Is it not always true that the White House press secretary has the most difficult job in Washington, D.C.? Perhaps it is, but, with one or two notable exceptions, the men and women who have served in this position – under both Democrat and Republican presidents – have handled their ritual confrontations with the Press Corps with deft conviction, knowledge, preparation, and the ability to give as good as they get in the face of hostile questioning. Jen Psaki, when answering questions on the 13 U.S. military personnel slain in Kabul, appeared to have mastered none of those vital skills – even when confronted with reporters who, for the most part, are still reluctant to go too hard on the White House.
Following the brutal Aug. 26 twin suicide bombings outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Psaki’s boss Joe Biden waffled his way through an address to the nation. His words did nothing to reassure anybody or restore confidence in an incompetent administration. His entirely empty promise to make those who were responsible for the attack pay for their brutality surely did nothing to strike terror into the hearts of the Taliban, ISIS-K, or al-Qaeda; three organizations that are in reality almost completely interchangeable.
Girl’s Got No Rhythm
After the Biden address, Psaki had the unenviable task of fielding reporters’ questions. Not for the first time, this press secretary seemed unprepared to provide an informed and informative explanation of White House thinking or a convincing defense of Mr. Biden’s haphazard approach to the shutting down of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.
To borrow an appropriate description from Liberty Nation’s Leesa K. Donner, it is as if Psaki is riffing from the podium, as she answers the media’s questions. Her style is more improvisational jazz than concerto.
The narrative Psaki clung to is that the White House has orchestrated some grand airlift that is running like a well-oiled machine. Deflecting questions to which she should have provided straight answers, the press secretary stubbornly repeated that some 104,000 people have so far been flown out of Kabul. Still, certain media reports and eyewitness accounts of events on the ground suggest that relatively few Americans and Afghan partners have been extracted from the danger zone. Instead, it appears planes have been packed with random Afghan civilians attempting to flee the country to give the impression that the evacuation is continuing full steam ahead with few problems.
To sidestep other difficult questions, Psaki deployed the old standby excuse that she could not and would not discuss military and security contingency plans. When asked by Fox News’ Peter Doocy how the White House could continue to work with the Taliban after the suicide attacks that killed 10 U.S. Marines, two Army soldiers, and one Navy Corpsman, Psaki responded, “I’m not trying to sugarcoat what we think of the Taliban. The Taliban is, err, is not – they’re not a group we trust. They are not our friends. We have never said that.”
Whether or not Doocy was ready with the obvious follow-up question is not clear because Psaki quickly moved on. That question, of course, should have been why the administration chose to negotiate with the Taliban to provide security outside the airport in Kabul if they “are not our friends” and “not a group we trust.”
It would be easy to give Psaki a pass – to show her some sympathy, even. After all, she is currently tasked with defending the indefensible, explaining the inexplicable, and applying a veneer of competence to the most disastrous and consequential foreign policy blunder in American history. But for reasons only she knows, Mr. Biden’s spokeswoman appears unwilling or, perhaps, unable to display the kind of conviction, command of the facts, and assured, polished presentation characteristic of most of her predecessors. In a way, Jen Psaki’s half-hearted and make-it-up-as-she-goes-along approach to her duties is a reflection of the entire Biden administration – which explains a lot about what is happening to the United States, both at home and abroad.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.