In the internet era, one of the worst things you can be is “fake”. This label is bestowed whenever words fail to align with actions (even if the infraction is fairly minor) and is hard to remove. Celebrities are scared of being labelled as fake; politicians are terrified. However, while the former react by arraying a phalanx of PRs to distribute morsels of information to hungry journalists, the latter dial up the rhetoric to ensure that voters know they are acting purely in their nation’s interests.
This week Joe Biden doubled down on the seemingly disastrous decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. He claimed that it had never been the intention for American forces to oppose any Taliban advance. As for the Afghan people, rather than having the rug pulled from under their feet, Biden suggested that its government and army had been offered all the resources and assistance to put up a fight, and had failed.
His bullish tone caused dismay in Brussels, where EU leaders lined up to condemn the speech. But if their outrage is genuine, one might well ask where they’ve been for the past few years, or indeed decades. When Trump declared in his inauguration speech that he would always make decisions with “America first”, he was merely giving maladroit expression to centuries of implicit American policy.
That the leader of any country is always ultimately thinking of its best interests should never come as a surprise. Whether it’s due to economic pressure, voter discontent, combat fatigue or a combination of all three, the US no longer sees its role as that of global police officer. Both Biden’s withdrawal decision and his speech make that explicit. And for all his mistakes, at least the president can’t be accused of being fake.