President Joe Biden did something that his three predecessors failed to do during their nearly twenty years of presiding over America’s longest war. Biden leveled with the American people and told them that the war that they were fighting in Afghanistan was one which they were not going to win. That was Truth to Power, something that rarely comes from the mouth of someone in Power. He said that he was taking action to forthwith remove American troops, contractors and support personnel from Afghanistan.
It was time for a president to acknowledge to American and global citizens that if there had been a good time for the United States to extricate itself from Afghanistan, it would have been shortly after air strikes flattened key Al Qaeda positions in 2002-2003. Since then, any chance of “winning” the war had long since passed. No matter how many corners could be turned in the future, America and its allies were not going to win a war in Afghanistan.
Biden’s willingness to say that the United States was leaving Afghanistan; his courage to follow through on this pledge indicate how remarkable both he and his actions have been. This is particularly so in comparison to American presidents of the recent past.
Biden’s courage to take responsibility for a final resolution of this chapter of American conflict with Afghanistan is the headline. It should remain that way for weeks, months, even years to come. It is difficult to think of any action by any American president since the 1960s when Lyndon Johnson chose to fight for human and economic rights for minorities and poor white people in America that matched what Biden did.
However, as well received as Biden’s decision has been by most of the American people, there has not been a concurrent “trickle down” of support reaching many of the fine men and women in the American media.
No sooner had President Biden delivered his remarkable speech on August 16 than MSNBC cable journalists Nicolle Wallace and Brian Williams agreed that “95% of the American people will love the speech, and 95% of the press will hate it.” Kudos to them for being so spot on and brutally honest about their colleagues in the media.
The response of most of the media to the Biden speeches in many ways reflects the theater of the absurd. Prior to the speeches, if you could have gathered leading media commentators around in an informal gathering and asked them what they would suggest that the United States do about Afghanistan, it almost a sure bet that most would have said that the United States has to get out of Afghanistan. They might further add that the U.S. has to analyze the wars in which it has engaged since its last “victory” in 1945 in World War II and learn how to avoid going to wars which have “loser” written all over them. Finally, should the U.S. once again become involved in a war in which it has no way out other than formally or informally turning tail and leaving, it needs to rehearse Biden’s script on how to say “enough is enough.”
Members of the media seem to suffer from the same malady as other well-educated people who take their particular profession too seriously. Journalists lock themselves into the norms and standards of their profession and remove themselves from the grounding that comes from seeing oneself first as a human being and a reporter second.
No sooner had Biden delivered his seminal speech than they criticized the president with nit-picky questions and comments about the American extrication. There is legitimate grounding to many of their questions, particularly about the strategy and logistics of the final days in Kabul. However, the tone expressed by many of the journalists is snarky and absent of praise for the bold and thoughtful actions taken by Biden.
This is not to imply that no critical questions should be allowed in a press conference when journalists speak “Truth to Power” as clearly as Joe Biden did. Biden spoke the “Truth” about America’s presence in Afghanistan. He may have overlooked some of the smaller “truths” about the difficulties that American forces were facing in the final extrication.
For example, when he stated that there was no way for him and his advisors to know that the Taliban might be able to seize the capital city of Kabul and the area surrounding the Hamid Karzai Airport, that simply does not jibe with the on-the-ground reporting that we have seen and the video that accompanies it. When Biden was not straight about events that both the media and citizens could clearly see, then it undermined the credibility of his assertions about the wisdom of terminating the presence of American troops in Afghanistan immediately.
Media tends to consistently give itself a free pass. This is unfair for so many reasons. When vitriol is directed at Joe Biden as if he were Donald Trump, then the media’s checks and balances on Trump are undermined. The way for the media to enhance its credibility, and to gain more support from the American people, is for journalists to operate as human beings first and reporters second. We tend to admire politicians who speak to us as if they were across the table from us in our kitchen; the same holds true for journalists. The media is the lens through which we learn so much about what is going on in the world, our country, our regions and our localities. No need for grandstanding; just some low-drama honesty and truthfulness.