Last year, during the presidential campaign, Joe Biden promised the American people his administration would be characterized by order, discipline, experience, and, above all, competence.
That has turned out to be spectacularly and obviously wrong.
As we watch the spiraling disaster that is the withdrawal – which, unlike its antecedent collapse in Saigon, is likely to get worse, not better in the coming weeks — fundamental questions arise about the competence of the Biden administration and what the answers might mean for the remainder of its agenda.
There is no way for anyone on the outside to know or be able to quantify with any precision whether and to what extent President Biden’s capabilities are reduced compared to his previous performance as a senator and vice president.
We can, however, say with some precision a few things about his schedule, his apparent lassitude, and that of his administration. For at least the last six months, the president’s daily schedule seems to have consisted of the Presidential Daily Briefing (usually in mid-morning rather than at the start of the day as is typical for presidents) followed by one internal meeting or perhaps a phone call or video chat with a small group of whoever.
Last Friday, for instance, Mr. Biden had his daily briefing, then a meeting in the Situation Room, then brief remarks (no questions scheduled) in the East Room. Then a flight out to Delaware. It is not clear whether any of the 10,000 Americans stranded in Afghanistan will be able to fly to Delaware this weekend.
There are seldom two meetings on the presidential schedule, and there have only been a handful of trips to places other than Delaware. Announcements of the closure of the news-making portion of the day (“lids”) have been called as early as 11 am. During and after the fall of Kabul, the president was at Camp David, apparently by himself.
More disconcertingly, elements of the 82nd Airborne Division were placed on alert the morning of August 12th. Yet five days later, the West Wing remained largely empty. This egregious absence of senior staff, while our young soldiers try their best to extract Americans and allies under tough circumstances, is inexplicable and inexcusable.
Mr. Biden has given fewer than 10 in-person on-camera interviews so far, compared to the dozens both of his immediate predecessors had given at this point in their presidencies.
This leadership, or lack thereof, and its tempo dates back to the campaign and is exceedingly unusual for a sitting president.
Apart from calling into question Mr. Biden’s own personal involvement in the presidency, it has set the tone for his administration. Vice President Harris, the chieftain of both Afghanistan and the southern border, has also been absent for most of the last two weeks, despite the concurrent crises in both of her domains. If the chief of staff Ron Klain has been around, his footprints have been very light. Press Secretary Jen Psaki, who always seems to be talking, has been scarce as well.
Maybe that is for the best. Last week, when administration officials were allowed to speak, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and General Milley all said that the United States didn’t really have the capacity to get Americans trapped on the wrong side of the wire in Kabul. This is even though the English and French military are doing just that for their own people.
If we cannot retrieve Americans from harm’s way, why do we even have a Department of Defense or a National Security Council?
Members of Congress must by now understand that Team Biden, despite the propaganda, is either fundamentally incompetent or lacking in a certain native energy. It is difficult to see how anyone could, in good conscience, give this crew another few trillion dollars to spend. There is nothing in their record so far that suggests they will spend it wisely, carefully, or competently.
How much can anyone really trust the people who made and are making a hash from the withdrawal from Afghanistan?
A year ago, when asked his mental capacity, then-candidate Biden responded: “Watch me.” We have. The results in Kabul, on the southern border, and in the West Wing have not inspired confidence.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.