Two photos of President Joe Biden this week vividly illustrated the White House’s struggle to contain the effects of his presidency’s biggest crisis.
In the first, he was sitting alone at Camp David, staring up at a row of video monitors surrounded by 18 empty leather armchairs. Even some White House officials wondered if the pictures, including him in a polo shirt, were helpful.
Three days later, when Biden was back at the White House, the picture looked very different. He was sitting in a suit and tie at the head of the briefing table in the situation room, the mask hanging from one ear, as he glowered at the assembled members of his national security team. The same team gathered a day later to “manage the efforts in Afghanistan,” the White House said.
Biden was caught on some of the worst days of his seven-month-old presidency this week and accused of badly botched the end of America’s longest war by even some of his most trusted allies, both at home and abroad.
The White House has tried to explain the chaos in Afghanistan through briefings, speeches and interviews – even if Biden himself remains defiant in his decision and insists that the American people stand behind him.
The president’s knee-jerk reaction to the crisis of fending off blame and rejecting criticism has so far done little to calm the questions that arise as to whether he has properly prepared for the Taliban’s takeover. It has tarnished a carefully sharpened image of competence, and Biden’s own explanations for what happened – that the chaos was inevitable and the Afghan army was to blame – belies the empathy that is its main political trait.
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