Last August, US President Joe Biden’s approval ratings began to plummet, falling to record levels under the impact of the dramatically adverse consequences of the hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. The ensuing chaotic scenes and the Taliban’s control of the Afghan capital and their return to power snowballed into a political crisis and a PR disaster that dealt some serious damage to the US’ image in the world.
A barrage of international criticism of US policy ensued, featuring partisan attacks on President Biden’s administration and attempts to portray him as a recalcitrant and addled leader. To be sure, foreign policy issues generally have no real impact on the ballot box in the US, especially at the midterm congressional election level.
But when it comes to the image and prestige of the US on a global scale, it inevitably turns into a campaign talking point. Biden is trying to push beyond that by making a new connection between Afghanistan and the new US success in killing the world’s top surviving terrorist leader, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Biden wants the imprint of al-Zawahiri’s death to replace the image of failure and chaotic withdrawal scenes in the collective consciousness of Americans. The assassination of al-Zawahiri, who is associated by the American public with the September 11 attacks, will undoubtedly revive the Afghanistan issue.
It gives the issue a relative heft that could boost President Biden’s popularity in the near term, or at least reduce the hemorrhage of approval points in recent months.
Biden sinking to historic lows
DURING THE past year, the president’s popularity has sunk to historic lows, largely because of the high death toll from the COVID-19 outbreaks, from the Delta to the Omicron variants, Hurricane Ida losses in the southern and southeastern states, and the ripple effect of the shambolic withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
Then came the Ukraine crisis and high inflation, the worst in four decades, and the concomitant skyrocketing prices and declining standard of living, as well as doubts about his health and mental state. The president’s popularity subsequently reached a new low. A recent Gallup poll ranked President Biden as one of the most unpopular presidents at this stage of his presidency in US history.
For the first time since he took office, his approval rating fell below 40%. And this list included his predecessor Donald Trump, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. Of course, the poll results should by no means be taken as a definitive yardstick of the president’s popularity.
Typically, popularity ebbs and flows on the back of good news and bad news, especially economic headlines. For President Biden, this complicates matters, at least in the current international environment and in light of record high energy and fuel prices at home. And so it is hard to say that any political event could have any real leverage on the president’s popularity under these circumstances.
If it does, it will be short-lived, perhaps no more than a few days, and it will soon be eclipsed by the shadow of continued increases in fuel and commodity prices. Obviously, the mood of the American public is very low at this time and under the present circumstances.
News such as the death of al-Zawahiri can do little to blunt the president’s deteriorating popularity, even if, again, it probably does help for a short time.
WHAT THREATENS Biden and the Democratic Party most in the period ahead, especially in the midterm elections scheduled for November, is not the political and economic indicators. It is the mental confusion and the numerous and persistent physical and verbal missteps with which the president of the greatest country in the world appears in a weak portrait that is unacceptable to the American public.
We see this in the fact that, according to polls, more than 75% of Democrats and party supporters oppose Biden’s election to a second term. So, the Democrats’ main concern at the moment is preserving their chances of winning a majority in the House of Representatives in the upcoming elections.
This partly explains the determination of the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, to visit Taiwan, because this issue is one of the common points of consensus between Republicans and Democrats, and here she is trying to prove the Democrats’ strong stand on their positions.
The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.