There was a remarkable moment in Biden's press conference on Sunday afternoon. Asked by a CBS journalist Ed O'Keefe - who had to obsequiously preface his question by saying "I am sorry, I am just the messenger" - what Biden thinks about the first full post-Kabul poll which found that a “majority of Americans no longer consider Biden competent, focused or effective” the president laughed, denied seeing the poll and cited various statistics about the total number of dead and wounded in Afghanistan, read from a notecard, oblivious of the fact that the question did not refer to the overall strategy of withdrawal from Afghanistan which a majority of Americans approve, but his bunged retreat which has left thousands of Americans in harms way, not to mention leaving Afghanistan a smoldering mess.
Biden's response: “I think that history is gonna record this was the logical, rational and right decision to make.”
History maybe, but Americans certainly not: as CBS prefaced its own poll, "Most Americans have wanted to withdraw from Afghanistan for a while, and most still do. But not like this."
As a result of the botched withdrawal, the poll found a sharp hit on qualities the public saw a positive like competence, focus, and effectiveness — now those are each at least slightly net negative.
Obviously, the catalyst for Biden's plunge in the polls was his handling the withdrawal, where mainly Democrats backing him here and a substantial drop since July.
Biden's overall approval rating, which had been consistently net positive since he took office also took a hit, dropping eight points and now lands at an even 50-50 nationwide.
Biden took an especially big hit among independents. They'd given him positive marks in July, but now, more than half disapprove of how he's handling both withdrawing from Afghanistan and his job overall. His overall approval is down within his own Democratic Party — it's still high, in the 80s, but off its highs in the 90s. And while he had enjoyed a bit of Republican approval through the summer, that has dropped.
While he saw sharp drops across most categories, Biden is still positive on handling the coronavirus outbreak, but that is also down from last month.
But the biggest problem facing Biden, and one which won't go away, is that two thirds of Americans feel the president does not have a clear plan for evacuating U.S. civilians from Afghanistan.
Sensing that his Afghanistan planning is his biggest weakness, the president assured the public the “hard and painful” Afghan evacuation is going smoothly, even as officials are struggling to explain the details. He added that placing sanctions on the Taliban “depends on the context."
The American military airlifted some 11,000 US citizens, NATO allies, former Afghan employees of the US military, and other “vulnerable” Afghans out of Kabul airport over the weekend, Biden told reporters at a press conference on Sunday.
After a week of chaos in Kabul, Biden insisted that the evacuation would have been “hard and painful no matter when we started,” a rebuke to pundits and political opponents who described the evacuation as rushed and chaotis.
“There is no way to evacuate this many people without pain and loss,” Biden stated, adding that his “heart aches” for those who lost their lives at the airport.
And while Biden touted the US military’s ability to move “thousands” of people out each day, several thousand Americans remain in Kabul, and have been left to make their own way to the airport. Biden refused to say whether US forces were leaving airport grounds to rescue these Americans, but said that “by and large,” Taliban fighters – who run security outside the airport – are allowing them to leave.
However, Biden’s officials have described the situation less optimistically. Speaking to CBS News earlier on Sunday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken said that the US was depending on the Taliban’s permission to allow Americans to pass through, and in an interview with ABC News, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that some of these Americans had experienced “tough encounters” with Taliban militants.
The US’ “first priority in Kabul is getting American citizens out of the country,” Biden told reporters. However, the president also outlined a system where Afghan allies eligible for US visas, as well as an unspecified number of “vulnerable Afghans” would be flown to other countries, vetted, and then shuttled into the United States to be resettled. The resettlement program, he said, “exemplifies the best of America.”
Biden has acknowledged that future diplomacy with Afghanistan will mean diplomacy with the Taliban, as the militant group seeks “economic assistance” and “legitimacy.” Biden did not say whether the US would provide the former or acknowledge the latter, noting that the Taliban’s promises have thus far been “just words.”
Depending on how a Taliban government pans out, Biden said that he would possibly support sanctions against the Islamist group, “depend[ing] on the context.”