by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
First-term mistakes are common for presidents. For some, those mistakes define their legacy, while others’ errors cling to the historical record as a footnote. President Joe Biden and his advisers reportedly believe their Afghanistan mess will fade from public memory, but that is a gamble.
Reasonable people can disagree with the decision to pull out of Afghanistan, but the way in which it was handled was replete with errors. …
… The result of all this was a precipitous drop in Biden’s approval. An NPR/PBS/Marist poll showed Biden’s approval rating dropping to 43% in early September; 56% disapproved of his handling of foreign policy, and 61% disapproved of his withdrawal from Afghanistan. Gallup also had him under 50% in his approval ratings following the Afghanistan news.
These early problems are not unprecedented. The first year of a presidency is always fraught with peril. A new president must learn the role of his office as domestic politics bear down on him. Foreign adversaries test him and his team. And first impressions begin to harden into insights, expectations, even legacy. Going forward, Biden needs to be aware of this larger dynamic as he assesses how to recover his footing.
Sometimes, a disaster comes through no fault of one’s own. This was the case with Herbert Hoover and the stock market crash of 1929. Hoover was caught unawares, though, and his response to the worsening economic situation certainly counted as a mistake, one with lasting consequences. …
… Joe Biden may have trouble learning some of these lessons from his predecessors. He has already said there will not be any staff shake-ups, and he also seems loath to admit that anything went wrong in Afghanistan. … But Biden does need to do something if he wants to get past the mistakes of the Afghanistan pullout and not repeat them.
On the other hand, there is a limit to what he can do. Biden is and has long been a self-proclaimed “gaffe machine.”