With U.S. forces set to be fully withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the month, President Biden better be preparing for the political blowback from presiding over the ugliest American military defeat since the Vietnam War drew to an ignominious close.
The parallel goes far beyond what seemed probable just a couple of months ago, when it looked like withdrawal would produce an intensification of the ongoing civil war between the U.S.-backed government and Taliban insurgents. Today the situation appears much more dire, with the Taliban making significant territorial gains even before our exit has been completed and American intelligence now predicting the capital of Afghanistan "could be overrun within six to 12 months of the U.S. military departing." That could portend scenes of officials and troops stationed at the American embassy in Kabul fleeing before advancing enemy forces, just as they did with the fall of Saigon in April 1975.
Republicans (and more hawkish Democrats) are bound to cry bloody murder over the national humiliation. Never mind that Biden has been enacting a version of the policy that former President Donald Trump pursued but lacked the wherewithal to implement. The fact that the withdrawal (and resulting mess) will have taken place during a Democratic administration hands the GOP a huge political gift. They will be freed up to continue advocating for the "America First" policies their voters want while blaming Biden for the consequences of following through on them.
That's going to be bad, but just how bad will depend on other considerations. If Biden seems weak on other issues, the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban will serve as vivid confirmation of his administration's fecklessness. But if he's proven effective in getting key parts of his agenda through a narrowly divided Congress, then it's possible that most Americans will withhold blame for the chaos in Kabul.
No one will be happy to see theocratic barbarians rout a military we trained for two decades at a cost of more than two thousand lives and two trillion dollars. Yet the very fact of that outcome will serve as powerful confirmation that Biden's (and Trump's) instincts were correct: The mission couldn't be accomplished, which means the mission had to be abandoned.
If Biden can make that case cogently, he may be able to ride out the coming storm without a scratch.