President Joe Biden, who had spent less than 72 hours at the White House this week, delivered what he called an update on the situation in Afghanistan Friday, August 20. It was clearly scripted – as were his selection of reporters allowed to ask questions and his responses to them – but even that didn’t empower the president to deliver a coherent message.
Adapting to a Developing Situation
Initially, the president planned to deliver his remarks and then fly back to his personal residence in Wilmington, DE. That’s where he spent the majority of the week – either there or at Camp David. Biden’s plans changed, however, after a backlash from Republicans and questions from the media about whether he would take questions. He hadn’t said previously, and he hadn’t taken any questions after his earlier speeches.
The president was almost an hour late to his own event. Opening his speech by saying he had just come from a meeting in the Situation Room may have been his way of brushing that off. He explained that he met with Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, amongst other unnamed national security leaders, to discuss the “ongoing efforts to evacuate American citizens, third-country civilians, Afghan allies, and vulnerable Afghans.”
After his performance, it seems likely they also added some press questions to his script.
Hooray for Progress … We Think
From the very beginning, Biden tried to paint a picture of a finely tuned machine. He announced “significant progress” since Monday, saying American troops had secured the airport in Kabul and enabled flights to resume. He went on to drop numbers – almost 6,000 troops on the ground, 18,000 evacuated since July, and around 13,000 since the airlift began – and names – the 82nd Airborne, the Army 10th Mountain Division, and the 4th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
“This is one of the largest, most difficult airlifts in history,” the president declared. “And the only country in the world capable of projecting this much power on the far side of the world with this degree of precision is the United States of America.”
One problem: Biden also admitted – as did Secretary Austin in another presser – that they don’t actually know how many American citizens remain or where they are. The president says his team has been in constant contact with the Taliban, and that no American is being turned away at Taliban checkpoints. So why was military intervention required to rescue those 169 Americans?
“But let me be clear,” Biden declared, “any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.” His very next statement was that the mission is dangerous, and he can’t guarantee what the outcome will be. And again, the administration doesn’t know how many Americans are left or where they are.
Compassionate Joe Makes a Comeback
“The past week has been heartbreaking,” the president said. “We’ve seen gut-wrenching mages of panicked people acting out of sheer desperation. You know, it’s completely understandable. They’re frightened. They’re sad – uncertain of what happens next.”
“I don’t think anyone – I don’t think any one of us can see those pictures and not feel the pain on a human level,” he concluded. Perhaps that’s why he has spent most of this crisis either at home in Wilmington or at the presidential retreat at Camp David – the heartbreak was just too much for him.
As Liberty Nation Editor-in-Chief Leesa K. Donner pointed out, this whole disaster in Afghanistan revealed the compassion of the president to be mere illusion. “The president’s comments to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos exposed his true nature – that of a cold, calculating opportunist,” Donner explained. “When the friendly ABC host queried him about a video of desperate Afghans falling off an airplane to a gruesome death, the president unsuccessfully deflected, ‘That was four days ago, five days ago.’ Forget for a moment that Mr. Biden was factually incorrect – it was the callous nature of his response that caught many of his staunch supporters unaware.” Indeed, even had the president’s timeline been correct, how would that be a relevant – never mind compassionate – answer?
The Buck Stops … Somewhere
“As is the case whenever I deploy our troops into harm’s way, I take that responsibility seriously,” Biden solemnly intoned. “I carry that burden every day, just as I did when I was vice president and my son was deployed to Iraq for a year.” Later, while answering a reporter’s question, he even said, “The buck stops with me.” Interestingly enough, however, the president managed to blame the Afghan army, Donald Trump, and everyone else who was part of the “consensus” believing it would take longer for Afghanistan to fall.
A Peek Behind the Curtain
Though it was initially unclear whether Biden would take questions from journalists, in the end, he did – but his own fumbling with the script revealed a peek behind the curtain. Rather than look out over the press corps and call on people for organic dialog, he clearly selected his approved journalists from a list. Here’s how Biden called each reporter, looking through his notes each time:
“And now I’ll take questions. AP, Zeke Miller.”
“Now, Justin Sink of Bloomberg.”
“Now, my – I got – my next is Stephanie Ramos, ABC.”
“Meredith Lee of PBS NewsHour.”
“Scott Detrow. Scott. NPR.”
And while the president’s obviously preselected choices – especially the confusion as he flipped through his notes while trying to call ABC’s Ramos – made it clear this show of engaging with the press was mere pretense, it was a slip up with the last reporter that indicated the president had their questions – and answers – in advance.
NPR’s Scott Detrow must have gone off script and asked an unauthorized question. He pointed out that Biden’s claims of no Americans having trouble getting to the airport didn’t really square with the evidence coming from Kabul, and asked if, in fact, the president could guarantee it. Biden corrected him: “No, I thought the question was: How can they get through to the airport outside the airport? And the answer is: To the best of our knowledge, the Taliban checkpoints – they are letting through people showing American passports.”
The president wasn’t prepared for Mr. Detrow’s actual question – so he answered the one he had been told to expect after correcting the reporter. That’s akin to reading the teleprompter cues. Even heavily scripted, the president contradicted both the facts as we know them and even his own prior comments throughout the presentation. By the end, perhaps the greatest takeaway was that the whole show was a sham – from the nothing-burger update to the pre-arranged questions and answers. But what else would we expect out of Joe “No Malarkey” Biden?
Read more from James Fite.