News & Politics

Will the Taliban Save Joe Biden's Presidency?

Will the Taliban Save Joe Biden's Presidency?
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The headline in the New York Times — yes, you read that right, The New York Times — reveals just how much trouble Joe Biden is in: “To Save His Presidency, Biden Must Tell the Truth About Afghanistan.”

The op-ed was written by the prominent liberal Democrat, anti-war historian Michael Kazin.

All presidents lie at times, but those who admit mistakes, particularly obvious ones, can retain their popularity. This happened to John F. Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 and to Bill Clinton when he acknowledged his affair with Monica Lewinsky in 1998 (although he benefited more from the Republicans’ failed attempt to throw him out of office).

Mr. Biden made a decent start at such truth-telling during his speech this week. But he should give a fuller explanation of why his administration failed to prepare for a Taliban victory that, according to years of intelligence reports, was quite likely.

It’s far too late for a Bay of Pigs-type mea culpa. Besides, JFK gave that speech more than 50 years ago. We’re a far different country now — far more cynical, less believing and trusting in authority. Biden is not going to be able to finesse his way out of the crisis he made for himself.

He’s going to need some help. In fact, only the Taliban can rescue Joe Biden’s presidency. The Taliban have a knife at the throat of America and only their forbearance will assure a safe evacuation of Americans from Afghanistan.

To that end, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Adm. Peter Vasely, has been leading the effort to negotiate with his Taliban counterpart. Unfortunately, the talks have achieved mixed results. While Americans are being allowed into the airport, Afghans who hold U.S. visas are being denied an exit.


Vasely has been communicating at least once a day with a Taliban commander stationed outside the airport, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Thursday. “My understanding is that in a typical day there’s more than one conversation, direct conversation with their self-appointed designated commander there,” he said.

The tentative understanding now is that the Taliban will allow the US to continue its evacuation operations unhindered at the airport, as long as American forces don’t fan out into the city and interfere with Taliban rule there.

Note the way Kirby described Vasely’s Taliban counterpart: he’s “self-appointed.” He probably doesn’t command anyone or anything beyond the airport, so negotiating with him is worse than useless.

Vasely needs to be able to negotiate with the theater commander to get the Taliban fighters to stand down across the city so that the Americans can safely get to the airport. But the Taliban aren’t structured that way. They are a loosely organized group of quarreling, murderous terrorists. And while one Taliban commander may allow Americans to pass unmolested, another might see the value of taking some American hostages.

The only way Biden is going to redeem this situation and prevent a bloody tragedy is to give the Taliban everything they want. And that includes continuing American aid to the Taliban government.

The US still has some bargaining chips: with military tools vanishing, a senior administration official told CNN that steps by the US Treasury to freeze billions in US financial institutions and prevent Afghanistan from accessing International Monetary Fund assets have become more important in sustaining Taliban cooperation on evacuations from Kabul airport.

There are also the issues of formal international recognition and humanitarian aid — potentially significant sources of leverage for the US and allies, diplomats said.

How badly does the Taliban want recognition and cash? These people are fanatical ideologues who have just fought a 20-years war for the glory of Allah. Recognition and cash would be a bonus. They already have what they were fighting for.

Needless to say, Joe Biden’s domestic agenda — already in peril from skittish Democrats — is now a total washout. And Democrats will be tiptoeing away from Biden in order not to be tarnished by Biden’s Afghanistan stink.