The Media Is Lambasting Biden over Afghanistan. He Should Stand Firm

MEDIA, 6 Sep 2021

Bhaskar Sunkara | The Guardian - TRANSCEND Media Service

The president was right to withdraw the US from Afghanistan – and he’s being skewered for it.

Joe Biden delivers remarks about Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House.
Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

29 Aug 2021 – When Joe Biden, a conventional politician if there ever was one, said he was concluding the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan this month, in line with plans set in motion by the Trump administration, the response from the mainstream press was hostile. Following the Taliban takeover of the country, the tenor has only grown more hyperbolic.

During the Trump years, publications like the New York Times and Washington Post presented themselves as the last defenses of freedom against creeping authoritarianism. The latter adopted a new slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness”, and spent millions on a Super Bowl ad featuring Tom Hanks extolling the importance of journalism as a profession.

But for all this talk of “defending freedom”, the mainstream media has a history of reflexively defending militarism, foreign interventions and occupations. Biden – who dared fulfil a campaign promise and end America’s longest war – is learning this the hard way.

As Eric Levitz recounts in New York Magazine, the media has created a public backlash against Biden, with outlets like the Times calling the withdrawal a humiliating fiasco. For the New York Times Editorial Board, the two-decade occupation of Afghanistan is described as a “nation-building project” that reflected “the enduring American faith in the values of freedom and democracy”.

Read: I Served with NATO in Afghanistan – It Was a Bloated Mess

Key to the media narrative is the echoing of “experts” on Afghanistan like former ambassador Ryan C Crocker, who wishes in another Times op-ed that instead of bolting after a couple of decades, US troops might have remained in Afghanistan for more than a half-century, as we’ve done on the Korean peninsula. Crocker regrets that “Mr Biden’s decision to withdraw all US forces destroyed an affordable status quo that could have lasted indefinitely at a minimum cost in blood and treasure”.

But as the writer Jeet Heer points out, the status quo was far from “affordable” for ordinary Afghans. The tragic figure of more than 2,000 dead US troops pales in comparison to the more than 200,000 Afghans killed since 2001. Indeed, prolonged civil war has put this year on pace to be the bloodiest for civilians as a failed US client state has overseen plummeting social indicators, widespread corruption and a total breakdown in public safety.

The media had ignored the mounting chaos for years, only to laser-focus on it as a means to criticize Biden. They’ve ignored their own role in cheerleading a misguided “War on Terror” and pinned the blame for two decades of imperial hubris on the president who finally made good on promises to leave the country against the wishes of even some in his own party.

What’s underlying much of the approach is a mainstream media fidelity to “expert” consensus. Many who presented themselves as fierce truth-tellers in the face of Trump hold the opinions of former intelligence and military officials in higher regard than that of a president democratically elected by 81.3 million people and pursuing a policy supported by 70% of Americans.

Not only are corporate media pundits and talking heads wrong to advocate staying in Afghanistan, they’ve been wrong about generations of conflicts that ordinary people have opposed. Contrary to the popular imagination, opposition to wars from Vietnam to Iraq were spearheaded by workers, not the rich and the professional classes that serve them. It’s this general aversion to costly overseas conflict that the president should confidently embrace.

Biden has never been a very good populist. For all his “Amtrak Joe” pretenses, he’s a creature of the Beltway, the ultimate establishment politician. It’s no surprise that his administration appears paralyzed in the face of criticism from its erstwhile elite allies. But unless he manages to push back against the narratives mounting against his administration, he’ll risk undermining his popular domestic agenda as well.

Joe Biden did something good – and the media want to kill him for it. He should embrace their scorn and defend his actions to the American people.


Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin magazine and a Guardian US columnist. He is the author of The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality.

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