As Afghanistan fell, I was fly fishing on the Yellowstone River. Distracted from the swirl of currents and the prospects of feeding trout, I asked the guide about Afghanistan’s fall. He said he had been too busy working to really know what was going on. I suspect the majority of Americans have been similarly pre-occupied. Yet, pollsters are often the soothsayers in our world of representative government. Representative of what?
The following day as images of the fall streamed over TV and video devices, my wife and I went to breakfast in the lodge in Montana where we are staying. The hostess welcomed us and pointed to a TV screen mounted on a wall saying, “we don’t air political channels.” There was a recurring report with wind-blown images of a tropical storm lashing the panhandle of Florida.
Turning to news sources on the iPad, I updated the overnight news on Rocky Mountain time. There were heartbreaking images from Kabul and one especially wrenching image of President Biden at Camp David in what looked like a room furnished to accommodate cabinet meetings. He was alone and watching a screen of images and listening to audio feeds from advisors. The weather forecaster had it better; he was able to see real time conditions and forecasts synthesized by proven software.
I thought: either the President’s stubbornly held views or his policy advisors opinions have certainly not served him well. But here he is again, captured by insular thought. Beyond the obvious failure to foresee was the image of an isolated President, still on vacation, struggling to understand both what went wrong and the consequences for his presidency.
Infrequently do Presidents leave themselves so vulnerable to the riptides of current events. But here is our President, our Commander-in-Chief, sounding and looking like he is unequal to the job.
Our President. Yes, regardless of preference, he is our President. The challenge he faces is to restore trust in his judgment. Being against our presence in Afghanistan is at least arguably the right stance. Being out-of-touch is overwhelmingly the wrong condition and image.
Sadly I conclude this brief reflection to return to the stream where the final tip of the fly line — the leader— is far more predictable.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.