Could Afghanistan Really Influence US Policy?
When the US Army reached Afghanistan within the set deadline of the 31st lovers sounded the alarm. However, the Pentagon quickly denied that a service dog was left behind in Afghanistan, but acknowledged that a number of social media posts about the non-military evacuation of Kabul pets caused confusion.
Okay, if not dogs, did America leave anything in Afghanistan? The US officials, of course, assume that 100 to 200 Americans stayed in Afghanistan “with the intention of leaving the country.” And the Americans expressed concern about those in Afghanistan who supported and worked with American soldiers and diplomats and who are now at the mercy of the Taliban. And those millions of Afghans who thought America would protect them from the Taliban. With the ghost of Afghanistan haunting America, a vast majority of Americans, regardless of age, education, ideology, party identification, race, or ethnicity, believe that their country has not done enough to help them.
And Joe Biden got the bittersweet taste of the presidency for the first time from the Afghanistan debacle. When he announced the withdrawal in April, he was eager to take the credit to end America’s longest war. But as soon as the Taliban quickly took control of the country, Biden tried, amid massive national and international criticism, to remind people that the withdrawal followed the guidelines of his predecessor Donald Trump. The Republicans and Trump also seemed to have forgotten the previous government’s Doha Agreement, which actually legitimized the Taliban. You continue to blame Biden for the Afghan episode.
How would the Afghan quakes now affect America’s political scenario and Biden’s popularity? It is very clear that Americans were eager to end the two-decade-old Afghan war – a $ 2 trillion expense – despite knowing that withdrawing their military from Afghan soil increases the threat of terrorism and the national one US security would decrease. Around 77 percent supported the withdrawal. However, it seems they can clearly distinguish between the decision to withdraw and the way that decision was carried out. About three-quarters of Americans today think moving out of Afghanistan was a poorly planned and poorly executed exercise. About 60 percent disapproved of Biden’s dealings. No wonder Biden’s popularity has plummeted. In fact, Biden’s job admission rating has fallen under the water in surveys conducted by various agencies. The devastating attack on Kabul Airport only made things worse for him.
It is clear that Biden’s presidency honeymoon is over. According to data from polling firm FiveThirtyEight, Biden’s overall approval rate was 54.7 percent on May 25, down to 45.9 percent on September 3 (with a rejection rate of 48.4 percent). Such a major shift in presidential public opinion is seldom seen in this time of deep political polarization. But it will be a misjudgment if fully attributed to the Afghan episode. On closer inspection, Biden’s job approval began to decline even before the withdrawal from Afghanistan was badly handled.
The resurgence of the pandemic after a few weeks of euphoria, especially the effects of the Delta variant, played a major role. In fact, a FiveThirtyEight report shows that Biden’s approval rating for dealing with Covid-19 has fallen to 53 percent with decreasing propensity, after holding for much of his presidency in the lower 60s. Recent events in Afghanistan certainly had compounded the decline in Biden’s popularity, but its exact effects are unknown.
The images of helicopters taking off from Afghanistan motivated many people to compare Biden to President Gerald Ford and the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. Ford lost the 1976 US presidential election to Democratic rival Jimmy Carter. Hence the important question is: Can the Afghan quake create a fatal rift in Biden’s presidency and his own?
History would tell us it’s not that easy. The next presidential election is more than three years away. And Americans would be more focused on their economy and the development of the pandemic in the coming days. At least in the 2022 midterm elections, Republicans could hope to use this crisis politically. Because if they manage to take control of the Senate and House of Representatives from the Democrats, the second half of Biden’s presidency would certainly be exposed to different music.
In an article titled Nobody Cares Who Lost Afghanistan, published in Washington Monthly, political scientist Bill Scher discussed historical evidence to argue why the Kabul case may not remain a political burden on Joe Biden.
When Afghanistan was Talibanized for the second time, excerpts from a press conference held by a US president spread in the media. The president responded to a question about the extent to which America had lost credibility as a result of the military withdrawal. “We trained – and that was ignored. Our army had a unit there that trained … and made a very capable military, ”said the President. But “some units of the army refused to take up arms despite having the same ethnic or religious background”. And so “it was agreed that there was no longer any point … and we withdrew.” It may sound like President Biden is talking about Afghanistan. Not really. The quotes are from President Ronald Reagan’s press conference in April 1984 after the US military withdrew from Lebanon. See Department of State Bulletin Volume 84 for details. Seven months later, in the 1984 presidential election, Reagan was re-elected with a massive 525 votes, with a difference of more than 18 percent in the population’s Democratic Rival.
A Talibanized Afghanistan, the sudden, brutal loss of freedom for Afghan women and girls and a new wave of international terrorism could harm Mr Biden and the Democrats. Still, a rebound can’t take a long time. Recall that Mr Trump’s approval ratings fell significantly early in his presidency when he fired then FBI director James Comey while his administration was under investigation for Russian interference in the 2016 election. But his approval ratings rose again within weeks.
Afghanistan will remain a deep scar in America’s international reputation. And that’s it. Afghanistan is a distant land to the American people. Ultimately, most American voters look to the end of the world on their shores. So the electoral fate of Biden and the Democrats will depend on how well the American economy performs and how effectively it controls Covid. The misery of Afghanistan and its people would not affect the choice of American voters. Mr Biden certainly knows that well.
The author is Professor of Statistics, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.