Peggy Noonan writes of Joe Biden and his disastrous Afghanistan decisions:
A longtime friend of his once told me Mr. Biden’s weakness is that he always thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room. I asked if the rooms are usually small, and the friend didn’t bristle, he laughed.
I suspect Mr. Biden was thinking he was going to be the guy who finally cut through, who stopped the nonsense, admitted reality, who wasn’t like the others driven by fear of looking weak or incompetent. He was going to look with eyes made cool by experience and do what needed doing—cut this cord, end this thing, not another American dead.
History would see what he’d done. It would be his legacy. And for once he’d get his due—he’s not some ice-cream-eating mediocrity, not a mere palate-cleanser after the heavy meal of Trump, not a placeholder while America got its act together. He would finally be seen as what he is—a serious man. Un homme sérieux, as diplomats used to say.
And then, when it turned so bad so quick, his pride and anger shifted in, and the defiant, defensive, self-referential speeches. Do they not see my wisdom?
This is close to the mark, I think. I suspect Biden knows deep-down that he’s far from the smartest person in the room, any room, but is desperate to prove otherwise, especially to himself.
That desire — that imperative — is probably his true weakness.
A friend of mine who dealt with Biden in the Senate believes that Biden is out to prove he’s smarter than those who, unlike him, attended prestigious universities and excelled there. They may have “book learning,” but Biden possesses “wisdom.” Thus, as Noonan recounts (per George Packer), Biden blew off Richard Holbrooke’s views on Afghanistan because Holbrooke didn’t understand politics — he lacked practical wisdom.
Biden has, as Robert Gates said, been wrong about almost every major foreign policy and national security issue for 40 — now almost 50 — years. But Afghanistan was one area where Biden could believe he has been right. As vice president, he disagreed with the generals who thought the war could be won. Obama, as smart as he’s thought to be by the people whose respect Biden craves, was snowed (or maybe rolled) by the generals, but Biden saw through them.
So, as Noonan says, the stage was set for Biden to prove his intellectual superiority by finally ending the “endless war” (in which about 15 American troops had been dying per year). And Biden was going to end it his way, not the way generals would end it.
Biden did. And once again he stands exposed as a fool.