Joe Biden ‘s foreign policy judgment: You can’t fill a bucket with a hole in it.

September 2, 2021


Peggy Noonan, “The Afghan Fiasco Will Stick to Biden; It hit at his reputational core. He no longer comes across as empathetic, much less serious,” Wall Street Journal, September 2, 2021 (6:23 pm ET).

Peggy Noonan gives voice to what many people are thinking about Joe Biden after watching him up close for the last two weeks, as the horrible consequences of his disastrous decision to withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan begin to play out. There will be further consequences, which are likely to have a much greater impact on his presidency than he apparently imagined.

Not every Peggy Noonan column is great. But when she marshals her talents, and takes careful aim, they sometimes are. Known for her probity and measured judgments, when she does state clearly strong negative judgments, people take note.

Her column today is one of her great columns, expressing what countless Democrats, as well as Republicans, are thinking tonight.

She writes:

The damage to the president is different and deeper than his people think, because it hit at his reputational core, at how people understand him. His supporters have long seen him as soft-natured, moderate—a sentimental man famous for feeling and showing empathy. But nothing about this fiasco suggested kindliness or an interest in the feelings of others. It feels less like a blunder than the exposure of a seamy side. Does he listen to anyone? Does he have any people of independent weight and stature around him, or are they merely staffers who approach him with gratitude and deference?


Original article
August 31, 2021

For an overview of the Afghanistan catastrophe, reduced to its essential elements, see

“Joe Biden, Captain of the Titanic, which just hit the iceberg of Afghanistan,” The Trenchant Observer, August 25, 2021.

There is no rational defense of stupidity.

To base a country’s foreign policy on domestic opinion, polls, and expected election outcomes is stupid, as countless historical examples illustrate.

The majority of voters are ill-informed and have no serious understanding of what is involved in foreign policy decisions. The country depends on an informed foreign policy elite, government foreign policy experts, and leaders intelligent enough to listen to them and follow their advice.

Joe Biden set out to do something else: to adopt a foreign policy that benefits the middle class.

It’s just a slogan. Not even Biden or his National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan or his Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has the slightest idea what it means in operational terms.

I guess what it means for Joe Biden is that it will engender public support and help him and Democrats at the polls in future elections.

It is a stupid and doomed approach to foreign policy, premised on a lack of informed and enlightened presidential leadership.  It is a recipe for following the predilections of uninformed masses, e.g. the views of people with strong opinions who couldn’t begin to tell you what countries border, e.g., Afghanistan, or whose intelligence services have supported the Taliban for 20 years.

Now following such a stupid approach to foreign policy, President Biden has revealed, through his disastrous decisions relating to the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, the fact that he has no strategic sense or understanding of the world, of the myriad factors and forces which interact to produce realities in the field of foreign affairs.

He has an extensive record working on foreign policy issues, as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as Vice-President in the Obama administration, and now for seven months as President of the United States.

But you can’t fill a bucket with a hole in it.

Those who have observed Biden over the years know that all of his experience has not produced sound judgment.  However, it has produced hubris, and an astounding emotionality and stubbornness.  To those who argue that Biden at age 78 is over the hill, it may be countered that Biden was always over the hill, someone who Bob Gates in his 2014 memoir wrote has been wrong on almost all tbe major foreign policy decisions over the last four decades.

What can we expect Biden to do or say at this point about Afghanistan?

Does it matter?

He has decided to surrender to the Taliban by withdrawing all American troops from that country, and executed that decision in an incredibly botched manner, e.g., leaving computer records of those who worked with the U.S, and its allies in Taliban hands. These include not only translators and other military officials, but also intelligence officers and their informants.

Millions of other Afghans, who believed in American assurances that the U.S. would stand by them and support the democratic project in Afghanistan, have been summarily abandoned to harsh fates at the hands of the Taliban.

What could Joe Biden say in a speech about Afghanistan?

The only thing he could say that would help the United States would be that he is firing Antony Blinken, Lloyd Austin, and Jake Sullivan for the roles thay played in this catastrophe, and that he is bringing in men and women of real stature to build a new foreign policy team.

Anything else he might say, you can rest assured, will be just more smoke and mirrors.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

1 Comment on "Joe Biden ‘s foreign policy judgment: You can’t fill a bucket with a hole in it."

  1. Michael Mauldin | August 31, 2021 at 4:36 pm |

    Not sure about your claim the the Taliban are in possession of all the names and addresses of everyone who helped the Americans. Of course, they may have pared an informer for that info at any time…assuming they do have the info.
    There are layers of deception we may not know that are at play.
    The war was lost a long time ago,we didn’t want to admit it or the capitalist running the war had not milked our treasury dry until uncle Joe said no more.

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