Weeks before Afghanistan’s government imploded and the United States occupation of 20 years ended in humiliation and bloodshed, President Joe Biden saw trouble brewing.
The transcript of a phone call “leaked” to Reuters shows that Biden, contrary to his public statements, was preoccupied with a “perception” that the Taliban was taking over the country — a perception he apparently wanted Afghanistan’s disgraced former Potemkin president, Ashraf Ghani, to counteract, “whether it is true or not.”
The White House, beleaguered by criticism of Biden’s handling of the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan, dismissed the report Wednesday. Biden’s loyal spin artist, Jen Psaki, said that she would not discuss “private diplomatic conversations or leaked transcripts of phone calls,” according to the Washington Examiner.
It’s all about “perception”
The press secretary went on to insist that Biden’s remarks were “consistent with what we’ve said many times publicly,” even though Biden told the American people in July that a Taliban coup was “highly unlikely.” Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15 after an offensive that lasted about a week.
According to Reuters, Ghani has since gone off the grid after fleeing in disgrace to the United Arab Emirates with four cars and a helicopter full of cash.
About a month earlier, as the Taliban controlled roughly half the country, Biden urged Ghani on July 23 to launch a propaganda campaign to dispel the impression that his government was losing ground, Reuters reported exclusively. Biden also reportedly offered to provide air support if Ghani could lay out a sound military strategy to turn the tide.
“I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden said on the call, according to Reuters. “And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
It wasn’t just Biden. Top officials from Biden’s national security team and Pentagon leaders were committed to deceiving the world about how America’s longest war was progressing in its final days.
After Kabul fell, top general Mark Milley claimed that there was “nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,” according to RealClearPolitics. Psaki repeated that talking point Wednesday, saying nobody anticipated the Taliban taking over “as quickly as they did,” according to the Examiner.
But almost a month beforehand, on the same day as Biden’s call, Milley spoke urgently to Ghani about combating a “narrative of Taliban momentum, and a narrative of Taliban victory” in a phone call with CENTCOM commander Kenneth McKenzie and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Reuters reported.
The cynical preoccupation of top U.S. officials with “perception” and “narrative” is damning in the wake of a humiliating airlift from Afghanistan in which 13 American soldiers were killed.
But they are sticking to a “narrative” divorced from facts as the White House describes the mission as an “extraordinary success.” If only they put as much energy into winning wars as they did into propaganda.