"Mistakes were made." That's a passive-aggressive phrase that politicians and others have used since time immemorial to deflect blame. Suggesting amorphous "mistakes" implies that others are at fault.

President Bill Clinton was a master at speaking wishy-washy passive-aggressive, but it was not just Clinton. As you might guess, Richard Nixon was too, and Ronald Reagan, all the way back to Ulysses S. Grant speaking about corruption that rocked his administration.

And Joe Biden is no slouch either. He combines passive-aggressive with aggressive-aggressive. First of all, his very appearance before cameras several times for speeches to the nation during the messy Afghanistan withdrawal was aggressive, if not laudable in and of itself. He declared that he was taking "responsibility" for the mess -- the mess being the decision to abandon the country.

"Responsibility" seems to be a forthright word, but it is certainly less impactful than "blame." Blame is something Biden spreads around to others, particularly the Afghan army that surrendered faster than you could say "turned tail and ran." And it's for the U.S. officials who overestimated the Afghan soldiers' willingness to fight a respectable battle against the Taliban.

Biden explained his choice in a particularly "buck stops here" style, perhaps because polls supported his decision to withdraw from a war that had gone on for 20 years: "I believe this is the right decision, a wise decision, and the best decision for America."

"I was not going to extend this forever war," he went on, "and I was not extending a forever exit."

As for the 13 American troops and nearly 200 Afghan civilians killed by an Islamic State subsidiary suicide bomber, he carefully called the U.S. forces "heroes" and made it a point to at least meet with the families of those slain, in Dover, Delaware, during the "dignified transfer" ceremonies, even those who bitterly opposed his conduct of the withdrawal, which they blamed on him.

It was his effort to finesse a gruesome story that has not yet been told. It will take years to unfold and can depend on events whose outcomes we cannot predict. Will the administration be successful in evacuating the remaining American citizens and Afghan allies who want to escape? How will future diplomatic and economic decisions play into this, during the Biden presidency and beyond? How will this be an issue in a future election? How will Republicans play it? Right now, they are all over the map.

Nebraska's Sen. Ben Sasse, not normally a partisan, was unusually harsh about the commander in chief's handling of the withdrawal:

"There is clearly no plan. There has been no plan. Their plan has basically been happy talk. People have died, and people are going to die because President Biden decided to rely on happy talk instead of reality."

There is a cliche that the "fog of war" confuses and influences an understanding of current events. How will history treat Joe Biden's decisions about Afghanistan vis-a-vis his predecessors since 9/11? There are predictions that the Taliban will again take over, spawning a wave of attacks against the United States by newly emboldened terrorists hiding out in Afghanistan.

Perhaps domestic issues will overtake the memories of Afghanistan or, for that matter, international issues, too. How will Joe Biden's rhetorical and political skills influence whatever happens? We must write about something.

Will natural disasters and their relationship to climate change be exploitable? And the pandemic. For the moment, the Afghanistan story has run its course. At the moment. What will take its place? Will anything need to take its place? Now it's up to the pundits to chew on it for a while, then the historians. For starters, they can assess Joe Biden's use of rhetoric.

Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.

(c) 2021 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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