Can Biden recover from his Afghanistan debacle?

Can Biden recover from his Afghanistan debacle?

The deaths of 13 US service members in twin suicide attacks outside Kabul's airport during the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan has turned what could have been just a temporary political crisis — the mismanagement of a foreign policy objective — into a much more durable, and increasingly damaging crisis for President Joe Biden.

Though recent US elections have tended to hinge on domestic rather than foreign affairs, this episode is no longer a typical foreign policy stumble. It is instead a disaster that will dominate the media and political conversation in the coming months, from talk shows to the halls of Congress. Even mainstream figures in the Republican establishment are calling for the president's removal, though their party would have to regain control of the House of Representatives to begin an impeachment process.

Biden is not helped by a polling slide that began several weeks ago as COVID cases surged, and which shows no signs of stopping as the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates. It's a ten-point drop in net approval over the last month, and there may be further to go. Biden can still recover politically, but it will take time and depend to a large extent on how successful he is at minimizing risks to US citizens and implementing his domestic agenda.

Much also hinges on the next decisions Biden makes, especially how he chooses to proceed with the US withdrawal. Biden is left with two bad options: stick to, or even bring forward, the 31 August exit deadline or extend it — and possibly send in more troops — to try to get more people out of the country. Each has major downsides.

Maintaining or bringing forward the deadline would limit immediate US exposure to further attacks but risk leaving behind some of the roughly 1,500 US citizens still in Afghanistan, many of whom are outside of Kabul and have no good way to reach the airport. Extending the operation may offer a better chance of reaching these people, as well evacuating more of the tens of thousands of Afghans eligible for Special Immigrant Visas, but it comes with the increased risk of terrorist attacks and US deaths in the coming days.

The administration has indicated it will stick to the 31 August deadline, at least for now, meaning that at least some Americans will probably remain once US forces depart. These people face grave risks, and if they are harmed by either by the Taliban or by terrorist groups operating in the country that could set Biden back politically, threatening a wave in the 2022 midterm elections that would stop Biden's legislative agenda and could cost Democrats control of Congress for years.

For now, at least, this hasn't happened, leaving Biden damaged but still in a position to achieve his domestic goals. In fact, the president and his party are under even greater pressure now to deliver on things like the bipartisan infrastructure bill worth $1.2 trillion (of which $550 billion is new money) and the $3.5 trillion social spending package. The White House sees both as potential wins that could attract the support of a majority of voters, including many independents, if not always a bipartisan group of lawmakers. It hopes to appeal to moderate-leaning segments of the electorate that went for Biden in 2020.

Though some Democratic lawmakers in Congress have loudly criticized Biden's handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, a rift is unlikely to develop between the party and the White House. Democrats will remain united on domestic agenda items because they realize that all of them — even members who advocate a different approach to Afghanistan — are bound at the hip and will succeed or fail together in next year's midterm elections.

The 2022 midterms are even more important now for Dems given that perceptions of Biden's competence and foreign policy experience, traditionally his main strengths, have been tarnished by the COVID resurgence and now the Afghan withdrawal. The president and his allies must present voters with a reason they deserve to stay in power. In the absence of major wins, a rehash of their 2020 "the adults are back in charge" message is likely to fall flat the next time they face voters.

Democrats can point to a successful if slower than expected vaccination effort as a major achievement, but the core themes of competence and steady-if-quiet progress will need to be accompanied by major domestic achievements to capture voters' attention. The long, dark tunnel created by the pandemic has darkened further following recent events in Afghanistan, and Biden must show there is an ever-brighter light at the end to keep the public with him.

The key for small business growth? More digital support.;dc_trk_aid=504469522;dc_trk_cid=156468981;ord=[timestamp];dc_lat=;dc_rdid=;tag_for_child_directed_treatment=;tfua=;gdpr=${GDPR};gdpr_consent=${GDPR_CONSENT_755};ltd=?
The key for small business growth? More digital support.

The pandemic ushered in a boom in new businesses, with growth driven largely by entrepreneurs and small businesses in online retail, transportation, and personal services. According to our recent survey, small businesses indicated that to continue to thrive, greater digital support is even more important than more loans or grants. Their top priorities? Better internet connections. More cybersecurity capabilities. Greater digital sales support. Increasing digital payments. Read more about how we can work together on this important issue from the experts at the Visa Economic Empowerment Institute.

Iran’s nuclear program runs hotter

Talks between Iran’s government and world powers over the future of Iran’s nuclear program continue. The US and Iran are still not communicating directly; Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia are shuttling between them.

The good news is that they’re all still talking. The bad news is that, after eight rounds of negotiations, the main players haven’t agreed on anything that would constitute a breakthrough.

More Show less

January 6 laid bare "the deep divisions, the partisan infighting, the polarization within our society," says Fiona Hill, the former US senior director of the National Security Council. In a GZERO World interview, she spoke with Ian Bremmer about her concerns about the state of democracy in the United States.

Hill famously testified against her impeached boss, Donald Trump, who stayed in power after being acquitted by the Senate of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. She also notes that divisions actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Watch this episode of GZERO World: American strife: Will US democracy survive? Fiona Hill explains post-Jan 6 stakes

Kevin Allison, director of geotech at Eurasia Group, is concerned about the rise of very powerful tech companies disrupting centuries of geopolitics led by the nation-state.

More Show less
The problem with China’s Zero COVID strategy: GZERO World with Ian Bremmer - the podcast

Listen: Xi Jinping's zero-COVID approach faces its toughest test to date with omicron. Why? Because China lacks mRNA jabs, and so few Chinese people have gotten COVID that overall protection is very low. A wave of lockdowns could disrupt the world's second-largest economy — just a month out from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

That could spell disaster for Beijing, Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, tells Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast. If things get really bad, though, Huang believes China will pivot to living with the virus, especially as the cost of keeping zero COVID in the age of omicron becomes too high.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Kiev, Ukraine

First question, how is the crisis in this part of Europe developing?

Not good. There's been a week of intense diplomacy with talks in Geneva, and Brussels, and Vienna that produced virtually nothing. The Russian, sort of key demands are outrageously unrealistic. They know that is the case. The US is trying to engage them on somewhat different issues. We'll see if there's any prospect there, but it doesn't look too good. I think the likelihood is that we gradually will move into the phase of what the Russians call military technical measures, whatever that is.

More Show less

For Angela Hofmann, practice head for Industrial & Consumer at Eurasia Group, the world's most visible brands are in for a very rocky year.

Navigating culture wars will be very tricky, as well as fighting with competing demands from consumers, employees, and regulators on issues like China, diversity, and voting rights.

More Show less

Political polarization in the US isn’t just a problem within the country, points out former US national security official Fiona Hill. Deep divisions, she says, actually make America look weaker on the global stage — particularly to someone like Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

“Putin loves our disunity," Russian expert Hill tells Ian Bremmer. "It's incredibly useful as a tool to exploit in that toolkit that he has.”

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

An emboldened Putin thrives on American disunity

GZERO World Clips


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal