Weeks before the first anniversary of Afghanistan’s withdrawal, critics said that highlighting the weakness of President Joe Biden, he shrugged off both Covid and opponents to announce the killing in Kabul of the al-Qaeda leader – an operation Democrats say America remains as strong as ever.
“When I ended my military mission in Afghanistan about a year ago, I decided that after 20 years of war, the United States no longer needed thousands of shoes on the ground in Afghanistan,” Biden told the nation late Monday. told. The death of Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“I promised the American people that we would continue to have an effective counter-terrorism campaign… that’s all we did.”
Announcing the death of a jihadist leader has become a ritual – both gloomy and highly political – for presidents since the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The country was struck by the revelations of Barack Obama’s daring campaign to kill Osama bin Laden at his home in Pakistan in 2011. Hearing Obama, a skilled orator, people “USA!” They took to the streets shouting slogans.
Donald Trump took a different approach in 2019, using bloody language to report news of a raid in Syria to kill Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and cement his own strongman image. did.
“He died like a dog,” Trump said.
The setting was ominous for Biden. Apart from a case of rebound Covid-19, battered in elections and facing this month’s anniversary of the painful August 2021 evacuation of US troops from Kabul, Democrats are in a vulnerable position.
As for the COVID ventilation measures, his speech was delivered from the noisy balcony of the Blue Room. Washington police sirens sounded in the background as he described American resilience.
Yet the timing of the speech couldn’t have been better for a president attempting to change the speech.
Steering away from triumphalism, Biden said that Zawahiri “had been on the wanted list for years under Presidents (George W.) Bush, Obama and Trump.”
The implication – that the country is safe in Biden’s hands – was clear.
“No matter how long it takes, no matter where you hide, if you are a threat to our people, the United States will find you and get you out,” Biden said.
Afghan strategy debate
Critics of the right and left see the US withdrawal from Kabul last year as a display of ineptitude that, apart from being a humiliating spectacle, would make Afghanistan a hotbed of anti-American Islamist groups similar to the time of 9/11.
Biden argues that he had the courage to pull the plug on a failed war waged by the previous three presidents and that the debacle was never going to end well.
Dispelling skeptics, he also promised that American “above the horizon” capabilities meant there would be no need to risk American life on the ground.
Now with the murder of Zawahiri, Biden has a golden opportunity to say that he has been proven right.
In his speech, Biden said Afghanistan “cannot be a launching pad against the United States.” “This operation is a clear demonstration that we will, we can, and we will always do well on the solemn pledge.”
The anchor of the often hostile Fox News evening broadcast called it “President Biden’s Bin Laden moment” and “a big, big victory for America.”
However, some experts caution against the White House spin.
James Jeffrey, a former US ambassador to Iraq and now chairman of the Wilson Center think tank’s Middle East program, praised the display of “excellent intelligence, an operational strike capability and decisiveness”.
However, this expertise is no more than the “chaos” of last year’s Afghan withdrawal, which Jeffrey blamed on poor coordination and the “disability” of Biden’s staff, for refusing to acknowledge that there was any way out. There may be downsides – or planning for them.
Nathan Sales, another former diplomat who worked on the Atlantic Council, said that Zawahiri’s presence in Kabul was a failure for the United States, suggesting that “as feared, the Taliban may once again secure al-Qaeda leaders”. giving shelter.”
And it is too early to say whether a spectacular drone strike “could be repeated against other terrorist targets,” he said.
“Until we know more, we must resist the urge to view the attack as a counter-terrorism ‘above the horizon’.”
However, Biden is getting good marks overall so far. Among those cheering on Tuesday was Bill McRaven, who as then-commander of US Special Operations oversaw bin Laden’s raid.
“What America has shown is that we can really do Horizon targeting at some high-value individuals,” he told CNN.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)