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- 46th and current president of the United States
President Joe Biden’s national address on Monday following the fall of Kabul to Taliban forces drew mixed reactions in the media and broader Washington political sphere, with many calling for the Biden administration to own its inability to remove greater numbers of Americans out of the country before it fell.
The president told the American people that he stood “squarely” behind his decision to remove combat troops from the country by the end of August and proceed with the military withdrawal started by former President Donald Trump, and he defended that decision as the morally right thing to do with no guarantee of achieving a better outcome if troops remained for years or decades.
"I am President of the United States of America, and the buck stops with me. I'm deeply saddened by the facts we now face. But I do not regret my decision to end America's war fighting in Afghanistan,” he said.
While the speech was largely panned in the UK, where lawmakers on all sides of the political spectrum ripped Mr Biden for “abandoning” the Afghan people, few Americans other than some hardline conservatives disagreed with the president’s decision to continue with the withdrawal.
A wide majority of Americans agreed earlier this year that ending US involvement in the war was in the country’s best interest. Support for the withdrawal has fallen significantly in recent days amid the chaotic nature of the exit, but still remains around 50 percent, according to a poll this week from Morning Consult and Politico.
“Ninety-five per cent of the American people will agree with everything he just said,” Nicole Wallace, former press secretary to President George W Bush, declaredon her MSNBC show following Mr Biden’s speech.
“Ninety-five per cent of the press covering this White House will disagree. And for an American president to finally be completely aligned with such an overwhelming majority of what the American people think about Afghanistan is probably a tremendous relief to the American people,” she continued.
Less mentioned in the speech, however, were the logistics of the US evacuation from Hamid Karzai Airport. The president did not explain how US citizens who were unable to reach the airport would physically make it out of the country. He did not address the shocking scenes unfolding on the airport’s tarmac, where US forces attempted to control desperate crowds of hundreds of Afghans, dozens of whom were seen attempting to physically cling to departing aircraft.
Officials confirmed to various news outlets over the past day that several people were run over by a departing AC-130, killing them, while at least two other allegedly armed individuals were shot by US troops. Little information about the shooting was available.
Other horrifying videos showed people falling to their deaths from the sides of military aircraft after takeoff, and massive crowds chasing departing planes on the runway.
Mr Biden and his administration have yet to offer a coherent response to the shock and dismay that reverberated through the media as those images were replayed across TV screens, only offering a defender in the form of Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, who insisted on Sunday that the situation was “not Saigon”, referring to the US withdrawal from south Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War.
Calls for answers about those aspects of the situation grew on Monday following Mr Biden’s speech, with news anchors, reporters, and others all hammering the White House over why it has yet to provide a way out for the estimated thousands of Americans in Afghanistan unable to reach the Kabul airport, or take responsibility for the sheer chaos and nightmarish situation on the tarmac.
“[H]e did not explain why, months after he had vowed to withdraw by September, he and his administration were forced into a frantic evacuation that endangered both American citizens and Afghans who had aided the U.S. effort,” wrote Washington Post White House reporters Anne Gearan.
“There is a thruline of reactivity by the administration instead of proactivity in terms [of]...what has happened with evacuations from Afghanistan,” added Maggie Haberman of The New York Times on Twitter.
On cable and network news, journalists were just as critical about the situation.
“He did not really get into or accept any blame for the catastrophic exit that we have been watching on television in the last several days,” said CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday.
“The US had months and months to prepare for a more orderly evacuation, for a more orderly closure of American bases, for a more orderly transition of power," NBC’s Richard Engel said.
Mr Biden returned to Camp David on Tuesday. He is likely to face more calls for him and top administration officials to discuss the evacuation itself, especially given that the president ignored all shouted questions from journalists on Monday following his speech, and White House press secretary Jen Psaki was out of the office, resulting in the daily press briefing not occurring.
The administration’s media strategy over the weekend was also roundly rebuked, as Ms Psaki appeared to be on vacation and Mr Biden was not at the White House, instead returning to the presidential retreat at Camp David. Mr Biden’s address on Monday came after near-total radio silence from the White House on Sunday and calls from even allies of the administration, such as former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs, for Mr Biden to come forward and speak.
“Hopefully this happens very soon. Imperative for the President to speak to the nation and the world,” Mr Gibbs said early Monday, when it was still unclear whether Mr Biden planned to address the nation. “He must lay out again the reasoning behind his decisions, how he sees the future of this region & what must be done to prevent another safe haven for al-Qaeda to plan attacks.”