August 26 was “the worst day” of Joe Biden’s presidency, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki conceded. The problem for Biden and his party is that it wasn’t just a bad day, but a potentially defining one. As the U.S. raced to extract all Americans from Afghanistan by August 31—the deadline set by Biden—a suicide attack at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport killed 10 Marines, two Army soldiers, a Navy medic and more than 180 people overall. The devastating attack, which resulted in the deadliest day for the U.S. military in a decade, also seems likely to permanently scar the Biden presidency, branding it as dangerously incompetent.
In his speech to the nation hours after the attack, Biden described the dead as heroes who gave their lives “in the service of liberty, the service of security and the service of others. In the service of America, like their fellow brothers and sisters in arms who died defending our vision and our values, with the struggle against terrorism, on this day, are part of a great noble company of American heroes.” Biden also threatened retribution, saying, “To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this—we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.”
Following through on that vow successfully may be the only way to undo, even partially, the damage to his presidency. A retaliatory drone strike in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province the night after the attack, which the Pentagon said killed two Islamic State militants, followed by another strike two days later targeting a vehicle said to be carrying more ISIS suicide bombers to the Kabul airpost, maybe just the beginning.
There is no precise analog to the debacle in Kabul, though it brings other fiascos to mind. The collapse of Saigon in 1975 on Gerald Ford’s watch. The crash of Desert One outside Tehran in 1980 and the failed mission to rescue 53 hostages from the U.S. Embassy, which destroyed Jimmy Carter’s presidency. George W. Bush’s “mission accomplished” performance aboard the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003, although the war in Iraq would drag on for years. The Benghazi attacks in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in 2012, haunting Hillary Clinton, then-Secretary of State, to this day. There are echoes of all of these events in Biden’s disastrous endgame in Afghanistan.
Should the Republicans retake the House next year, as they are increasingly confident they will, they are sure to bury the Biden administration in investigations and hearings for the following two years. The political fallout from Benghazi is but a scale model of the kind of backlash that Biden will face.
“This makes Benghazi look like a much smaller issue,” Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, a member of GOP leadership who sits on the Armed Services Committee, told CNN. “This may be one of the worst and most consequential foreign policy and national security disasters in our history. There will be a lot of answers to seek and questions to be answered.”
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