US debacle in Afghanistan deals heavy blow to Biden’s presidency, deepening division
Published: Aug 18, 2021 07:40 PM
Hot potato. Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

Hot potato. Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

US military debacle in Afghanistan has apparently dealt a heavy blow to Biden's presidency. A national opinion poll conducted on Monday found that Biden's approval rate dropped to 46 percent, the lowest level so far as the Taliban took over the whole of Afghanistan.

Republicans are united in lashing out against Biden and his Democratic Party. These criticisms are not at all surprising. The US military's frantic departure from Afghanistan, under the watchful eyes of the world's people which evoked images of a similar retreat from Saigon in 1975, is bringing enormous public opinion pressure on the US. The pressure serves as leverage for Republicans to attack Biden. The aim is to defame Biden and the Democratic Party and pave their way for the mid-term elections next year or even the presidential election in 2024. 

Trump, Biden's defeated opponent in 2020 who has never truly vanished from politics, has called for Biden to resign "in disgrace for what he has allowed to happen to Afghanistan." Such a public stunt is not surprising either, as Trump holds a grudge about last year's election and is still unwilling to admit defeat. The blame-game fits perfectly into his style.

But Trump's administration was actually the one that initiated talks to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan. As president, Trump negotiated a conditional peace deal with the Taliban and planned to withdraw by May this year. Biden had planned to withdraw by September 11, even a few months later than Trump's plan. 

Now even the US media have realized that Trump is slamming Biden for doing what he himself bragged about. The GOP has even pulled a webpage that praised Trump over his administration's "historic peace agreement with the Taliban." Even if Trump was the president now, he would have faced the same situation Biden faces currently. 

Indeed, the Taliban's swift takeover of all cities including the capital Kabul and the escape of President Ashraf Ghani shocked the US intelligence circle, Biden himself and the whole world. Despite the US' 20-year involvement in Afghanistan that cost $2 trillion and the deaths of more than 2,000 service members, the Taliban returned. This is enough of a humiliation for Biden and his Democratic Party which implemented the withdrawal plan. 

Whether this humiliation can be a chance for Trump and the 2024 election he is eyeing for depends on the evolution of the Afghan situation. If the Taliban do not undertake extreme measures like it did during the first time it ruled and adopt somewhat mild and open-minded policies such as granting amnesty to officials working for the previous government, protecting women's rights and drawing a clear line against terrorism, and if the transition of power goes smoothly without major chaos and humanitarian disasters, it may even become a boon for Biden or any potential Democratic candidate. But if the situation in Afghanistan worsens, Biden and the Democratic Party are expected to face more attacks from Republicans.

Now the Republicans are looking for every nook and cranny to criticize Biden. For instance, Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has argued that Afghanistan is a major American defeat that will embolden China. In their eyes, Biden shamed the US on the world stage, which served as a foil to China, the top strategic competitor of the US. So they are trying to link the Afghan situation and China to blast Biden.

But it is clear that the turmoil of Afghanistan has nothing to do with China. On the other hand, the Biden administration hopes that China can play a bigger role in maintaining stability in Afghanistan and believes that the two have common interests on the Afghan issue. This is what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken conveyed to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during their phone call on Monday. If the situation in Afghanistan worsens, Biden may need China's help more, rather than solicit bipartisan consensus to suppress China. It is believed an old hand like Biden who has over 40 years of political experience possesses such wisdom. 

The author is a professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn