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A year ago, US troops withdrew from Afghanistan, a chaotic end to America’s longest war – and a turning point in the Biden presidency, a time when his approval rating plummeted and never did. fully recovered.
The White House plans to mark the anniversary of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan later this month. President Biden wants to recognize and honor American service members and allies who have served through two decades of war.
It’s a moment remembered by many Americans for images of crowds of desperate Afghans at Kabul airport. Some chased a US Air Force plane, some even clung on takeoff – and tragically fell to their deaths. A suicide bombing killed 13 American soldiers.
“Every president goes through a crisis early in their term,” said John Gans, a former Pentagon official who has written about wartime White Houses. “For the Biden administration, it was the start of a kind of litany of things that didn’t go as well as they would have written on the whiteboard.”
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Biden’s popularity plunged after chaos in Kabul
During the withdrawal, Biden’s approval ratings plummeted – and his polls have remained in negative territory ever since.
Doug Sosnik, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, said it wasn’t just Afghanistan that triggered Biden’s downfall. Covid-19 was exploding and inflation was starting to pick up.
But Sosnik says the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan really hurt Biden because it undermined the president’s image.
“If bringing the jurisdiction back to government is one of the hallmarks of a candidacy, then I think the perspective of withdrawing from Afghanistan runs completely counter to why you should have voted for Biden,” did he declare.
Gans compares the political fallout for Biden to what former President John F. Kennedy saw after Cuba’s Bay of Pigs invasion.
“Every president since then has had something that has helped create the momentum, the appeal, the type of capture he has on the American imagination,” said Gans, who is now a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania.
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The long-awaited review of the withdrawal is not over
The White House has promised a full account of what went wrong. These reports are still not complete.
John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, told NPR that no military operation is flawless. He also highlighted the lives saved during the pullout, noting that more than 124,000 Americans and Afghans were brought to safety for 17 days during the evacuation.
Kirby said Biden never cared about approval ratings but firmly believed that ending the war was in the national interest of the United States.
“I would say events of the last year confirm that, that we’ve been able to focus on other threats and challenges, without keeping a few thousand troops or maybe even more on the ground in Afghanistan,” Kirby said. .
He said leaving Afghanistan has allowed the administration to focus more on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing challenges with China.
And last month, Biden approved a drone strike to kill al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.
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Voters focus on national challenges
The withdrawal helped trigger Biden’s downfall in the polls. But a year later, voters are more concerned about the economy, said Mohamed Younis, editor of Gallup.
“I’m saying it’s been a really, really long time since foreign policy has been the factor that has swirled some kind of sourness in the presidency,” Younis said.
These days, Afghanistan doesn’t even show up in focus groups with voters, said Celinda Lake, a Democratic strategist.
“No one brings this up at all anymore,” she said. “People are completely focused on the national economy right now.”
More recently, Biden has had a string of victories on national issues, but so far that has only given him a small lift in the polls.
Sosnik, Clinton’s adviser, says it’s too early to know if Biden can change the political tides.
“When you have a narrative that starts to turn negative, and events happen to reinforce that negative narrative, that creates even more negative momentum.”
Biden, himself, remains optimistic, telling reporters on a recent trip to Kentucky that the momentum is changing, but it will take time to see results.
“The thing is, we’ve been divided for so long,” he said. “And it’s only recently that we’ve had any movement. And I think you’re going to see a lot of changes.”