Here’s The Big Bet Joe Biden Is Making On Afghanistan

Joe-Biden

Joe Biden believes that you don’t care about Afghanistan. Or, maybe more accurately, that you won’t care about it by the time the 2022 (and 2024) elections rolls around.

He — and his top aides– wouldn’t put it that way, of course.

But every signal he and they are sending makes clear that they simply do not believe the debacle of the last 10 days will be a voting issue for most Americans.

Start with Biden’s first speech on Afghanistan six days ago — his first major remarks since the Taliban effectively took over the country. While Biden bowed to the dangers posed by the need to evacuate thousands of Americans from the country, he was resolute about his decision to withdraw all American troops from the country.

Here’s the key bit: “I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”

The message was clear: We are not staying in Afghanistan indefinitely — no matter how ugly things looks right now.

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That position was built on two things: 1) Biden’s belief that, in his words in that same speech, “our mission in Afghanistan was never supposed to have been nation-building” and 2) the clear desire of the American public to end America’s longest war.

On that second point, 538’s Geoffrey Skelley wrote this last Tuesday:

“At least until the events of this weekend, though, Americans supported Biden’s decision to remove US military forces from Afghanistan. Most polls conducted since the beginning of July show that a sizable majority of Americans supported Biden’s decision.”

And when he said sizable, he meant it; most polling conducted prior to mid-August showed support for Biden’s withdrawal out-running opposition to it by a whopping 30-plus points.

Now, in the wake of the horrifying images — people clinging to a US cargo plane at the Kabul airport as it taxis down a runway, a crying baby being handed to US military over a fence — coming out of Afghanistan, public opinion has changed. Six in 10 people said they disapproved of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan in a new NBC poll. Three-quarters of respondents (74%) said that the removal of troops from the country has gone “very badly” (44%) or “somewhat badly (30%) in new CBS News numbers. Biden’s overall job approval numbers have also fallen of late — dipping below 50% for the first time in his presidency even before the latest happenings in Afghanistan.

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But in the face of these falling poll numbers — and loud criticism from not just Republicans but fellow Democrats — Biden and his inner circle haven’t moved an inch.

Asked directly about his declining poll numbers in regards Afghanistan (and more generally), Biden responded this way on Sunday:

“Look, I had a basic decision to make: I either withdraw America from a 20-year war that, depending on whose analyses you accept, cost us $150 million a day for 20 years or $300 million a day for 20 years; who — and I — you know I carry this card with me every day — and who — in fact, where we lost 2,448 Americans dead and 20,722 wounded. Either increase the number of forces we’d keep — we keep there and keep that going, or I end the war. And I decided to end the war.”

And it’s more than just Biden. This, from Axios om Sunday, is instructive about how the Biden White House views Afghanistan as part of the bigger political climate:

“The White House is downplaying Afghanistan during outside-the-Beltway events, hoping voters will pay more attention to President Biden’s big spending plans…

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