President Biden had an explosive reaction when he was told the president of Afghanistan had fled Kabul ahead of the Taliban’s takeover of the city in 2021, according to a new book.
On Friday, Aug. 12, 2021, Biden left D.C. for what was expected to be a mid-August vacation to Camp David. Three days later, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told him the news that the then-president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, had fled as the Taliban was poised to march into the capital.
“Biden exploded in frustration” when he heard the news and exclaimed, “Give me a break!” according to the forthcoming book “The Last Politician” by journalist Franklin Foer, which describes the inner workings at the White House during the calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021.
Biden wasn’t the only one on vacation when Ghani escaped and it became clear to the world that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan would be far more chaotic than the administration expected.
The Biden White House had expected a gradual handover of responsibility to the Afghan government until Aug. 31, 2021, when the Taliban would begin to take an active role in governing the country. Instead, the Taliban rapidly took over territories as the U.S. moved out of various bases and were marching on Afghanistan before Ghani fled, fearing for his life.
However, in the first weeks of August 2021, multiple high-ranking White House officials left for vacation. Biden went to Camp David. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the Hamptons. And then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki took her family to the beach.
On Aug. 16, 2021 — the day after Ghani fled Kabul — a U.S. C-17 military transport aircraft filled with evacuees took off from then-Hamid Karzai International Airport, but some people on the crowded runway grabbed on to the landing gear in a desperate attempt to escape as the plane took off.
Upon seeing the “images of Afghans falling from the sky,” which became some of the most dramatic scenes of the evacuation, Psaki knew she had to leave her family vacation, Foer wrote.
According to Foer, Psaki wrote to then-White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain: “I’m contemplating coming back,” and Klain responded: “I’m sorry. I think you need to.”
Foer’s book notes that Biden took an active interest in the evacuation, throwing out ideas to get more people on planes and out of the country and asking to be updated when individual people had made it safely out of the Afghanistan.
The Biden administration evacuated more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan as the country collapsed under Taliban pressure. However, that “improvised feat of logistics” failed to overcome the impression that the Biden administration was reacting slowly, Foer wrote.
The White House was “stung” by the fact that the toughest criticism was not just coming conservative media but also from “the columnists and venerable reporters that Biden’s inner circle respected and tended to heed,” Foer’s book states.
Foer writes that “[i]n the thick of the crisis, Biden didn’t have time to voraciously consume the news, but he was well aware of the tough coverage. ‘We’re getting killed,’ he would admit. It frustrated him to no end.”
However, the criticism did nothing to change Biden’s mind about leaving Afghanistan nor change his detestation for “the conventional wisdom of the foreign policy elites,” Foer said. “After defying their delusional predictions of progress for so long, [Biden] wasn’t going to back down now.”
“In fact, everything he’d witnessed from his seat in the Situation Room confirmed his belief that exiting a war without hope was the best and only course,” Foer writes.
Foer’s book recounts the first two years of Biden’s presidency from his inauguration through the 2022 midterm elections. The book is to be released Tuesday by Penguin Random House.
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