The 78-year-old’s love of home comforts – and abject failure to wake up to the severity of the Afghan crisis – have consolidated his image as ‘Sleepy Joe’ in the minds of many Americans.
Last Sunday, with the Taliban advancing on Kabul, Mr Biden was relaxing at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, seemingly blasé to the global implications.
PHOTO CALL: Joe Biden tucks in to an ice cream – an image echoed by triumphant Taliban fighters
Mr Biden has been in the White House for only 215 days but he has become shockingly outsmarted by a group of Islamic militants
The feeling among his team was one of disbelief. ‘It was Biden’s FUBAR moment’, said a presidential aide – using the slang military acronym for ‘F****d Up Beyond Any Recognition.’
In what turned out to be a calamitously inept attempt to show the President was in charge of events, the White House press team belatedly issued a photo of him, all alone in a conference room, staring gormlessly at a bank of TV screens.
In a withering putdown, the New York Post reported: ‘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.’
The photo encapsulated the Taliban’s contempt for ‘Sleepy Joe’ – a nickname given to Mr Biden by Donald Trump in 2019 when he announced his presidential candidacy. Mr Trump said: ‘Welcome to the race, Sleepy Joe. I only hope you have the intelligence, long in doubt, to wage a successful primary campaign.’
Mr Trump is no soothsayer but it seems he was spot-on.
This weekend’s planned trip to Delaware would have been Mr Biden’s 19th return to the state since his inauguration only seven months ago, until he made a last-minute decision to cancel it.
There is a sense in America that even Mr Biden’s staunchest allies believe he has lost the plot.
Not only the physical evidence – stumbling over words, forgetting questions, falling up the stairs of Air Force One – but also obvious mental lapses amid claims he relies heavily on an autocue.
‘If it’s not written down, he forgets it,’ one presidential speechwriter complained this month.
A source familiar with discussions in the White House told the MoS: ‘People have been covering up for Joe for a long time. It’s become a case of the Emperor has no clothes. Biden dropped the ball on Afghanistan and everyone knows it. There’s a very real possibility he will become a lame-duck President.’
An attempt to ‘manage’ the Afghan crisis by arranging an interview with a sympathetic journalist, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, backfired spectacularly. Mr Biden stumbled through the interview, dismissively waving away a question about Afghans falling from planes.
There is a sense in America that even Mr Biden’s staunchest allies believe he has lost the plot
Mr Trump – who, when President, passed a mental cognitive test with flying colours – again called for Mr Biden to prove he is mentally capable of holding office: ‘Joe should take that test because something’s going on… we can’t have somebody who’s not 100 per cent.’
Even the liberal media that was so fawning of Mr Biden and contemptuous of Mr Trump has turned against him. The usually pro-Biden New York Times ran the headline: ‘To save his Presidency, Biden must tell the truth about Afghanistan.’ On the TV news channel CNN, a long-time Biden cheerleader, anchor Anderson Cooper, called his mishandling of the Afghan crisis ‘an utter disaster’ and ‘the worst foreign policy crisis since Vietnam’.
While there have been rumblings of discontent in the White House for months, the events of the past few days – described as a ‘s*** show’ by one aide – have led to those around Mr Biden breaking the code of silence.
‘Everyone has been protecting him for so long,’ the source said. ‘This week everything has come crashing down.’
Gone are the days when the sycophantic press indulged in joshing photo-calls, when Mr Biden would pose with an ice-cream cone and friendly journalists would ask him: ‘What flavour are you having today, Joe?’ They would clap when he replied ‘chocolate-chunk chip’ and boot-licking reports would duly appear the next day. How symbolic that mocking photos are now being spread on the internet of Taliban fighters holding similar ice-cream cones in Kabul.
Even Mr Biden’s advisers are openly contradicting him. On Friday, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin directly countered comments made by the President in a rambling press statement earlier in the day, during which he insisted all Americans who wanted to reach Kabul airport were able to do so.
Mr Biden, who had publicly vowed there would be no scenes of helicopters fleeing from the roof of the US embassy in Kabul like the American retreat from Vietnam, believed he had months for a controlled withdrawal of troops and citizens from Afghanistan
The MoS has been told the roots of the Afghan humiliation started 11 days ago with Mr Biden distracted by domestic politics.
After a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion package to finance the Democrats’ social agenda were passed by the Senate, a source says: ‘Everyone was doing high-fives. Then they all packed up and went home. The President was exhausted. No one was thinking about what was going on halfway around the world.’
Mr Biden, who had publicly vowed there would be no scenes of helicopters fleeing from the roof of the US embassy in Kabul like the American retreat from Vietnam, believed he had months for a controlled withdrawal of troops and citizens from Afghanistan.
Of course, the memory of the Vietnam War – and the deaths of 58,000 US military personnel – is etched in American consciousness. Mr Biden was a young politician at the time, having obtained five deferments from serving in the military when he was a student.
Mr Biden has been in the White House for only 215 days but he has become shockingly outsmarted by a group of Islamic militants of whom, only a month ago, he said: ‘They’re not the North Vietnamese army. They’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability.’
As former senior CIA officer Mathew Burrows says: ‘We look like a deer caught in the headlights. It is one more chink gone in the American empire.’