Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Thursday, Washington Post columnist and associate editor David Ignatius sympathized with “shell-shocked” White House staffers for which the catastrophe in Afghanistan has “been really, really difficult.” The concern for the emotional well being of top Biden aides came amid discussion of the President’s disastrous ABC interview in which he callously dismissed Afghans plummeting to their deaths after desperately clinging to a U.S. military C-17 to escape the Taliban.
With millions of Afghans and 15,000 U.S. citizens still stuck in the war-torn nation fearing for their lives, Ignatius wanted to take a moment to mourn for the plight of political over-achievers in Washington, D.C.:
My sense, as I talk to people in the White House, watch these folks on TV, is that they are really shell-shocked. This is a kind of defeat, a level of reversal that these folks have never known in their lives. These are people who’ve never gotten a bad grade in school and suddenly they find the world collapsing around them. And I think it’s been really, really difficult for them to deal with this.
Women and girls in Afghanistan are being raped, their husbands and fathers who helped the U.S. military are being murdered, and the entire country is descending back into the dark ages under brutal Islamist rule. But yes, it’s straight-A White House staffers who are seeing “the world collapsing around them.”
Ignatius lamented that the entire Biden political agenda was on hold: “It’s overwhelmed every other issue for the White House. You call and ask about any other thing that was in process or being planned, and no, the focus right now is on Afghanistan, period.” What a tragedy.
Moments later, he referred to Biden’s interview with Good Morning America co-host George Stephanopoulos and observed: “So it’s been a painful – you can see it with President Biden, this defensiveness, almost brittleness....even within the White House I think there are people who wish he was being more compassionate, speaking more to the human suffering that he’s seeing around them...”
Near the end of the segment, Ignatius again fretted over the psychological impact on those in the administration:
And now, I think there’s this crushing sense of having let the country down, having let these Afghan people who depended on us down. They know how this plays. They see the whole world is watching the same images. And again, for a White House that prized itself on being smart, being competent, getting things done, this isn’t Trump anymore, this is the good guys have come in, this has been a crushing week I think.
Perhaps the next column from Ignatius in the Post will have the headline: Afghanistan Collapses, Self-Esteem of Privileged Biden Staffers Hardest Hit.
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Here is a transcript of the August 19 discussion:
6:06 AM ET
WILLIE GEIST: So, Joe, we saw yesterday again a President Biden defiant and defensive of his policy and the decisions he’s made, despite what we’ve seen over the last four days.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, Right, and the line that really stuck out to a lot of people who watched that was when the President said chaos was inevitable. A lot of people in the intel community are suggesting otherwise.
Let’s bring in right now Washington editor at Ozy Media, Katty Kay, and also columnist and associate editor for The Washington Post, David Ignatius. Hey, David, talk about that “chaos was inevitable” line from the Stephanopoulos interview yesterday and really the intel community’s reaction to that. There seems to be a back and forth between the intel community and the DoD right now and everybody I’ve spoken with in the intel community over the last three days say, “No way, we’re not going to be blamed for something that we’ve been warning about all along.”
DAVID IGNATIUS: Well, Joe, chaos is inevitable if you start late and you don’t devote sufficient resources. And then you have a chaotic situation. We’re seeing a classic demonstration now of what military power can and cannot do once you’ve pulled out of a garrison that you had heavily maintained.
6:08 AM ET
IGNATIUS: My sense, as I talk to people in the White House, watch these folks on TV, is that they are really shell-shocked. This is a kind of defeat, a level of reversal that these folks have never known in their lives. These are people who’ve never gotten a bad grade in school and suddenly they find the world collapsing around them. And I think it’s been really, really difficult for them to deal with this. It’s overwhelmed every other issue for the White House. You call and ask about any other thing that was in process or being planned, and no, the focus right now is on Afghanistan, period. I think that they hope that, you know, the process of getting people out, a kind of air lift, you know, plane after plane, running – shuttling down the runway and carrying people to freedom will give a somewhat better taste.
6:10 AM ET
IGNATIUS: So it’s been a painful – you can see it with President Biden, this defensiveness, almost brittleness, he’s trying to talk tough, the buck stops here, you know, chaos was baked in, you know, sort of firm presidential lines of leadership. But even within the White House I think there are people who wish he was being more compassionate, speaking more to the human suffering that he’s seeing around them, than to the toughness and resoluteness of his own decision making.
SCARBOROUGH: Katty, more than a strategic loss militarily, what I’m hearing from elected leaders here, foreign leaders across the globe, diplomats, foreign policy leaders in Washington, and again across the world, is that this is more than a strategic defeat for the United States. It is a diplomatic defeat. It’s a reputational defeat. And I had one leader from the Middle East yesterday who had very little use for Donald Trump’s presidency and the chaos that that brought, but saying – you know, asking me, “Do you really think that we’re think that we’re thinking America is back? Do you really think that this – that America’s reputation is any better now than it was one year ago?” Making reference to when Donald Trump was in office. Suggesting that the United States’ reputation has suffered yet again. I’ll just – I’ll use the word, a catastrophic blow globally among our allies.
KATTY KAY: What a change from June and that G-7 meeting, right, Joe, when there was a kind of triumphant reentry into the world by Joe Biden, who was welcomed with open arms by NATO, the European Union at the G-7 at Cornwall and they were all delighted to see Biden back and America back in the game. And what you’re hearing totally publicly now from allies right across Europe, MPs in the U.K., conservative MPs, standing up in parliament saying that they are ashamed that the U.S. commander-in-chief is blaming Afghans, some of whom they fought alongside, and not taking any blame for this himself. Really disparaging comments in public from other NATO allies about the U.S. performance here.
6:13 AM ET
KAY: I mean, early on in the Biden presidency, I was surprised to hear a couple of European ambassadors here in Washington say to me, “You know, it’s interesting, they all sound really smart and they’ve all got the right grades, as David says, but they don't listen to their allies.” On an issue like Iran for example, where one ambassador I spoke to has an awful lot of background on this. He says, “I can’t get them to engage at all, they’re not interested at all in what allies have to say.” And I kind of thought, well, that doesn’t really jibe with the competence we’re seeing in the vaccine rollout. But I’m listening again to those conversations now and thinking, well, maybe there was already something there. But I think it’s the lack of competence in the national security operation and how it was handled, the whole withdrawal from Kabul, that has really shaken America’s allies at the moment.
6:15 AM ET
IGNATIUS: The point is that Biden was told that the consequences of this action would be significant and that there was every likelihood that the Kabul government would fall. It was weak, it was internally divided, and increasingly that the predictions were that it wouldn’t survive. Biden decided to go ahead anyway. He felt so strongly that it was time to end this mission and he wanted to be the tough president, the buck stops with him and he’s going to make the decision that no other president has been prepared to make. As he keeps saying, he’s not going to pass it on to a fifth president. But I don’t think the military and other parts of the government were able to get him to focus, the NSC to focus on the practical realities of getting Americans out. The only way to keep this withdrawal something that Americans can be proud of is to take the people who depended on us out with us. Everybody knew that. It was repeated in the weeks and months before this. And they just weren’t able to.
6:17 AM ET
IGNATIUS: And now, I think there’s this crushing sense of having let the country down, having let these Afghan people who depended on us down. They know how this plays. They see the whole world is watching the same images. And again, for a White House that prized itself on being smart, being competent, getting things done, this isn’t Trump anymore, this is the good guys have come in, this has been a crushing week I think.