The one trait that seems to unify every key figure in this administration is their stubborn belief that somehow they can spin their way out of an extremely difficult situation. The subtext of almost every administration statement since last weekend is, “hey, it’s not as bad as it looks!”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this afternoon, “it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not,” leaving everyone else wondering how else to describe situation where the U.S. military is sending out helicopters into other parts of the city to get Americans out, and the government is telling Afghan special immigrant visa holders to stay away from the airport “due to a deteriorating security environment.” If you can’t get out, you’re stranded.
While in Singapore, Vice President Kamala Harris referred to the “successful drawdown of the embassy.”
Sunday afternoon, President Biden insisted that the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies was going as well as anyone could expect. “The evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul is going to be hard and painful no matter when it started and when we began. It would have been true if we had started a month ago or a month from now. There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss, of heartbreaking images you see on television. It’s just a fact… I think that history is going to record this was the logical, rational, and right decision to make.”
Enough! There’s no good spin for this situation, so don’t even try. The administration should just level with the American people and the world, lay out just how difficult the road ahead is, and how challenging the circumstances are, and try to earn some respect through honesty. Winston Churchill did not try to fool the people of the United Kingdom into thinking that everything was fine.
The circumstances in Afghanistan are bad. We haven’t seen any American casualties yet, thank God. But we’ve got thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghan allies who need to get out; the Afghan allies face Taliban death squads, and the average Taliban fighter isn’t known for his discipline and careful avoidance of civilian casualties. Local ISIS affiliates intend to kill Americans. The Taliban may well be bluffing when they threaten “consequences” for U.S. forces in the country after August 31, but only a fool would presume they’re bluffing. And after the evacuation is complete, we will have to deal with the Taliban running Afghanistan again, back in its old habit of hosting anti-American terrorist groups once again.
Headlines like “How the White House wants to spin the fall of Kabul,” feel like a sickening demonstration of a moral vacuum, because something like this is too important to be spun. This isn’t a routine scandal, or bureaucratic snafu, or speaking gaffe that needs to be handled by press secretaries working the press. This isn’t even primarily a political or media story. It’s a human story, with enormous geopolitical consequences for the U.S. military and the American people. The overall impression is that Biden, Harris, Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, and Jen Psaki are in over their heads, and utterly incapable of meeting the moment. History called, and they let it go to voice mail.