Recent disclosures about President Biden and his White House have observers concluding that Biden is being set up as a scapegoat for the disorderly flight of the United States from Afghanistan, which left at a minimum hundreds of Americans behind. (According to his administration’s own original numbers – some 10,000 to 15,000 Americans who would need evacuation – the number may be in the thousands. The American retreat is attended by other unfavorable numbers, for which there is no lack of sources online.)
The disclosures include a 23 July phone call between Biden and former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, in which Ghani said the Taliban advance throughout Afghanistan was in the nature of an invasion, and was moving very rapidly. The date, 23 July, was 23 days before the fall of Kabul. I’ve pointed out a number of times now that we didn’t need to ask Ghani, nor did it require classified national intelligence, to recognize the rapid advance of the Taliban and the collapse of the Afghan National Army in many of the provinces. Open-source analysis had made it very clear since at least mid-May 2021.
In that July phone conversation, Biden asked Ghani to help out by changing the perception of what was happening – i.e., putting a better spin on it – “whether it was true or not.” On that basis, Biden was (sort of) willing to continue U.S. air support to the Afghan National Army until 31 August.
Another disclosure indicated that the Biden administration was in contact with the Taliban around the time the Taliban entered the capital city, and rejected a Taliban offer for the U.S. to control Kabul until Biden’s declared end-date (31 August).
In the most recent disclosure, to Politico, an unnamed official inside the White House expressed serious regret about the handling of the evacuation, apparently acknowledging that it had been badly botched.
Revealing these things, presumably with more to come, certainly has the look of a scapegoating. An administration that tells us nothing it doesn’t want to is spilling its guts about what “Biden” did wrong.
There are a couple of reasons why that’s a facile and simplistic conclusion, however, as natural as it may be.
One is that scapegoating is something you do to appease a moral framework in which you tacitly acknowledge yourself to be operating. I’ve seen no evidence of such respect for a moral framework in anything being done by the Biden administration, or the “cabal” (Time’s word, not mine) that escorted it into office, since Biden’s inauguration in January. Scapegoating is observing ritual orthodoxies in the breach; it starts with ritual obeisance to the orthodoxies. There is no such ritual obeisance in evidence.
That’s basically the big break with normality and convention that’s been frosting everyone’s cookies for the last eight months. People keep waiting for the familiar sounds of the Old Consensus politics to strike up, and they never do. The moral rhythms and refrain of the Old Consensus are gone. Compunction within its constructs is no longer a reliable premise for divining what the administration and its facilitators have in mind.
There is no reason to suppose that in this particular instance, the Biden administration imagines itself to need a scapegoat. The last two weeks are hard evidence that it’s perfectly ready to go forward without scapegoats, because it has no intention of acknowledging fault on the schedule of anyone else’s expectations.
Instead of engaging on a common schedule of expectations, it just lies, weaving its own narrative and ignoring both the objections of others and the foghorn blasts of reality.
A related but separate point is this one. There are many – many – people who were not surprised by anything about the debacle in Afghanistan other than perhaps its pace and scope. Quite a few people not only foresaw the rapid collapse once the Biden administration’s intentions were evident, but fully expected the administration to behave in a pusillanimous fashion.
Increasingly, those people are a better guide to analysis and expectations than the orthodoxy-keepers of Foreign Affairs or the Brookings Institution. We’ve reached the point at which assessments can have no wisdom or discernment if they don’t acknowledge that evil is at work, and not just an antiseptically non-moral concept of institutional patterns.
It wasn’t just stupid, incompetent, or blundering to withdraw from Afghanistan in the manner chosen by the Biden administration. It was wrong. It wasn’t a TV series scripted by Aaron Sorkin, with dialogue composed of cleverly reductionist soundbites that would leave Brookings fellows a bit frustrated but chuckling. It was a gut-wrenching, stability-shattering, entirely avoidable reality (and not one dictated by the Trump administration, whose drawdown plan, though undoubtedly attended by its own flaws, the Biden administration signaled it would not adhere to during its first week in office).
The people who see that now are the ones who have foreseen since 2020 how a Biden presidency would behave.
The people distracted by the sudden scapegoating theme, on the other hand, are discussing Sorkin-script solutions to Foreign Affairs problems. That pairing has been a chimera from the beginning, back in the mists of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It scratches an enthusiasts’ itch; it doesn’t illuminate reality.
If scapegoating is too shallow an interpretation of what’s going on now, with the knives seemingly out for Biden, we are left to contemplate what goes deeper. Just one tag on an obvious point: scapegoating Biden can’t go anywhere that conventional thinking would propose; i.e., toward changing the situation to produce a better outcome, or even to satisfy the need for accountability.
Removing Biden wouldn’t change the operation of the current administration. Kamala Harris (or even, in the odd event, Nancy Pelosi) would be steered by the same “cabal” (Time’s word, not mine) that’s steering Biden, who manifestly is not the one running his presidency. He can barely even speak coherently about the handful of topics he occasionally addresses at the podium.
And since Biden isn’t truly in charge of his presidency, there may be a formulaic satisfaction in removing him from office, but there can be no accountability achieved merely through doing so. It would give us no accounting to remove a person; it’s the record of deeds and other persons we are owed, as regards Afghanistan, and removing Biden as stooge-in-chief would preclude that payoff.
Many will key on that last sentence to assume that that’s the purpose of the scapegoating. But again, I don’t believe the apparent scapegoating campaign has been launched by people who think it’s necessary to their own comfort. Washington, D.C. has already signaled that they – the “cabal,” let’s say – have nothing to worry about.
Ultimately, I suspect it’s a bigger, older, and more treacherous pattern at play than any that is dreamt of in our fragile post-modern philosophy. It’s the pattern of evil, which we understand by turning not to textbooks from the last few decades, but to the Psalms of the Bible from multiple millennia ago. Evil is faithless, merciless, remorseless, senseless: it turns on its own, devouring its tools for no purpose other than easy destruction. Evil is wholly uninteresting; it never gets new material.
It’s kicking our national capital around like a deflated ball at the moment. Sean Hannity expressed the sentiments of many, I think, when he said a couple of nights ago that America is leaderless. But being leaderless doesn’t mean nothing is happening. What is happening is partly what we see before us in this “scapegoating” sideshow: the de facto “leadership” of the country, such as it is, taking potshots at each other.
Doing it for public consumption has less a tactical purpose than a strategic one. I wouldn’t propose to certify how conscious it even is. But the effect of it is to weary and demoralize Americans, and corrupt and expose our institutions. It’s not about destroying Joe Biden. It’s about destroying America. It’s about paralyzing us abroad, and eating us up from within.
I recommend thinking long and hard about what needs to be done. The battle our nation is in is too vast and significant for light and transient measures. I think most informed observers recognize that we’re at something of an impasse: our constitutional options won’t bring the immediate changes we need. Yet we can’t abandon the principle of constitutionalism. Doing that would be tossing the last vestige of a common moral framework out the window.
But take heart. My own view is that Almighty God is yet bigger than all of this. Calling on Him and seeking His guidance should always be our first resort, as well as our last. Evil is about the past, and keeping us mired in it. Good owns the future. Every human heart is made to know that. There’s a tomorrow for both America and Afghanistan, if we seek God, and choose life.