraq in 2008/2009.
Biden rhetorically asked his critics how many generations of young Americans he should send to the war in Afghanistan. “How many lives – American lives – is it worth? How many endless rows of headstones in Arlington National Cemetery?”