Aug 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

What Biden knew

Mike Allen
Biden saluting Marines
Biden exits from Marine One as he arrives at Fort Lesley J. McNair in D.C. on Tuesday. Photo: Ken Cedeno/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

You saw this one coming: The more talk of an intelligence failure, the more likely that intel world would strike back. Sure enough, we now have a spate of leaks asserting that the intelligence agencies provided prescient reads on Afghanistan.

Driving the news: "Classified assessments by American spy agencies over the summer painted an increasingly grim picture of the prospect of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and warned of the rapid collapse of the Afghan military," The New York Times reports (subscription).

  • The front-page headline: "Contradicting Biden, Reports Warned of Rapid Collapse."
  • "By July," The Times adds, "many intelligence reports grew more pessimistic, questioning whether any Afghan security forces would muster serious resistance and whether the government could hold on in Kabul, the capital."

And it's not just the intel agencies. "Generals and diplomats" gave similar warnings, reports a Wall Street Journal front-pager ("Biden Knew Risks of a Hasty Withdrawal"):

  • Biden's "decision to bring home U.S. troops ... was made against the recommendations of his top military generals and many diplomats, who warned that a hasty withdrawal would undermine security in Afghanistan, several administration and defense officials said."
  • "In a series of meetings leading up to his decision," The Journal continues, "military and intelligence officials told Mr. Biden that security was deteriorating in Afghanistan, and they expressed concerns both about the capabilities of the Afghan military and the Taliban’s likely ability to take over major Afghan cities."

What's next: National security adviser Jake Sullivan promised at a White House briefing yesterday that there'll be an after-action:

  • "[W]e will conduct an extensive 'hotwash,' as we say," Sullivan said. "We will take a look at every aspect of this from top to bottom. But sitting here today, I'm spending every hour I have focused on how we execute the mission we have before us, which is getting all of these people out."

The "hotwash" results will be public: "[O]f course, we intend, after we’ve had the opportunity to run that analysis, to share that with people."

The bottom line ... As President John F. Kennedy said at a news conference four days after the botched Bay of Pigs invasion attempt in Cuba in 1961: "[V]ictory has 100 fathers and defeat is an orphan."

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