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.

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The German people have spoken. For the first time in over 70 years, the country's next government is all but assured to be a three-way coalition.

That coalition will probably be led by the center-left SPD, the most voted party, with the Greens and the pro-business FDP as junior partners. Less likely but still possible is a similar combination headed by the conservative CDU/CSU, which got its worst result ever. A grand coalition of the SPD and the CDU/CSU — the two parties that have dominated German federal politics since World War II — is only a fallback option if talks fail badly.

Both the Greens and especially the FDP have been in coalition governments before. But this time it's different because together they have the upper hand in negotiations with the big parties wooing them.

The problem is that the two smaller parties agree on little beyond legalizing weed, and even when they do, diverge on how to reach common goals. So, where does each stand on what separates them?

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Joe Biden has already cancelled more US student than any other president. But progressive Democrats want him to write off a lot more to reduce the racial wealth gap and help people recover better from COVID's economic ruin. Republicans are against all this because it would be unfair to current and future borrowers and to taxpayers footing the bill, not to mention subsidizing the rich.

Watch the episode: How the COVID-damaged economy surprised Adam Tooze

China and Canada's hostage diplomacy: In 2018, Canada arrested Huawei top executive Meng Wanzhou because US authorities wanted to prosecute her for violating Iran sanctions. China responded by arresting two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, in what looked like a tit-for-tat. Over the weekend, Meng and the "Two Michaels" were all freed to return to their home countries as part of a deal evidently brokered by Washington. The exchange removes a major sore spot in US-China and Canada-China relations, though we're wondering if establishing the precedent of "hostage diplomacy" with China, especially in such a prominent case, is a good one for anyone involved.

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40: Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body representing 40 Indian farmer groups, took to the streets Monday to mark a year since the start of mass protests against new farming laws that they say help big agro-businesses at the expense of small farmers. The group has called for an industry-wide strike until the laws are withdrawn.

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Germany's conservative CDU/ CSU party and the center-left SPD have dominated German politics since the 1950s. For decades, they have vied for dominance and often served in a coalition together, and have been known as the "people's parties" – a reference to their perceived middle-of-the-road pragmatism and combined broad appeal to the majority of Germans. But that's all changing, as evidenced by the fact that both performed poorly in this week's election, shedding votes to the minority Greens and pro-business Free Democrats. We take a look at the CDU/CSU and SPD's respective electoral performance over the past 60 years.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Happy week to all of you and thought I'd talk a little bit about Germany and Europe. Because of course, we just had elections in Germany, 16 years of Angela Merkel's rule coming to an end - by far the strongest leader that Germany has seen post-war, Europe has seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. And indeed in many ways, the world has seen in the 21st century. Xi Jinping, of course, runs a much bigger country and has consolidated much more power, but in terms of the free world, it's been Angela Merkel.

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Germany's historic moment of choice is finally here, and voters will stream to the polls on Sunday for the country's first post-World War II vote without a national leader seeking re-election. They will elect new members of the Bundestag, Germany's lower house of parliament. The leader of the party that wins the most seats will then try to secure a majority of seats by drawing other parties into a governing partnership. He or she will then replace Angela Merkel as Germany's chancellor.

If the latest opinion polls are right, the center-left Social Democrats will finish first. In coming weeks, they look likely to form a (potentially unwieldy) governing coalition with the Green Party and the pro-business Free Democrats, which would be Germany's first-ever governing alliance of more than two parties.

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