He made the promise over and over again. During his run for president, and amid a worsening COVID-19 crisis, Joe Biden promised if elected, he’d “follow the science.”
The pledge was a clear rebuke of his then-opponent and now-predecessor, Donald Trump, who routinely and recklessly denied, questioned and even mocked the science and his own experts, spreading false cures, conspiracy theories and generally bad advice from the powerful podium of the presidency.
Biden seized the obvious opportunity for contrast, and he did it early and often.
In March 2020, just as the novel coronavirus started creeping its way through American communities, Biden told “The View” and its viewers, “Listen to the scientists. Listen to the doctors. Listen to what they have to say. I would respectfully suggest that you should have Dr. (Anthony) Fauci on a lot more than the president — or anyone who’s not an expert like Fauci — laying out exactly what’s going on.”
Then in May, when asked what he’d advise states to do regarding safety precautions, he beat the same drum again: “I would be telling governors to listen to Dr. Fauci,” he told “Good Morning America.” “Listen to the scientists. Listen to what the facts are.”
In July, he urged President Trump to listen to public health experts instead of denigrating them.
By the November election, it was a signature and familiar refrain, with tweets like, “We need a president who actually listens to experts like Dr. Fauci.”
Whether or not he’s lived up to that promise in every scenario is, well, debatable. According to some health science experts, he’s fallen short, particularly on his advocacy of booster shots. FDA experts are staunchly opposed.
But the other arena in which he pledged to follow the experts is foreign policy.
That may sound odd, considering Biden’s long been criticized for often making questionable foreign policy calls; former Defense Secretary Robert Gates famously wrote that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” from Vietnam to national defense to the Gulf War.
But a new and improved Biden once again saw Trump’s regular dismissal of foreign policy advice and seized on it, promising to restore trust in expertise.
He reportedly looked to retired Gen. Jim Mattis, Trump’s embattled former defense secretary, to help with his transition, after siding with Mattis when he left Trump’s White House over foreign policy differences. “Secretary Mattis’ presence and his voice of reason and experience will be missed in the Pentagon and the Situation Room,” he tweeted at the time.
He promised to return power and agency to our diplomats, saying defiantly in February, “America is back. Diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.”
As one foreign policy writer promised hopefully in 2020, “Joe Biden is actually listening.” He “practices foreign policy, as he practices politics, by talking to people, and listening to them.”
But whom, exactly, is Biden listening to?
If the Afghanistan blunder proved anything, it’s that the old Biden — the one of Gates’ memory — was still very much alive.
New reports from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa allege Biden ignored the “specific and formal advice” of his own top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and top military expert, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, to “slow down the process” of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
That infuriating revelation follows myriad others from earlier in the year, showing Biden was unwilling to be persuaded, even by experts at the Pentagon, against a hasty and complete withdrawal.
Biden, for his part, remains defiant, even denying that there was disagreement, telling ABC News last month that “no one” that he “can recall” advised him to keep a force of about 2,500 troops there temporarily.
As a leader, this makes Biden only slightly better than Trump, in that Biden is merely ignoring good advice on foreign policy, instead of refuting it outright and discrediting it.
This is not what Biden, or his supporters promised. One of his top surrogates and close friends, Sen. Chris Coons, was in fact crystal clear on this point in 2019, when he was asked what Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan was: ”I can’t speak to the specifics of how he would,” he said, “but I know that unlike our current president he would rely upon and listen to the advice of generals and diplomats.”
Presidents can of course disagree with their advisers, but when that very disagreement results in such a catastrophic debacle of policy execution — and a predictable one at that — it’s only fair to question their leadership.
Biden will be answering for his Afghanistan decision — the one to ignore the advice of experts — for years to come. In the meantime, we’re still waiting on the new Biden to show up.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on CNN.