Isolated, feeble, indecisive: that is the lasting image of the president of the United States as his nation suffered the worst self-inflicted humiliation of its history.
In a polo shirt, a hippy bracelet on his left wrist and his right hand covering his mouth, the vacationing president looked every bit his 78 years as he sat alone at a vast table set for 18 absent advisers.
He stared at a distant screen showing American officials in eight locations conducting a video conference on the unfolding catastrophe in Afghanistan. None of the people on screen seemed to address him directly.
The commander-in-chief was an observer, not a leader.
Everything was wrong with the photo. Even the world clocks on the wall in front of Biden were inaccurate, having not been adjusted for Daylight Saving Time, a sloppy detail unbefitting a superpower.
This official White House image projected weakness at a dangerous time, when the eyes of the world are judging the extent of America’s decline.
What they saw was an old man on his own, his botched conceit in ruins at his feet. Only seven months in office, Biden had taken to inviting historians into the White House to coach him on how to pre-burnish his legacy. The Afghanistan timetable was tailor-made for the history books, a political set piece in which he would be lauded as the first president who ended the endless war on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Instead, the Taliban’s Islamists will raise their flag at the $1 billion American embassy in Kabul on 9/11 and dance on American graves.
It took three days for the White House to blast out a photo that at least gave the appearance of presidential command.