The U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan left President Biden saddened, frustrated and sleepless as he faced deep criticism over its handling, according to a new book about the administration.
Chris Whipple’s “The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House” says Biden was stunned as the Afghan forces quickly crumbled in August 2021.
“While U.S. troops were on the ground, one of Biden’s close friends told me, the president barely slept,” Whipple wrote, according to a copy of the book obtained by The Hill
“‘You’re watching intel and holding your breath, really just praying that nothing will happen to your people,’ said a senior NSC adviser,” he added, referring to the National Security Council.
Biden and first lady Jill Biden traveled to Dover Air Force Base to observe the dignified transfer of the 13 U.S. service members who died in a suicide bombing in Kabul in the final days of the pullout. The troops, as well as dozens of Afghans, died when a bomb went off near the city’s airport, where U.S. forces were working to evacuate thousands of U.S. citizens and Afghan civilians.
During the trip, a family member whose brother was one of the fallen yelled at the president, “I hope you burn in hell.”
Whipple wrote that former White House press secretary Jen Psaki told him that Biden “over the next couple of days … just felt a deep, misunderstood sadness.”
While in Dover, Del., Biden had spoken about his late son Beau Biden, a veteran who died from brain cancer in 2015, as the president often does when speaking to grieving family members. Psaki noted that those comments made things worse for some families of the 13 service members.
“Some of the criticism was about him praising his son,” Psaki said, according to Whipple. “And to him, and to a lot of people he’s helped through grief, that had been something that helped. That’s deeply personal.”
Biden is known for his ability to discuss grief and connect with people over loss, largely due to the personal tragedies he has faced, but a friend of the president told Whipple that the Kabul bombing “is just a very different thing.”
“Afterward Joe Biden told a senior White House aide: ‘This is what being president is,’” Whipple wrote.
Additionally, the media roundly ridiculed Biden over the withdrawal, though Whipple wrote that the president was somewhat prepared for that. After a speech in April 2021 ahead of the full withdrawal, Biden called a friend.
“How’d I do?” he asked him, according to Whipple. The friend told Biden that he did great.
“Yeah, but the press is going to kill me,” Biden said. “I’m f—– no matter what I say.”
A month away from the full withdrawal, Biden took questions from the press, with one journalist asking the president if he saw parallels between the Afghanistan departure and when troops left Vietnam. Biden responded that they’re not comparable, adding, “There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy.”
A White House staffer told Whipple that he cringed when he heard the president say that comment.
“That’s a dumb thing to say, he thought, because we fly helicopters from the embassy every day,” Whipple wrote.
“The Fight of His Life: Inside Joe Biden’s White House” will be released on Jan. 17.