We’ve had a signifiant couple of days, and I’m a bit under the weather (but my covid test was negative). But here goes an attempt at blogging …
Ezra Klein wrote, “Everything about the Afghanistan withdrawal is tragic. But that tragedy is the result not of the withdrawal, but the occupation, and America’s profound misjudgment of its own power and limits.” That’s as succinct a summation of the Afghanistan situation as I’ve found.
Most of the commentary on Afghanistan is coming from a place of deep denial about what a mistake it has been to remain in Afghanistan all this time. There was never going to be a glorious moment at which we could brush off our hands and say “our work here is done.” Juan Cole argues that Afghanistan is facing war between the Taliban and ISIS-K, and President Biden is right to just get our troops out of the way.
Republicans are screaming for President Biden’s head. Do read William Saletan, The GOP’s Phony Complaints About Afghanistan, at Slate. Hell, I’ll just be lazy and reproduce most of it here.
On Feb. 29, 2020, the Trump administration signed a deal with the Taliban to pull all American troops out of Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. The deal also required the Afghan government to release 5,000 imprisoned Taliban fighters. Hawks called the agreement weak and dangerous, but Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, advised them not to speak out against it. In March 2020, at hearings of the House Armed Services Committee, some lawmakers worried about the deal, but most, including Reps. Jim Banks and Matt Gaetz, said nothing about it. Another Republican member of the committee, Rep. Mo Brooks, expressed his impatience to pull out, noting that American forces had long ago “destroyed al-Qaida’s operational capability” in Afghanistan.
In July 2020, the committee took up the National Defense Authorization Act, which would fund the military for the next year. Democratic Rep. Jason Crow presented an amendment that would make the Afghan pullout contingent on several requirements. These included “consultation and coordination” with allies, protection of “United States personnel in Afghanistan,” severance of the Taliban from al-Qaida, prevention of “terrorist safe havens inside Afghanistan,” and adequate “capacity of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces” to fight off Taliban attacks. The amendment also required investigation of any prisoners, released as part of the deal, who might be connected to terrorism. In short, the amendment would do what Trump had failed to do: impose real conditions on the withdrawal. Crow told his colleagues that he, too, wanted to get out, but that Afghan security forces weren’t yet “ready to stand on their own.”
Gaetz dismissed these warnings. The Taliban was already taking over the country, he argued, and imposing conditions would just get in the way of the pullout. “I don’t think there’s ever a bad day to end the war in Afghanistan,” he said.
Eleven members of the committee, including Banks, Brooks, and Gaetz, voted against the amendment. It passed, but Trump refused to accept it. In December, he vetoed the whole defense bill, complaining that it would, among other things, “restrict the President’s ability to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.” Steve Scalise, the minority whip, voted to uphold Trump’s veto. McCarthy, who had to miss the vote for medical reasons, said he, too, stood with the president. Congress overrode the veto, but Trump essentially ignored the amendment.
Eight months later, Biden is completing the withdrawal, and Republicans have done a 180. They act as though they had nothing to do with the pullout or its consequences. “It’s humiliating that the Taliban now controls not just Afghanistan’s presidential palace,” but the U.S. embassy, says Banks, “and it’s all happened on Joe Biden’s watch.” Having voted not to hold Trump accountable for the withdrawal’s execution in last year’s defense bill, Banks vows to hold Biden accountable in this year’s bill. Gaetz now says Biden pulled out prematurely.
To cover their hypocrisy, the Republicans are rewriting history. Brooks says the Taliban’s triumph “would never have happened under President Donald J. Trump.” In reality, Trump guaranteed it by removing as many troops as he could. McCarthy says he knows “for a fact” that Trump wouldn’t have let the Taliban advance from “city to city,” though Trump allowed just that. Scalise says Trump “made it very clear with conditions he put in place that he was not going to let the Taliban take control of the country,” but Trump continued to withdraw troops regardless of conditions, making clear that the Taliban would take control.
Republicans are screaming for Biden to resign or be impeached or be removed from office via the 25th Amendment. Philip Bump writes that the GOP anti-Biden rhetorical arms race is already at Defcon 1; where can it go from there?
The problem Republicans may soon face is the one Greene is dealing with in the moment: Now what? Where do you go from here? If a terrorist attack in Afghanistan warrants resignation or removal by impeachment or the Cabinet, what might some more significant situation demand? There’s no obvious way to descend from this position, barring an actual resignation, which won’t happen, or Republican views of Biden softening, which also won’t happen. So is this just the temperature at which we’ll operate forever, a political boil that never spills over?
Isn’t that pretty much what they do when a Democrat is in the White House? Going back to the Clinton Administration?
Anyway, I think we can count on Republicans to try to make the midterm elections about Afghanistan. And if Republicans take back the House next year, expect the rest of President Biden’s administration to be buried under endless House hearings and investigations into Afghanistan that will be limited to only what happened on Biden’s watch.