Speed Reads

historical comps

What Gerald Ford and Vietnam may reveal about Biden and Afghanistan

The striking images of the United States' exit from Afghanistan amid the Taliban's takeover of Kabul has a lot of people looking back on similar footage from Saigon in 1975, when the South Vietnamese capital fell to North Vietnamese forces, and U.S. personnel exited Vietnam.

It's a comparison the Biden administration had hoped to avoid, and over the last few days the White House has been trying to put a dent in it. But The New York Times' Nate Cohn pointed out that former President Gerald Ford — who was in the White House at the time of the evacuation and, like President Biden, overseeing the end to a decades-long war in the early stages of his presidency — didn't experience all that much heat for the operation in the long run. In fact, his approval rating actually ticked up a bit in the following months, and a Gallup poll from August 1975 suggested Americans considered getting U.S. troops out of Vietnam was his biggest accomplishment. G. Elliot Morris also noted that polling at the time indicated that Americans didn't blame Ford much, if at all, for the what unfolded in Vietnam, especially compared to his predecessors, former Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. 

Afghanistan in 2021 and South Vietnam in 1975 are far from one-for-one comparisons, and Cohn clarified that he has no idea how whether what's happening in Kabul will affect Biden's approval rating or his re-election chances. Rather, he's raising the notion that the fall of Saigon is not "necessarily a devastating political precedent for Biden," as the discourse surrounding it suggests.