Joe Biden Promised to 'Defeat the Lies.' Then His Presidency Hit a Crisis

President Joe Biden pointedly advocated truth-telling in his inaugural address, in a tacit rebuke of Donald Trump's loose relationship with facts. But a few months on, the crises posed by the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan have tested Biden's commitment to truth.

"There is truth and there are lies," the president said on January 20 as he took office.

"Lies told for power and for profit. And each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders—leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation—to defend the truth and to defeat the lies."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke of the president's commitment to "bring transparency and truth back to the government—to share the truth, even when it's hard to hear" during her first press conference back in January.

And when it came to his predecessor, Biden was unequivocal, branding Trump "a liar" in their first debate in September 2020: "Everything he's saying so far is simply a lie, I'm not here to call out his lies, everybody knows he's a liar."

Yet Biden's own relationship with the truth is—not for the first time in his decades-long political career—under intense scrutiny.

In one recent example, Reuters reported a leaked transcript of a call with former Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani on July 23 in which Biden raised the possibility of lying about the reality of the fight against the Taliban.

Biden is reported to have told Ghani: "As you know and I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things aren't going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban.

"And there's a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture."

The words "whether it is true or not" contrast starkly with the president's push for leaders to "defend the truth." Within weeks of the conversation, the Taliban had entered Kabul and Ghani had fled the country.

As the situation deteriorated in Afghanistan, Biden made a raft of comments where his facts were off.

Among them, he insisted there would be no circumstance people would be airlifted from the U.S. embassy in Kabul. They later were.

He claimed Al-Qaeda was "gone" from Afghanistan, when, in fact, it isn't.

As desperate scenes unfolded at Kabul airport with people attempting to flee the nation, Biden insisted in an interview with ABC News that troops would stay in Afghanistan until every American who wanted to leave had done so.

"If there's American citizens left, we're gonna stay to get them all out," Biden told George Stephanopoulos on August 18.

When the final U.S. troop left Afghanistan, there were still Americans who wanted to leave left there. On August 31, the deadline, Biden said: "Now we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave."

In the aforementioned ABC News interview, Biden also got dates wrong when discussing footage of people falling from the departing planes they had clung to while trying to escape from Kabul, suggesting the incidents were less recent than they were.

Biden's factual errors have opened him up to criticism beyond how the U.S. military withdrawal was conducted. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) accused Biden of "lying to the American people," in a Fox News interview on September 7.

"He said Al-Qaeda has been decimated in Afghanistan—not true. He said our allies didn't have concerns with the way in which this has been conducted—not true," Gallagher said. "He said Americans weren't having trouble getting to the airport. Well obviously, we just left hundreds if not thousands of them behind. So, that was a massive lie."

Biden previously faced similar criticism from Republicans after saying he did not think withdrawal from Afghanistan was possible "without chaos ensuing."

"No way to avoid this chaos? That's a bald-faced lie," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) tweeted.

The backlash comes alongside a diminishing of the public's perception of Biden. His approval rating has hit record lows, going "underwater" of late amid the Afghanistan crisis and as COVID variants take hold. Surveys also show disapproval of his handling of the withdrawal.

According to a weekly tracker from YouGov America, a higher percentage of poll respondents now view Biden as not honest and trustworthy compared to those who think he is. That wasn't the case when he first entered office.

Biden now faces rebuilding his approval rating among a public that trusts him less than it did, and with substantial challenges ahead, among them the re-emergence of the abortion issue after the Texas law change, the COVID surge, and a contentious infrastructure plan.

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment.

biden delivers speech from state dining room
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the end of the war in Afghanistan in the State Dining Room at the White House on August 31, 2021. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images