(New York) Can an American President politically survive a military disaster like Thursday’s in Afghanistan?
Posted on Aug 29, 2021 at 6:00 am
Richard Hétu Special collaboration
The historical parallels are imperfect but instructive. And there is no doubt that Joe Biden, weakened by the suicide attack that killed 13 American soldiers and at least 170 Afghan civilians in Kabul, would know the fate of Republican President Ronald Reagan more than that of Democratic President Jimmy Carter.
And yet, Ronald Reagan occupied the White House during a series of bloodshed and boondoggles that are hard to believe today. It’s worth listing them.
On April 17, 1983, 17 Americans died in chaos in an attack on the US embassy in Beirut, the Lebanese capital.
On October 23, 1983, 241 Marines, members of a multinational security force, died in a truck bomb attack on their headquarters in Beirut. More than 120 other soldiers are injured in this attack, which, like the previous one, is claimed by Islamic Jihad.
On March 16, 1984, William Buckley, head of the CIA branch in Beirut, was kidnapped and tortured by Hezbollah.
On September 20, 1984, a car bomb exploded in front of an outbuilding of the US embassy in Beirut, killing 24 people and slightly injuring the US ambassador.
And on November 6, 1984, Ronald Reagan was undoubtedly re-elected. With 58.8% of the vote, he removed all states with the exception of Minnesota, that of his Democratic opponent Walter Mondale.
The American economy, which is in full swing, has a lot to do with its triumphant advance. The way in which the Republican President’s rivals dealt with the catastrophe in Lebanon also played a role in the outcome of the election.
Democrats joined their voices with Republicans to denounce Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and others responsible for the American deaths. The majority in the House of Representatives also launched a bipartisan investigation into the attack on the naval barracks to understand what had happened rather than point out the perpetrators.
A dangerous comparison
Joe Biden, 37 years later, can dream of an economic boom in 2022 or 2024. But he already knows that he cannot count on the support of his political rivals when there is a foreign policy crisis.
Before the Republican leaders in Congress even knew the exact number of American soldiers killed in Kabul, they blamed the president of their country and ignored the terrorists’ responsibility.
“Joe Biden has blood on his hands,” said New York Republican representative of New York State, Elise Stefanik, number three in her faction.
This terrible humanitarian and national security disaster is entirely the result of Joe Biden’s weak and incompetent leadership. He is unsuitable as commander in chief.
Elise Stefanik, Republican Representative for New York State
Many elected Republicans have called for the resignation or impeachment of the Democratic president. Conservative commentators have also compared him to Jimmy Carter.
“Joe Biden became Jimmy Carter on Sunday,” wrote William McGurn, former George W. Bush speechwriter, in an article published in the Wall Street Journal after the Taliban came to power.
“Years after President Carter left the Oval Office, his name remains synonymous with weakness and incompetence,” he added. Since Thursday, this comparison has become even more dangerous for Joe Biden.
The story goes that Jimmy Carter gave the go-ahead to a military operation that turned into a fiasco and contributed to his loss to Ronald Reagan in November 1980. It took place during the American hostage situation in Iran. On April 24, 1980, on the orders of the Democratic President, an attack force of 120 men flew to Tehran in helicopters and airplanes to recover the 53 American hostages who had been held for months by Iranian students in the US embassy in Tehran.
Eight soldiers will die in this operation, which has to be abandoned due to sandstorms and technical problems en route.
The advantage of time
The failure of this operation has become a symbol of Jimmy Carter’s presidency. His electoral defeat could of course be explained by other factors, including an economy hit by an energy crisis followed by a recession.
But Joe Biden won’t want his presidency to be defined by another dark day in American history, August 26, 2021, when the evacuation of American and Afghan civilians from Kabul turned into a slaughter. A day that shook him deeply, if we can trust the image he projected during his press conference on Thursday, that of a man overwhelmed by emotions and perhaps overwhelmed by events.
Joe Biden can take comfort in telling himself he has a time advantage. There is still over a year to the mid-term elections and more than three years to the next presidential election. This fall, he could revive his presidency by passing infrastructure and social program bills that will rival the greatest accomplishments of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson.
Shortening the time could also allow Americans and their feverish media to put Thursday’s drama and chaos that preceded it at Kabul airport into perspective. Especially since the Democratic President ended a war that has become unpopular with a majority of Americans.
But the Afghan chapter is far from over. US officials reiterate that another attack in Kabul is “very likely” “within 24 to 36 hours”, shortly before the planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. “The situation on site remains extremely dangerous and the risk of a terrorist attack on the airport remains high,” warned the US president in a statement. Another likelihood is that a number of American civilians and tens of thousands of Afghan allies cannot be evacuated in a timely manner.
And the question arises of what will happen to Afghanistan after the Americans leave. There is great fear that this country will become a refuge for Islamist terrorists. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan probably never could have foreseen that they would contribute to such a scenario by supporting the anti-communist mujahideen guerrillas.