Joe Biden’s last-ditch hopes of grasping some shred of victory from the jaws of defeat exploded outside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Thursday, when two suicide bombers killed at least 13 American Marines and dozens of Afghan civilians.
After enduring more than a week of blistering media criticism, Biden’s hopes to recast his disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal hung perilously on a simple four-part strategy: Project calmness, extract Americans without suffering casualties, weather the storm for a few weeks, and allow the public and the newscycle cycle to move on.
And as recently as Thursday morning, the media narrative was slowly shifting from the fall of Kabul to the story of a daring and competent rescue. Biden defenders were touting the evacuations (generally noting “people” evacuated, not “Americans” or “Afghan interpreters”), pushing the (no-longer-operative) talking point that “no Americans have died,” and criticizing the media’s “over the top” coverage. For a minute there, the goal to shift the historical template from Saigon and the Iran hostage crisis to Dunkirk and the Berlin airlift seemed like it was starting to take root.