Biden’s First Year: A Reality Check

I hoped that the standard year-in-review or one-year-anniversary appraisals of Biden’s first year would remind anybody who’s paying attention that he’s already achieved a lot as president (in addition to making the White House less corrupt and less incompetent). There have been a few such positive appraisals, but not as many as I expected. CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers wrote one of the positive ones:

Here’s an apparently unpopular opinion: Joe Biden is not failing or flailing. His presidency is not in peril.

It’s hard to see this through the blizzard of over-the-top headlines such as, “Biden Can Still Rescue His Presidency,” “How the Biden Administration Lost Its Way” and “Biden’s Epic Failures.”

Everyone needs to take a breath: It’s been one year. These headlines could just as easily read, “Joe Biden Fails to Fix Every Problem in the World in 365 days.”

What drives much of the “presidency in peril” coverage is Biden’s approval ratings. CNN’s poll of polls, released Thursday, found that 41% of Americans approve of the way Joe Biden is handling his job while 54% disapprove.

Low approval ratings are used as a proxy by various political and ideological factions to argue that the president needs to do more of what they want and if he doesn’t, he won’t get reelected. (Spoiler alert: nobody will cast their vote in three years based on how they feel today about Biden). . . .  It’s become conventional wisdom in the media that Biden’s approval ratings started dropping because of how he handled the Afghanistan withdrawal. But Gallup’s senior editor Jeff Jones told Politico in November that his declining poll numbers began before that, during the Delta Covid-19 variant surge.

The fact is, approval ratings are most closely tied to how people feel about their day-to-day lives. Americans are understandably fatigued as we enter the third year of the pandemic and, until the US gets back to some semblance of normal, we should expect Biden’s approval ratings to reflect that frustration. Moreover, gas prices are high and research has shown that presidential approval ratings often track with gas prices, even though the president’s power over these prices is limited. The economic news is mostly good for Biden — unemployment is down and wages are up — but inflation is high and rising (note: In the US but also in many other countries). Taken together, this means the day-to-day life of many Americans feels really hard. 

It doesn’t help that the media reinforce the idea that Biden is somehow failing because he hasn’t solved issues that have bedeviled his predecessors over longer periods of time. The New York Times dinged Biden this week, noting that, “The president has not yet succeeded in meeting his own goals for combating climate change,…[hasn’t] delivered on his broader promise for a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented Americans” and has failed “on the central promise he made during the 2020 campaign — to ‘shut down’ the pandemic…”

This is bananas, but it’s a fairly typical roundup of the disconnected-from-reality analysis of Biden’s first year.

No president has been able to achieve a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, including presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who were not able to accomplish immigration reform over an eight-year period each. Biden should not be expected to do what they couldn’t, in a single year, in the middle of a global pandemic.

Speaking of the pandemic, it’s hard to shut it down when conservative leaders across the country are committed to making sure that doesn’t happen. Biden, for his part, signed into law the historic $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to ensure broad distribution of vaccines. But he can’t force people to get vaccinated. He did issue vaccination and testing mandates for businesses, but those were rebuked by the Supreme Court. He also isn’t responsible for conservative disinformation and efforts to thwart measures to protect people from Covid by Republican elected officials, which is the primary reason the US is still struggling with the virus in a way that some other industrialized countries aren’t.

What about Biden’s alleged lack of success in solving the climate change issue in a single year? Biden has taken many steps that are within his authority on climate change such as rejoining the Paris climate accordcanceling the Keystone XL pipeline and undoing many Trump-era anti-climate executive orders. He has pushed climate priorities in his Build Back Better bill which anyone who is sentient knows hasn’t passed because Biden enjoys the slimmest of majorities in the Senate and he couldn’t win over Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. There is also the fact that Republicans have zero interest in this bill. Republican obstructionism is not Biden’s fault.

Biden is not a magician; he is president. He can’t shout “abracadabra” and produce 50 Democratic senators who will support every element of his agenda. There aren’t 10 GOP senators to pull out of a hat to back common sense and patriotic priorities like protecting voting rights. “But he didn’t end the filibuster for voting rights,” is the complaint. Right, because he doesn’t have the votes.

This doesn’t mean that Biden couldn’t have done some things better in his first year. The administration was caught flat-footed by the Omicron variant and failed to deliver on promises to make testing easier and more available to Americans. Biden should have called Sen. Manchin’s bluff on Build Back Better a long time ago and struck a deal if there was one to be had (which is debatable). If Manchin wouldn’t strike a deal, Biden should have moved on to something more achievable like breaking the bill into smaller parts (something he said in his press conference this week he is open to doing).

Ultimately, we need to remember that Biden entered the White House during one of the most difficult periods this country has ever faced. “The worst pandemic in 100 years. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said during his campaign. “The most compelling call for racial justice since the 60’s. And the undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change.” We can now add to that list an attack on democracy by one of the two major political parties.

. . . Whatever Biden’s flaws, the country is in a better place than it was when he took office, something that was not a given considering the challenges he was up against. Like all presidents, he is clearly absorbing the lessons of the first year and recalibrating for the next.

Unquote.

I’ll add two positives not mentioned: 

No president since Ronald Reagan has gotten so many judges confirmed in his first year. Mr. Biden has also fulfilled a campaign promise by nominating perhaps the most diverse slate of judicial picks ever: 75% are women and 71% are people of color, according to FiveThirtyEight. Also important, court watchers say, is that the 40 new judges bring with them a wide backdrop of legal experience [including, for example, public defenders and civil rights and labor lawyers] (CS Monitor).

Secondly, he had the courage and insight to end the longest, stupidest war in American history, while evacuating nearly 130,000 Afghans and Americans in a matter of days after the national government collapsed more quickly than most observers expected.

President Biden Remembers January 6th, Challenges His Predecessor’s Lies and Looks Ahead

Here’s most of the president’s speech, delivered at the Capitol this January 6th (the video is available here):

To state the obvious, one year ago today, in this sacred place, democracy was attacked. Simply attacked. The will of the people was under assault. The Constitution, our constitution, faced the gravest of threats.

Outnumbered in the face of a brutal attack, Capitol Police, the DC Metropolitan Police Department, the National Guard and other brave law enforcement officials saved the rule of law.

Our democracy held. We the people endured. We the people prevailed. 

For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election; he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol. But they failed. They failed.

. . . I’m speaking to you today from Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol. This is where the House of Representatives met for 50 years in the decades leading up to the Civil War. It is on this floor where a young congressman from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln, sat at desk 191.

Above him — above us — over that door leading into the rotunda is a sculpture depicting Clio, the muse of history. In her hands, an open book in which she records the events taking place in this chamber below. Clio stood watch over this hall one year ago today, as she has for more than 200 years. She recorded what took place. The real history. The real facts. The real truth. The facts and the truth that . . . you and I and the whole world saw with our own eyes. . . . 

Close your eyes. Go back to that day. What do you see? Rioters rampaging. Waving, for the first time inside this Capitol, the Confederate flag that symbolizes the cause to destroy America. To rip us apart. . . .  The mob breaking windows, kicking in doors, breaching the Capitol. American flags on poles being used as weapons, as spears. 

Fire extinguishers being thrown at the heads of police officers. A crowd that professes their love for law enforcement assaulted those police officers. Dragged them, sprayed them, stomped on them. Over 140 police officers were injured.

We all heard the police officers who were there that day testify to what happened. One officer called it “a medieval battle” and that he was more afraid that day than he was fighting the war in Iraq. They’ve repeatedly asked since that day, how dare anyone, anyone, diminish, belittle or deny the hell they were put through? We saw with our own eyes. Rioters menaced these halls, threatening life of the Speaker of the House, literally erecting gallows to hang the Vice President of the United States of America.

But what did we not see? We didn’t see a former president who just rallied the mob to attack sitting in the private dining room of the Oval Office in the White House watching it all on television and doing nothing for hours.

Police were assaulted. Lives at risk. The nation’s Capitol under siege. This wasn’t a group of tourists. This was an armed insurrection. They weren’t looking to uphold the will of the people; they were looking to deny the will of the people. They’re weren’t looking to uphold a free and fair election. They were looking to overturn one. Then weren’t looking to save the cause of America. They were looking to subvert the Constitution.

This isn’t about being bogged down past. It’s about making sure the past isn’t buried. That’s the only way forward. That’s what great nations do. They don’t bury the truth; they face up to it. . . . 

We are a great nation. My fellow Americans, in life there’s truth and tragically there are lies. Lies conceived and spread for profit and power. We must be absolutely clear about what is true and what is a lie. And here’s the truth: The former president of the United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election.

He’s done so because he values power over principle, because he sees his own interest as more important than his country’s interest, than America’s interest. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution.

He can’t accept he lost even though that’s what 93 United States senators, his own attorney general, his own vice president, governors and state officials in every battleground state have all said: He lost.

That’s what 81 million of you did as you voted for a new way forward. He’s done what no president in American history, in the history of this country, has ever, ever done.

He refused to accept the results of an election and the will of the American people. While some courageous men and women in the Republican Party are standing against it, trying to uphold the principle of that party, too many others are transforming that party into something else. They seem no longer to want to be the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, the Bushes. . . . 

So at this moment, we must decide: What kind of nation are we going to be?

Are we going to be a nation that accepts political violence as a norm? Are we going to be a nation where we allow partisan election officials to overturn the legally expressed will of the people? Are are going to be a nation that lives not by the light of the truth but in the shadow of lies? We cannot allow ourselves to be that kind of nation.

The way forward is to recognize the truth. To live by it. The “Big Lie” being told by the former president, and many Republicans who fear his wrath, is that the insurrection in this country actually took place on Election Day, November 3, 2020. Think about that. Is that what you thought? Is that what you thought when you voted that day? Taking part in an insurrection? . . . Or did you think you were carrying out your highest duty as a citizen and voting?

The former presidents’ supporters are trying to rewrite history. They want you to see election day is the day of insurrection and the riots that took place here on January 6 as a true expression of the will of the people. Can you think of a more twisted way to look at this country, to look at America? I cannot.

Here’s the truth. The election of 2020 was the greatest demonstration of democracy in the history of this country. More of you voted in that election than have ever voted in all of American history. Over 150 million Americans went to the polls and voted that day, in a pandemic, some at great risk to their lives. And they should be applauded, not attacked.

Right now, in state after state, new laws are being written not to protect the vote, but to deny it. Not only to suppress the vote, but to subvert it. Not to strengthen and protect our democracy, but because the former president lost instead of looking at the election results in 2020, and saying they need new ideas or better ideas to win more votes. The former president and his supporters have decided the only way for them to win is to suppress your vote and subvert our elections. It’s wrong. It’s undemocratic. And frankly, it’s un-American.

The second “Big Lie” being told by the former president’s supporters is that the results of the election of 2020 can’t be trusted. The truth is that no election, no election in American history has been more closely scrutinized or more carefully counted.

Every legal challenge questioning the results in every court in this country that could have been made, was made and was rejected. Often rejected by Republican-appointed judges, including judges appointed by the former president himself. From state courts to the United States Supreme Court. Recounts were undertaken in state after state.

Georgia, Georgia counted its results three times, with one recount by hand. Phony partisan audits were undertaken long after the election in several states. None changed the results.

In some of them, the irony is the margin of victory actually grew slightly. So let’s speak plainly about what happened in 2020.

Even before the first ballot was cast, the former president was preemptively sowing doubt about the election results. He built his lie over months. It wasn’t based in the facts. He was just looking for an excuse, a pretext to cover for the truth. He’s not just a former president. He’s a defeated former president.

Defeated by a margin of over 7 million of your votes. In a full and free and fair election. There is simply zero proof the election results are inaccurate. In fact, in every venue where evidence had to be produced, an oath to tell the truth had to be taken, the former president failed to make his case. Just think about this: The former president and his supporters have never been able to explain how they accept as accurate other election results that took place on November 3rd. Elections for governor, United States Senate, House of Representatives, elections in which they close the gap in the House.

They challenged none of that. . . . Governor, senators, House of Representatives, somehow those results are accurate on the same ballot. . . . The only difference: the former president didn’t lose those other races. He just the lost . . . his own.

Finally, the third “Big Lie being” told by the former president and his supporters is that the mob who sought to impose their will through violence are the nation’s true patriots. Is that what you thought when you looked at the mob, ransacking the Capitol, destroying property, literally defecating in the hallways, rifling through the desks of senators and representatives, hunting down members of Congress? Patriots? Not in my view. . . . 

You can’t love your country only when you win, you can’t obey the law only when it’s convenient. You can’t be patriotic when you embrace and enable lies.

Those who stormed this Capitol and those who instigated and incited and those who called on them to do so held a dagger at the throat of America and American democracy. They didn’t come here out of patriotism or principle. They came here out of rage. Not in service of America, rather in service of one man. Those who incited the mob, the real plotters who were desperate to deny the certification of this election, to defy the will of the voters. Their plot was foiled. Congress, Democrats, Republicans stayed. Senators, representatives, staff, they finished their work the Constitution demanded. They honored their oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

Look folks, now it’s up to all of us, we the people, to stand for the rule of law, to preserve the flame of democracy, to keep the promise of America alive. The promise is at risk, targeted by the forces that value brute strength over the sanctity of democracy, fear over hope, personal gain over public good. . . . We’re living at an inflection point in history, both at home and abroad.

We’re engaged anew in a struggle between democracy and autocracy, between the aspirations of the many and the greed of the few, between the people’s right of self-determination and self-seeking autocrat. From China to Russia and beyond, they’re betting that democracy’s days are numbered. They actually told me democracy is too slow, too bogged down by division to succeed in today’s rapidly changing complicated world. And they’re betting . . .  America will become more like them . . . They’re betting America’s a place for the autocrat, the dictator, the strong man. I do not believe that. That is not who we are. That is not who we have ever been. And that is not who we should ever, ever be. 

Our founding fathers, as imperfect as they were, set in motion an experiment that changed the world, literally changed the world. Here in America, the people would rule. Power would be transferred peacefully . . .  

The former president’s lies about this election and the mob that attacked this Capitol could not be further away from the core American values. They want to rule or they will ruin, ruin what our country fought for at Lexington and Concord, at Gettysburg and Omaha Beach, Seneca Falls, Selma, Alabama. What were we fighting for? The right to vote, the right to govern ourselves. The right to determine our own destiny. . . . 

As we stand here today, one year since January 6 2021, the lies that drove the anger and madness we saw in this place, they have not abated. So we have to be firm, resolute and unyielding in our defense of the right to vote and to have that vote counted. . . . 

I did not seek this fight brought to this Capital one year ago today. But I will not shrink from it either. . . . I will defend this nation, and I’ll allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.  . . . This is not a land of kings or dictators or autocrats. We’re a nation of laws, of order, not chaos, of peace, not violence. Here in America, the people rule through the ballot, and their will prevails. So let us remember together. We’re one nation, under God, indivisible, that today, tomorrow and forever at our best, we are the United States of America.

Never Trust a Politician Who Loves Coal and Drives a Maserati

The moderate Republican senator from West Virginia who calls himself a “Democrat” says he cannot vote for the Build Back Better Act for a few silly reasons he borrowed from the 50 immoderate senators who openly admit they’re Republicans. This was after months of negotiations. The White House is royally pissed. Press Secretary Jen Psaki issued this statement soon after Manchin spoke on the Republican news channel:

Senator Manchin’s comments this morning on FOX are at odds with his discussions this week with the President, with White House staff, and with his own public utterances. Weeks ago, Senator Manchin committed to the President, at his home in Wilmington, to support the Build Back Better framework that the President then subsequently announced. Senator Manchin pledged repeatedly to negotiate on finalizing that framework “in good faith.”

On Tuesday of this week, Senator Manchin came to the White House and submitted—to the President, in person, directly—a written outline for a Build Back Better bill that was the same size and scope as the President’s framework, and covered many of the same priorities. While that framework was missing key priorities [especially climate-related, I bet], we believed it could lead to a compromise acceptable to all. Senator Manchin promised to continue conversations in the days ahead, and to work with us to reach that common ground. If his comments on FOX and written statement indicate an end to that effort, they represent a sudden and inexplicable reversal in his position, and a breach of his commitments to the President and the Senator’s colleagues in the House and Senate.

Senator Manchin claims that this change of position is related to inflation, but the think tank he often cites on Build Back Better—the Penn Wharton Budget Institute—issued a report less than 48 hours ago that noted the Build Back Better Act will have virtually no impact on inflation in the short term, and, in the long run, the policies it includes will ease inflationary pressures. Many leading economists with whom Senator Manchin frequently consults also support Build Back Better.

Build Back Better lowers costs that families pay. It will reduce what families pay for child care. It will reduce what they pay for prescription drugs. It will lower health care premiums. And it puts a tax cut in the pockets of families with kids. If someone is concerned about the impact that higher prices are having on families, this bill gives them a break. [He also referred to the deficit and energy policy.]

. . . Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word.

In the meantime, Senator Manchin will have to explain to those families paying $1,000 a month for insulin why they need to keep paying that, instead of $35 for that vital medicine. He will have to explain to the nearly two million women who would get the affordable day care they need to return to work why he opposes a plan to get them the help they need. Maybe Senator Manchin can explain to the millions of children who have been lifted out of poverty, in part due to the Child Tax Credit, why he wants to end a program that is helping achieve this milestone—we cannot.

We are proud of what we have gotten done in 2021: the American Rescue Plan, the fastest decrease in unemployment in U.S. history, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, over 200 million Americans vaccinated, schools reopened, the fastest rollout of vaccines to children anywhere in the world, and historic appointments to the Federal judiciary.

But we will not relent in the fight to help Americans with their child care, health care, prescription drug costs, and elder care—and to combat climate change. The fight for Build Back Better is too important to give up. We will find a way to move forward next year.

Unquote.

I was wrong to think the Democrats would pass Build Back Better in some form this month. I still think they’ll get some of it done in the new year, since even Manchin will vote for some of it. The state he represents prefers Republicans but has the lowest per capita income in America, lower even than Mississippi. Politicians usually want to help people who live in their states, even if said politicians made their money in the coal industry and drive a Maserati.

This Week’s Elections Don’t Mean the Sky Is Falling

Rachel Maddow is often an oasis of sanity in the barren wasteland of corporate media. Last night, she identified an historical pattern that nobody else seems to have paid much attention to (I recommend watching what she had to say, but I’m writing about it anyway).

Here’s the pattern in pictorial form. The first column is a president’s first year in office. The second column is the winner of the New Jersey governor’s race later that year. The third column is the winner of the Virginia governor’s race held the same day.

Untitled

It’s an oddity of the political calendar that New Jersey and Virginia hold their elections for governor one year after presidential elections. That means when a new president is elected, like Reagan in 1980 and Biden in 2020, the governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia are the first chance voters get to choose their state’s leader but also, less obviously, to react to there being a new person in the White House. This explains why NJ and VA governor’s elections are viewed as a referendum on a president’s first year in office. 

Looking at the chart, you’ll notice that in three of the seven years (1988, 2000 and 2016), when a  Republican won the presidency, his party lost the two governor’s races.

Likewise, in two of the seven years (1992 and 2008), when a Democrat won the presidency, his party also lost the two governor’s races.

It was only in 1981, and again this year, that a new president’s party won even one of the two governor’s races.

In other words, Biden and his party did better this week than any president has done since Ronald Reagan, forty years ago.

As a matter of fact, in 1981, with Reagan now in the White House, the Republican gubernatorial candidate beat the Democrat by fewer than 2,000 votes (an exception that almost proves the rule that the president’s party loses these elections). If the Democrat had done a bit better, Joe Biden would have been the first brand-new president to hold onto the NJ or VA governorship in 44 years. (Winning a second term makes NJ Governor Phil Murphy the first Democrat to win two elections since then. He currently leads his Republican opponent by 44,000 votes).

As Maddow pointed out, the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races are the first opportunity for voters who opposed the new president to register their anger at the polls, while the voters who helped elect the new president are (less passionately) waiting to see what the new president can deliver. That’s why a new president’s party ordinarily loses both the New Jersey and Virginia governor races.

The fact that a Democrat won New Jersey this year is, therefore, a good sign, not a bad one. You wouldn’t know that from reading a paper or watching TV (maybe that’s because those in the media who comment on elections are surprised that Democrats don’t do even better, given the Republican Party’s descent into fascism).

Finally, Maddow also points out that in two special elections this year, Democrats did quite well. A Democrat was elected to Congress with 60% of the vote in New Mexico, even though Republicans claimed they had a great chance to win. Three months later, California’s Democratic governor won that ridiculous recall election, also with 60% of the vote. The 2022 election will almost certainly be difficult, but the sky is not falling based on this year’s results.

Transcript of Biden’s Speech on Ending Our War in Afghanistan

Below is a shortened, slightly edited transcript of Biden’s speech this afternoon. He explains his decision and responds to criticism (much of the criticism coming from what can only be described as an elite media freakout). I got the transcript from Rev.com, a company that uses AI with human support to create transcripts, captions and translations:

Last night in Kabul, the United States ended 20 years of war in Afghanistan. The longest war in American history. We completed one of the biggest air lifts in history with more than 120,000 people evacuated to safety. That number is more than double what most experts felt were possible. No nation, no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history, and only the United States had the capacity and the will and ability to do it. And we did it today. . . .

In April, I made a decision to end this war. As part of that decision, we set the date of August 31st for American troops to withdraw. Since March, we reached out 19 times to Americans in Afghanistan with multiple warnings and offers to help them leave Afghanistan. All the way back as far as March.

The assumption was that more than 300,000 Afghan National Security Forces that we had trained over the past two decades and equipped would be a strong adversary in their civil war with the Taliban.

That assumption that the Afghan government would be able to hold on for a period of time . . . turned out not to be accurate. But, I still instructed our National Security Team to prepare for every eventuality, even that one, and that’s what we did.

So we were ready, when the Afghan Security Forces, after two decades of fighting for their country and losing thousands of their own, did not hold on as long as anyone expected. We were ready when they and the people of Afghanistan watched their own government collapse and the president flee . . .

As a result, to safely extract American citizens before August 31st, as well as embassy personnel, allies, and partners, and those Afghans who had worked with us and fought alongside of us for 20 years, I had authorized 6,000 troops, American troops to Kabul to help secure the airport.

As General McKenzie said, this is the way the mission was designed. It was designed to operate under severe stress and attack and that’s what it did.

After we started the evacuation 17 days ago, we did initial outreach and analysis and identified around 5,000 Americans who had decided earlier to stay in Afghanistan but now wanted to leave. Our operation ended up getting more than 5,500 Americans out. We got out thousands of citizens and diplomats from those countries that went into Afghanistan with us to get bin Laden. We got out locally employed staff in the United States Embassy and their families, totalling roughly 2,500 people. We got thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters and others who supported the United States out as well.

Now we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave. Most of those who remain are dual citizens, long time residents, who earlier decided to stay because of their family roots in Afghanistan. The bottom line, 90% of Americans in Afghanistan who wanted to leave were able to leave. And for those remaining Americans, there is no deadline. We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out.

Secretary of State Blinken is leading the continued diplomatic efforts to ensure safe passage for any American, Afghan partner or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan. . . .

We are joined by over 100 countries that are determined to make sure the Taliban upholds those commitments. It will include ongoing efforts in Afghanistan to reopen the airport as well as overland routes, allowing for continued departure for those who want to leave and to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

The Taliban has made public commitments broadcast on television and radio across Afghanistan on safe passage for anyone wanting to leave, including those who worked alongside Americans. We don’t take them by their word alone, but by their actions. And we have leverage to make sure those commitments are met.

Let me be clear, leaving August the 31st is not due to an arbitrary deadline. It was designed to save American lives. My predecessor signed an agreement with the Taliban to remove US troops by May 1st, just months after I was inaugurated. It included no requirement that the Taliban work out a cooperative governing arrangement with the Afghan government. But it did authorize the release of 5,000 prisoners last year, including some of the Taliban’s top war commanders . . .

By the time I came to office the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 2001, controlling or contesting nearly half of the country. The previous administration’s agreement said that if we stuck to the May 1st deadline, the Taliban wouldn’t attack any American forces. But if we stayed, all bets were off. [Note: the previous president had reduced the number of American troops in the country to 2,500.]

So we were left with a simple decision, either follow through on the commitment made by the last administration and leave Afghanistan, or say we weren’t leaving and commit thousands more troops going back to war. That was the choice, the real choice between leaving or escalating. . . .

The decision to end the military operation at the Kabul airport was based on the unanimous recommendation of my civilian and military advisors. The Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff and all the service chiefs and the commanders in the field, their recommendation was that the safest way to secure the passage of the remaining Americans and others out of the country was not to continue with 6,000 troops on the ground in harm’s way in Kabul, but rather to get them out through non-military means.

In the 17 days that we operated in Kabul, after the Taliban seized power, we engage in an around the clock effort to provide every American the opportunity to leave. Our State Department was working 24/7 contacting and talking, and in some cases walking Americans into the airport. Again, more than 5,500 Americans were airlifted out. And for those who remain, we will make arrangements to get them out if they so choose.

As for the Afghans, we and our partners have airlifted 100,000 of them, no country in history has done more to airlift out the residents of another country than we have done. We will continue to work to help more people leave the country who are at risk. We’re far from done. . . .

I take responsibility for the decision. Now some say we should have started mass evacuation sooner and “Couldn’t this have been done in a more orderly manner?” I respectfully disagree. Imagine if we’d begun evacuations in June or July, bringing in thousands of American troops and evacuated more than 120,000 people in the middle of a civil war. There would still have been a rush to the airport, a breakdown in confidence and control of the government, and it would still have been a very difficult and dangerous mission.

The bottom line is there is no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the kinds of complexities, challenge and threats we faced. None. There are those who would say we should have stayed indefinitely, for years on end. They ask, “Why don’t we just keep doing what we were doing? Why do we have to change anything?”

[But] this is a new world. The terror threat has metastasized across the world, well beyond Afghanistan.
The fundamental obligation of a president, in my opinion, is to defend and protect America. Not against threats of 2001, but against the threats of 2021 and tomorrow. . . . I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan.

But I also know that the threat from terrorism [has] changed, expanded to other countries. Our strategy has to change too. . . . As Commander in Chief, I firmly believe the best path to guard our safety and our security lies in a tough, unforgiving, targeted, precise strategy that goes after terror where it is today, not where it was two decades ago. That’s what’s in our national interest.

Here’s a critical thing to understand, the world is changing. We’re engaged in a serious competition with China. We’re dealing with the challenges on multiple fronts with Russia. We’re confronted with cyber attacks and nuclear proliferation. We have to shore up America’s competitiveness to meet these new challenges in the competition for the 21st century. . . .

As we turn the page on the foreign policy that has guided our nation in the last two decades, we’ve got to learn from our mistakes. To me there are two that are paramount. First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals. Not ones we’ll never reach. And second, I want to stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.

This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries. We saw a mission of counter-terrorism in Afghanistan . . . morph into a counter-insurgency, nation-building, trying to create a democratic, cohesive and united Afghanistan, something that has never been done over centuries of their history.

Moving on from that mindset and those kinds of large scale troop deployments will make us stronger and more effective and safer at home. . . .

My fellow Americans, the war in Afghanistan is now over. I’m the fourth president who has faced the issue of whether and when to end this war. When I was running for president, I made a commitment to the American people that I would end this war. Today, I’ve honored that commitment. It was time to be honest with the American people again. . . .

After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refuse to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago. After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan, a cost that researchers at Brown University estimated was over $300 million a day . . . for two decades. . . . You could take the number of $1 trillion, as many say. That’s still $150 million a day for two decades. And what have we lost as a consequence in terms of opportunities?

. . . And most of all, after 800,000 Americans served in Afghanistan . . . After 20,744 American service men and women injured. And the loss of 2,461 American personnel, including 13 lives lost just this week. . . .

So when I hear that we could have, should have, continued the so-called “low grade effort” in Afghanistan, at low risk to our service members, at low costs, I don’t think enough people understand how much we’ve asked of the 1% of this country who put that uniform on. . . . A lot of our veterans and our families have gone through hell. Deployment after deployment, months and years away from their families, . . . financial struggles, divorces, loss of limbs, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress. . . .

There is nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war. . . . As we close 20 years of war and strife and pain and sacrifice, it’s time to look at the future, not the past. To a future that’s safer, to a future that’s more secure. To a future the honors those who served and all those who gave what President Lincoln called, “Their last full measure of devotion.”

I give you my word, with all of my heart, I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision and the best decision for America. . . .