There comes a point when the only way for leaders to fix a colossal screw-up is to stop spinning, accept responsibility, forget about fanny covering and do whatever it takes to make things right.
Joe Biden has reached that point with Afghanistan, but seems not to know it. He continues to paint a markedly different picture of what is unfolding there than the very clear image Americans are seeing with their own eyes on their television screens.
In a remarkable and at times incoherent interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, the president made the incredible contention that the chaos overwhelming the withdrawal from Afghanistan was anticipated and inevitable.
To the question of whether the exit could have been handled better, Biden replied: “I don’t think it could’ve been handled in a way that there — we — we’re gonna go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens. I don’t know how that happened.”
He repeated the claims during Friday’s White House briefing. It doesn’t inspire confidence that Biden has this storm under control.
Nor do statements that stand in direct contradiction to the firm assurances Biden offered a month ago, when he said he could envision no circumstance in which the Afghanistan withdrawal could go bad.
Doesn’t he realize those earlier clips still exist, and are being played side-by-side with his current remarks?
Even his own party is beginning to edge away from the president. Democratic-led congressional committees are planning investigations into the administration’s handling of the pull-out, a breach of partisan unity that’s almost unheard of in today’s Washington.
Criticism also is coming from the foreign allies who just a few months ago were celebrating what they saw as America’s return to the international stage, as represented by Biden replacing Donald Trump.
A media that that had depicted Biden as a loveable, ice-cream-slurping antidote to the Trump poison are suddenly pouncing, hitting him with searing questions from which he scurries away.
Communication is everything in a crisis, and the essential element in halting an erosion of confidence.
Biden isn’t getting his message out, perhaps because he doesn’t have one, or at least not one that matches reality.
The truth can’t be hidden or downplayed. Watching Afghan mothers handing their babies to soldiers at the airport and begging them to get them out of the country is heartbreaking.
Whether all Americans, let alone our Afghan allies, will get out safely is an open question that demands a more certain answer than the knocks on a wooden table and “no one’s being killed right now” response Biden gave ABC.
And explaining how billions of dollars of U.S. military equipment fell uncontested into the hands of the Taliban is the bare minimum the commander-in-chief owes the taxpayers who bought all that gear.
Biden is falling short of the the moment. He can’t undo the poor decisions that got us into this tragedy. What’s required now is decisive leadership that quickly restores American control over how the next few weeks in Afghanistan play out.
Biden doesn’t seem to have that in him.
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