President Joe Biden’s performance since the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has been widely panned among pundits and in the press. But even as more horrifying images pour in from Kabul, New Hampshire Democrats facing the voters next year have been careful not to criticize their party’s leader.
“Vulnerable Democrats who have campaigned on their national security bona fides might not be applauding Biden’s strategy, but they’re not breaking with him yet, either,” reports National Journal’s Kirk Bado.
Punchbowl News, founded by veteran political reporters Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman, ran the headline, “Endangered incumbents stay away from criticizing Biden on Afghanistan.”
“Vulnerable Democrats — and those lawmakers running for other offices — are walking a fine line on the issue,” reads the report. “They’re stuck between a need to express their dismay at the debacle in Kabul and their desire to avoid sharply criticizing President Joe Biden,”
The first “vulnerable” Democrat on their list? U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas.
“The scenes from Afghanistan are devastating and deeply concerning,” Pappas said in his statement. “There will be time to re-examine foreign policy failures over two decades that shaped today’s events. But now we must do all we can to ensure the safe return of Americans and our partners and honor the service of all those who deployed to Afghanistan and their families.”
Asked by NHJournal what “foreign policy failures” he was referring to that “shaped” the failed policy of removing troops before arranging to get 10,000 Americans out of Afghanistan safely, Pappas declined to answer.
The self-declared “vulnerable” Democrat, U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, has also gone out of her way not to criticize Biden. While her Twitter feed currently features attacks on Purdue Pharma’s Richard Sackler and global warming, there’s no criticism of Biden’s Afghanistan policy or the president’s behavior.
After calling out Biden’s “precipitous withdrawal with no real plan in place to ensure the peace and stability of Afghanistan and its people,” on Sunday, she’s gone silent.
U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, the delegation’s most progressive member, hasn’t addressed the new horrors out of Afghanistan since her statement Monday praising President Biden’s performance.
“The President has demonstrated his deep respect and admiration for our troops, and he recognizes that as commander-in-chief, it is his duty to protect them — his decision to deploy additional troops so that expedient evacuations can continue is a necessary step.”
Kuster did not respond to requests for comment on the scenes of violence and reports of Taliban attacks on women in the days since her statement.M
Meanwhile, the horrific visuals continue to come out of Afghanistan. On Thursday, photographs showed “a man carrying a bloodied child, as a woman lays wounded on the street after Taliban fighters use guns fire, whips, sticks and sharp objects to maintain crowd control over thousands of Afghans who continue to wait outside the Kabul Airport for a way out,” according to media reports.
“Desperate women throw babies over razor wire at a compound, asking British soldiers to take them,” Britain’s SkyNews reported.
The U.S. withdrawal of the last of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan last week resulted in the stunning collapse of the country, with the radical Iasmalist group the Taliban taking control of the country in a matter of days. The fall of Afghanistan happened so quickly, it left many Americans, allies, and friendly Afghans trapped in the country.
Amid scenes of Afghanis falling from planes, and the Taliban taking up roost in the Afghanistan presidential palace, Biden was forced to send in thousands of troops to hold Hamid Karzai International Airport in order to get flights up and running again. Still, Biden told Stephanopoulos there was not another way this could have happened, according to the transcript of the interview:
STEPHANOPOULOS: So you don’t think this could’ve been handled, this exit could’ve been handled better in any way? No mistakes?
BIDEN: No. I– I don’t think it could’ve been handled in a way that there– we– we’re gonna go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens. I don’t know how that happened.”
When asked if they agreed with Biden that his administration has made no mistakes, all of the members of New Hampshire’s delegation declined to respond.
At the same time, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has been an outspoken critic of Biden’s Afghanistan policy for months. She is signing onto a bipartisan demand that the U.S. keep and hold Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan and rush through the process to get Afghans who worked with the U.S. military out of the country.
The letter, written along with Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, wants Biden to commit to getting out all the Afghans who worked with the U.S. and who are now in danger from the Taliban, even if that means using military force.
“The Taliban’s rapid ascendancy across Afghanistan and takeover of Kabul should not cause us to break our promise to the Afghans who helped us operate over the past twenty years and are counting on us for assistance. American inaction would ensure they become refugees or prime targets for Taliban retribution,” the Senators wrote.
Sheheen is also raising the alarm on the future of Afghan women and girls, saying the U.S. needs to intervene to protect their safety.
The fallout over Afghanistan could have electoral implications for Biden, and by extension, Democrats running for re-election in 2022. (Shaheen won’t face the voters until 2026 — if she chooses to run again.)
The political impact of Biden’s Afghanistan fiasco has been devastating, at least in the short term.
A new Trafalgar Group poll taken earlier this week found 69 percent of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of Afghanistan, including 48 percent of Democrats.
And according to an Reuters/Ipsos poll, Biden’s approval rating dropped by 7 percentage points and hit its lowest level so far in the wake of Afghanistan’s collapse.
As Henry Olsen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes: “As of Wednesday, it stands at 49.6 percent. Disapprovals are also at a record high of 47.2 percent. That 2.4 percentage point net favorability is the lowest of his presidency.”