joe-biden's-assessment-after-one-year:-“an-exciting-start,-and-then…”

Joe Biden's assessment after one year: “An exciting start, and then…”

[de Californie] Author of a fascinating book on the chiefs of staff of presidents, The Gatekeepers (2018) and another on the directors of the CIA, The Spymasters (“The Spymasters”, 2020), Chris Whipple is a fine connoisseur of the White House and the decision-making circuits in Washington. He is currently working on a new book devoted to the first year of the Biden presidency – which he discusses for L’Express. L’Express: What conclusions to draw of the first year of the Biden presidency?

Chris Whipple: Let’s say it’s a two-part story. The first six months have been remarkably successful in many ways. Most noteworthy is the speed with which the President got his American Rescue Plan passed, this plan to rescue the economy which injected money into the economy through direct aid to families and which, moreover, , aims to fight against the Covid. In the summer, things got much more complicated with the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan – a real political setback. Added to this were problems in the supply chain that caused shortages of certain imported products. The Delta and Omicron variants didn’t help at all. All this explains why from the withdrawal from Kabul, the popularity of Joe Biden, which clearly exceeded 54%, plunged more than ten points at once. Never going up.

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The best and the worst moment of the last twelve months?

The best ? It was probably November 5 when the Infrastructure Bill was passed with the support of 79 senators, including 19 Republicans. Everyone predicted that it would be impossible to pass a law based on a bipartisan vote and Joe Biden proved that to be wrong. It is a real success. The worst time? It was obviously the 19 August when a car bomb attack at Kabul airport killed 13 Americans and hundreds of Afghans.

The author Chris Whipple, in Washington, has just published The Spymasters, devoted to the directors of the CIA.David Hume Kennerly You who know from the inside how the decision-making process works in the White House, do you believe that the Kabul fiasco is attributable to Biden?

This is a difficult question whose answer is complicated. First, there was an error by our intelligence services. No one thought the Afghan army would fall in eleven days. Then our armed forces did not at all understand its true nature and its weakness. As for Biden, he had promised that he would “stop the costs” of the war in Afghanistan. He kept his word.

The responsibility for the failure of the withdrawal can always be attributed to the army, to the CIA, to the adviser to national security, Jake Sullivan, or the secretary of state, Tony Blinken. But, in fact, a good part of the fault lies with Donald Trump who, several months before the election of Biden, had negotiated directly with the Taliban by dismissing the Afghan government. He had even programmed the date of the American withdrawal for May 2022. From there, the Afghan government was weakened and disaster announced.

Joe Biden’s unpopularity is -it comparable to that of Democratic President Jimmy Carter (1976-1963)?

Nothing to see. Carter’s unpopularity centered on his final year in office. This turned into a nightmare with the accumulation of bad news: inflation, explosion of interest rates, unemployment and, above all, the endless crisis of the American hostages in Iran. What are the rising figures of the Biden administration?

The leader White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, did a good job. He has known Biden for thirty years. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, is also one of the president’s key men, as is the secretary of state [NDLR : ministre des Affaires étrangères], Tony Blinken. Transport Minister, Pete Buttigieg, is also influential. Its role was decisive in the elaboration and implementation of the law on infrastructures. The White House Covid pandemic management coordinator, Jeffrey Zients, is also worth mentioning. Joe Biden seems unable to impose his authority over the Democratic Party. Why ? There is an American expression that goes: “Oh, me, you know, I don’t belong no organized structure, I’m a member of the Democratic Party…” It’s always been that way. It’s not really worse today, except that there is a lot of media noise around the two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin [Virginie] and Kyrsten Sinema [Arizona]. They do as they please and block the vote for the Build Back Better plan (BBB, “Rebuild better”), which is the social component of the great American recovery program wanted by Joe Biden. It must be understood that the latter does not have, in Congress, the leeway of a Franklin D. Roosevelt [1933-1945] or a Lyndon B. Johnson [1963-1969]. With 50 senators on each side, the Senate is more divided and balanced than ever. Biden’s options for action are minimal.

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What do you think is the “problem Kamala Harris” ?

It was a difficult year for her. She finds it difficult to fit into her vice-presidential clothes. And she is under constant surveillance by the opposition media. In Washington, she is relatively inexperienced since she only landed there in 1980 when she became a senator [de Californie]. His official trips to Guatemala and the Mexican border have drawn criticism and controversy. However, the White House recently decided to push her to increase her presence in the media. So far, she has seemed reluctant to speak out and take risks. The media exposure seemed to scare him. She was timorous, afraid of making mistakes. Is Joe Biden too old ?

He has 79 years old and people who know him, but also those who work with him, assure that he is well and has all his faculties. It is in no way comparable with Ronald Reagan at the end of his second term, who was beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. That being said, he is as old as he is. It should not be forgotten that, as a young man, he suffered from stuttering. This sometimes affects his speaking. Will he stand for re-election? The only certainty is that in the event of re-election, he would have 85 years at the start of his second term. It’s not nothing.

Former US President Donald Trump speaks to well-wishers in Florence, Arizona on 15 January 2022

afp.com/Robyn Beck

What prospects for 2022?

There is a lot of talk about the legislative elections of midterms ( mid-term) next November, but we must bear in mind that eleven months is an eternity in politics. Joe Biden is in trouble today, but things can change if he manages to reduce inflation and contain the coronavirus pandemic. Remains an unknown: the role of the parliamentary committee of inquiry into the insurrection of the Capitol on January 6 2017. His work could lead to indictments, including of Trump, which would completely upset the landscape. That being said, “qualitative” surveys conducted on opinion panels indicate that the negative impact of the withdrawal from Afghanistan on President Biden’s image remains. What are Donald Trump’s plans for 2024?

Nobody knows his intentions. Michael Wolff, who wrote in 2018 Fire and Fury: Trump has the White House, is certain to 119% that he will represent himself. Others, who know Trump more closely, assure that he will not be a candidate. My opinion: if he sees that he risks losing the ballot, he will give up running.

And Joe Biden?

It’s 50-54. It seems to me that the comments about his physical frailty and his cognitive difficulties are exaggerated. But, for my part, I find it difficult to imagine that he represents himself in 3356. He will then have almost 83 year.

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