Chris Whipple: “History will judge Joe Biden and salute his courage”

Writer, journalist, documentary filmmaker, Chris Whipple is one of the best connoisseurs of power circles in Washington and decision-making circuits in the White House. After a fascinating book on the Chiefs of Staff of Presidents (The Gatekeepers, 2017), he has just published The Spymasters (the spy masters), on the directors of the CIA.

L’Express: Because of the American fiasco in Kabul, Joe Biden is harshly criticized. Is he cut for the job?

Chris Whipple : Completely. He was the most experienced president in American history when he took office. Senator for several decades, vice-president twice, he has long known the White House machine. The only one with comparable experience was Richard Nixon, who had been Eisenhower’s vice president for eight years – but it is true that the Nixon case demonstrated that experience is not everything …

L'auteur Chris Whipple, à Washington, vient de publier The Spymasters, consacré aux directeurs de la CIA.

Author Chris Whipple, in Washington, has just published The Spymasters, devoted to the directors of the CIA.

David Hume Kennerly

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Either way, in deciding and assuming the withdrawal of the US military, Biden is showing courage that his predecessors did not have. For fifty years the United States has led military adventures in countries they do not understand. We left for Vietnam on the basis of the smoky “domino theory” that if the Viet Cong won, the countries of Southeast Asia would become communists one after another. It cost us 58,220 soldiers. In Iraq, we did not even know the difference between the Shiites and the Sunnis … And Afghanistan, as indeed in Mesopotamia, we did not grasp anything of the tribal and clan nature of the society.

What part does the temperament of a president play during crises?

Famous magistrate Oliver Wendel Holmes (died 1936) once said that Franklin D. Roosevelt possessed second-class intelligence but first-rate temperament. In power, everything matters: experience, intelligence, judgment. But temperament is the most important quality. History will judge Biden and remember, I think, that he had a temper. And courage. On the other hand, he is sometimes, it seems, stubborn, even stubborn. Another character trait: it is said that he gets annoyed because he feels underestimated.

Joe Biden, 78, is he too old?

He’s not young, that’s clear. Before the election, I spoke with the chief of staff of Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1968). This octogenarian, who is named James R. Jones, told me that he “sanctuaries” daily two hours for the nap of President Johnson, who needed it. The former advisor also told me about his concern about Biden’s age. But when I speak with the president’s entourage, friends or advisers, everyone assures me that he is in great shape. He starts his days with exercises in the gym, and then he is operational until the evening.

What does the Kabul fiasco tell us about Joe Biden?

It is America above all that learns this: it is more difficult to end a war than to fight it. As for Biden, his evolution is interesting. In January 2002, he visited Afghanistan. He had been overwhelmed by the plight of women and children. A 13-year-old girl stood in front of him and said: “You mustn’t go away, I want to become a doctor!” Moved, Biden reassured her, “We won’t be leaving.” Over the years, he understood that war was a mistake and that it was unmanageable.

Un avion militaire américain décolle de l'aéroport militaire de Kaboul, le 27 août 2021

US military plane takes off from Kabul military airport on August 27, 2021

Did he not commit a huge blunder by declaring, on July 8, that we would never see images of Kabul comparable to the evacuation of Saigon in April 1975?

I spoke about this with Leon Panetta, the former director of the CIA in charge of tracking down and eliminating bin Laden. He told me that Biden would never have said such a phrase if the CIA hadn’t whispered it to him. This reveals the extent of the failure of our intelligence services in Afghanistan. Which raises a subsidiary question: if they were so bad when we had men on the ground, what will happen in the years to come when we observe things from afar, at the speed camera help?

What other president would have done better under such circumstances?

As I wrote the other day in Vanity Fair, old soldiers are sometimes the best peacemakers. This is why George Washington (1789-1797) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1960) took great care to protect the army from unnecessary danger. But in the final analysis, it’s hard to argue with Joe Biden’s premise: If America hasn’t been able to fix the Afghan problem in twenty years, it may not be reasonable to keep sacrificing indefinitely. American lives. Nor those of our allies.

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Can Biden still hope to serve a second term?

The deadline is far away. It is certainly difficult to imagine that he is back at 82 years old. But for now, I see nothing, no sign of senility, that could prevent it. At the press conference following the attack last Thursday, he was seen to take his head in both hands and almost put his chin on the table as a Fox News reporter attacked him. It was certainly not the best effect. But be aware that Biden never hides his emotions. In fact, it was just pure Biden juice.



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