There's A Bipartisan Backlash To How Biden Handled The Withdrawal From Afghanistan
Updated August 17, 2021 at 11:11 AM ET
Congressional outcry over the Biden's administration's handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban's takeover of the country has been swift.
Criticism of the administration was bipartisan: Republicans were scathing about the White House's actions, and Democrats, while acknowledging that President Biden was carrying out the policies of his predecessor, criticized the haphazard manner of the U.S. withdrawal.
Biden addressed the increasing criticism Monday afternoon and defended his position in his first public remarks since the Taliban moved into Kabul, Afghanistan's capital.
A bipartisan group of senators, led by Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, have called on the Biden administration to take swift action to protect endangered Afghan women.
"We strongly urge you to create a humanitarian parole category specifically for women leaders, activists, human rights defenders, judges, parliamentarians, journalists, and members of the Female Tactical Platoon of the Afghan Special Security Forces and to streamline the paperwork process to facilitate referrals to allow for fast, humane, and efficient relocation to the United States," the 47 senators said in a letter sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who serves as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has pledged the committee will, "at the appropriate time", hold hearings into "what went wrong in Afghanistan and lessons learned to avoid repeating those mistakes."
Here's a closer look at what members of Congress have said:
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.
Carper, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and an ally of the president's, said in a statement that the withdrawal of U.S. troops "should have been carefully planned to prevent violence and instability."
"We must act swiftly to protect Americans and our Afghan allies and partners on the ground," he said. "We cannot abandon those who fought by our side who now face mortal danger from the Taliban's takeover. We have a moral obligation to act immediately to protect their lives and a national security imperative to ensure that Afghan soil does not again become a source of terrorist attacks on our allies and our homeland."
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.
Shaheen, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, said in a statement the images of Afghan civilians at the airport pleading to be evacuated are "seared into our minds."
"Dire conditions on the ground persist today and without swift, decisive action from the administration, Afghan civilians will suffer or die at the hands of the Taliban," she continued.
She called for an immediate expansion of the refugee program for Afghan women seeking asylum.
"A failure to act now will seal their fate, and the generation of girls who grew up with freedoms, education and dreams of building their country's future will die with them."
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.
Moulton, a former Marine who served in Iraq, said the "time to debate whether we stay in Afghanistan has passed" but says the "disaster" of the withdrawal could have been avoided.
"For months, I have been calling on the Administration to evacuate our allies immediately — not to wait for paperwork, for shaky agreements with third countries, or for time to make it look more 'orderly,' " he said in a statement on Sunday.
He added that the "tragedy" happening abroad was "set in motion" by the Trump administration.
"Successive leaders of both parties have failed to hold the votes for re-authorizing this conflict for the last two decades since we invaded to find Osama bin Laden. For that, all of us in Congress should be ashamed."
After Biden's speech, Moulton tweeted there's "a long time to debate" whether the withdrawal decision was correct, but the administration has to "step up" to save innocent lives.
We have a long time to debate whether it was the right decision to withdraw; what we must all be focused on right now is how we do it. It’s still within America’s power to save innocent lives, but the Administration has to step up.— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) August 16, 2021
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The Senate minority leader has called the Biden administration's exit from Afghanistan a "shameful failure of American leadership."
"The rapid advance of the Taliban was expected after the U.S. abandonment of Afghan security forces. The plight of innocent Afghans was predicted, and the challenges of safely evacuating U.S. personnel and innocent Afghans have been magnified by our inexplicable withdrawal from Bagram Air Base. And the likelihood that Al Qaeda will return to plot attacks from Afghanistan is growing," he said in a statement Sunday.
"Everyone saw this coming except the President, who publicly and confidently dismissed these threats just a few weeks ago."
After attending a business roundtable discussion Monday in Kentucky, McConnell said he argued against a complete withdrawal with former Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump as well as Biden: "Not because I thought we were ever going to see in our lifetimes some modern democracy in that part of the world, but because I thought it was in our own interest to prevent it from becoming a haven again, and providing a victory for terrorism."
"What we have seen is an unmitigated disaster, a stain on the reputation of the United States of America," he said. "Every terrorist around the world: in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Africa are cheering the defeat of the United States' military, by a terrorist organization in Afghanistan."
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.
Cheney told ABC's This Week on Sunday that the chaos unfolding in Afghanistan is "what happens when America withdraws from the world."
"Everybody who has been saying, 'America needs to withdraw, America needs to retreat,' we are getting a devastating, catastrophic real-time lesson in what that means," she said.
She added that while she holds Biden responsible for the decision to withdraw, she also believes officials from the Trump administration, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also bear responsibility.
Both Pres. Biden and former Pres. Trump bear responsibility for the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan, @RepLizCheney tells @jonkarl.— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) August 16, 2021
"What we're watching right now in Afghanistan is what happens when America withdraws from the world." https://t.co/NkQqcLCBx7 pic.twitter.com/KazcVokkBO
In a tweet following Biden's remarks Monday, Cheney wrote: "Biden's surrender strengthens our terrorist enemies, hands them a massive new caliphate, abandons our allies & ensures a longer, costlier war for years to come."
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
The House minority leader blasted Biden for not addressing the nation sooner.
"President Biden's poor judgment produced the worst possible outcome in Afghanistan in only a matter of weeks," he said in a statement following Biden's remarks. "He has done long-term damage to America's credibility and our capabilities. The American people, and especially our troops who have sacrificed so much, deserve more than this catastrophic leadership and empty words."
After 6 days of silence, President Biden addressed the worst foreign policy disaster in decades, giving only excuses for his own failures— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) August 16, 2021
His poor planning produced the worst possible result in Afghanistan.
The buck stops with him—his failure to lead is an embarrassment.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, called the events in Afghanistan an "unmitigated disaster."
"History must be clear about this: American troops didn't lose this war — Donald Trump and Joe Biden deliberately decided to lose," he said in a statement Sunday.
"The looming defeat will badly hurt American intelligence and give jihadis a safe haven in Afghanistan, again. America will regret this. Our allies will trust us less and our adversaries fear us less. China is already exploiting this latest instance of American retreat. We need a long-term national security strategy."
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona
Kelly, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a combat veteran, said the "rapidly deteriorating situation" in Afghanistan "reveals a failure to prepare for a scenario where the Afghan government and military would refuse to fight the Taliban's advances when put to the test."
"Our priority now must be to keep the Kabul airport secure and get our people and our allies out safely," he said in a statement.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
Lee, who in 2001 and 2002 voted against two war powers measures passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, told MSNBC that the priority right now should be the safety of American citizens, diplomats and Afghan allies.
What’s happening in Afghanistan currently is a humanitarian crisis.— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) August 16, 2021
Let’s be clear: there has never been, and will never be, a U.S. military solution in Afghanistan.
Our top priority must be providing humanitarian aid & resettlement to Afghan refugees, women, and children. pic.twitter.com/DImw4Dc7Ns
"This is an example, though, that there is no military solution unfortunately in Afghanistan," she added. "We've been there 20 years, we have spent over a trillion dollars and we have trained over 300,000 of the Afghan forces, so I think the president is absolutely correct."
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah
Romney, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted Saturday that he "cannot understand why [withdrawal] has been done with such tragic human cost; without an effective strategy to defend our partners; and with inestimable shock to our nation's credibility, reliability, and honor."
Romney pushed back Monday evening on Biden's speech in which the president reiterated his campaign promise to end U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan.
"The President's failure to acknowledge his disastrous withdrawal provides no comfort to Americans or our Afghan partners whose lives hang in the balance. Contrary to his claims, our choice was not between a hasty and ill-prepared retreat or staying forever," he tweeted. "The decision to place a higher priority on a political promise than on the lives of innocent men, women, and children is a stain on America's reputation and undermines our credibility around the world."
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
In a statement on Monday, Hawley blamed the Biden administration for "drastically underestimat[ing] the speed with which the Taliban would overrun Kabul and other parts of the country."
"For two decades, almost no one has leveled with the American people about the true state of affairs in Afghanistan," he said. "President Biden's incompetence and failure of leadership is only the latest failure from the Washington establishment in this long war in which so many Americans have honorably fought and died. All of them should answer to the public."
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio
Chabot is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and had expressed concerns over Biden's decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan. He previously criticized Trump's efforts to reduce the military presence in Afghanistan. On Sunday, he told NPR's Don Gonyea he believes U.S. troops should have stayed in Afghanistan in a limited capacity.
"I don't think any of us necessarily want the United States to be the world's policeman, but we do have a role to play in the world today," he said. "And we're either going to be a leader or we're not."
He called the administration's actions a "travesty" and that history is repeating itself.
Obama "was warned not to pull all troops out of Iraq. He did that. The result was ISIS and innocent people being murdered, thousands and thousands in U.S. troops having to be sent back in," he said. "Unfortunately, we're seeing a very similar, virtually the exact same thing here in Afghanistan. This president, President Biden, was warned. He decided to ignore those warnings."
He told NPR's Ailsa Chang on Monday that he thought Biden was defensive in his afternoon remarks.
"I thought particularly unfortunate was the victim shaming of the Afghanistan troops and the people of that country. He essentially said they wouldn't fight," he said. "They have been fighting, but they needed the U.S. to be there to back them up."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.
The Illinois Republican who is also a member of the Air National Guard told NPR's Tamara Keith the situation unfolding in Afghanistan was "totally avoidable" and "is heartbreaking."
"I'm trying to keep myself calm, but I am beyond angry," he said.
"When all of a sudden you hear that your strongest and most important ally is abandoning you because 'the war can't be won,' well, if you're an Afghan military soldier, you're going to sit here and think maybe I'm just going to go back and be with my family," he said. "The Afghan military, of course, had a long ways to go, but they were carrying the brunt of the combat operations. But under President Trump, and now President Biden, they rushed for the exit, and they thought it would be a political win, and it's gonna be a huge disaster for both."
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas
McCaul is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has been one of the most outspoken critics of the withdrawal. He told NPR he's continually argued for a "light footprint" in Afghanistan, saying "2,500 soldiers is a very small price to pay for stability."
"We're seeing this nightmare unfold — unmitigated disaster of epic proportions, and what I really worried about the most are the women left behind and what's going to happen to them," he said, noting that his office has been inundated with calls from people trying to get their families out of the country.
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La.
During a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the Voting Rights Act, ranking member Johnson used his opening statement to decry the situation in Afghanistan and lay the blame squarely at the feet of the president.
"The American people awoke this morning to yet another incomprehensible and utterly avoidable disaster created by the obviously incompetent Biden administration," he said. "The president is clearly in far over his head."
He called for "top-to-bottom accountability at the Pentagon and within the administration for this disaster."
Johnson criticized Biden for staying at Camp David during the weekend's events.
"That this stunning failure has been met with silence from President Biden calls into serious question his ability to carry out his duties as commander in chief," he said.
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