“When National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan relayed the news to Biden that former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, he writes, Biden exploded in frustration and said, “Give me a break.”
In the excerpt, Foer depicts a scene that went viral of the withdrawal: when dozens of Afghans climbed onto the side of a jet to escape the country.
“Only after the plane had lifted into the air did the crew discover its place in history,” Foer writes. “When the pilot couldn’t fully retract the landing gear, a member of the crew went to investigate, staring out of a small porthole. Through the window, it was possible to see scattered human remains.””
“When former ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass touched down in Afghanistan after the plane’s departure to lead the evacuation effort, he toured the gates of the airport where he was greeted “by the smell of feces and urine, by the sound of gunshots and bullhorns blaring instructions in Dari and Pashto.”
“Dust assaulted his eyes and nose. He felt the heat that emanated from human bodies crowded into narrow spaces,” Foer writes.
Biden would shower Bass with ideas to evacuate more people.
“The president’s instinct was to throw himself into the intricacies of troubleshooting,” Foer writes. “‘Why don’t we have them meet in parking lots? Can’t we leave the airport and pick them up?’ Bass would kick around Biden’s proposed solutions with colleagues to determine their plausibility, which was usually low. Still, he appreciated Biden applying pressure, making sure that he didn’t overlook the obvious.”
“In total, the United States had evacuated about 124,000 people, which the White House touted as the most successful airlift in history,” Foer writes. “Bass also thought about the unknown number of Afghans he had failed to get out.””