The Blame Game: As the fallout of the Afghan withdrawal continues, a heavy cloud of debate is obscuring who bears responsibility for the consequences. Here’s what both sides are saying. To have stories like this and more delivered directly to your inbox, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.
Top Story: The Blame Game
Today, the House will vote on the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill that Democratic moderates had demanded as part of a deal with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). It’s “only part of what’s set to be a jam-packed week in the House,” Cristina Marcos reports for The Hill. “Democrats are also aiming to take action on the $3.5 trillion package to expand social safety net programs, act to prevent a government shutdown on Oct. 1, and avoid a debt default.” The chaotic crescendo of the final days of September has caused a dramatic increase in newsflow that — quite frankly — is impossible to follow, even for people whose job it is to dissect the information. Reuters correspondent Pete Schroeder tweeted Tuesday night that “whatever is happening on Capitol Hill right now is functionally incomprehensible to anyone whose full-time job isn’t paying attention to it.” Burgess Everett, POLITICO’s co-congressional bureau chief, took this sentiment even further and responded by saying, “And to many of those whose full-time job is paying attention to it.” The confusion means that many otherwise headline-grabbing stories can be quickly dismissed, forgotten about, or “lost in the sauce,” so to speak. Such is the case with testimony provided on Tuesday by Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top US military officer who called the 20-year war in Afghanistan a “strategic failure.” Milley “acknowledged to Congress that he had favored keeping several thousand troops in the country to prevent a collapse of the US-supported Kabul government and a rapid takeover by the Taliban,” the Associated Press reports. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Afghan army’s sudden collapse caught the Pentagon “by surprise,” when asked about how and why America lost its longest war. Here’s what both sides are saying about Tuesday’s testimony.
On The Right
Right-leaning commentators think someone in the mix is lying. They note that Tuesday’s testimony from military leaders does not sync up with prior comments from President Biden.
“Someone is lying about the Afghanistan debacle” Tucker Carlson, Fox News: “What you watched in the Senate hearing was pure blame-shifting. Joe Biden’s foreign policy is a legitimate disaster. … Mark Milley wants you to know that none of it is his fault. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wants you to know that too. So does the head of Central Command, General McKenzie. All three of them want to make it crystal clear that the senile guy in the White House did this. It’s his fault, not theirs. … The question is who’s lying? … All we know for sure — and this is the main point — is that no one in Pentagon leadership will ever be held accountable for this, the latest in a very long string of colossal screw-ups that have dramatically reduced American power and prestige and gotten a bunch of people killed. … The House of Representatives just passed a $776 billion defense budget. How big is that? That’s fully $24 billion more than even the White House even requested. In other words, Congress just threw in a little extra for a job well done — a bonus for the generals who left $80 billion dollars worth of American military equipment for the Taliban to use. Good work guys.”
“Tragic cost of Biden’s Afghanistan lies” Michael Goodwin, New York Post: “Biden lied, they died. That’s no longer just an accusation. It’s now a fact … We now know for certain what was suspected all along — that the president rejected the advice of his top military aides about how to reduce the troop numbers while keeping the Taliban in check. He also falsely claimed to the public that al Qaeda was no longer in Afghanistan and declared the withdrawal a ringing success. … Clearly, the president’s attempts to deceive the public were part of the events that put our vaunted military in the weak, vulnerable position of protecting a mass evacuation from a civilian airport in a city overrun by the Taliban. … The immediate consequences are obviously devastating, and the long-range reality is that another war is more likely than lasting peace. Beyond al Qaeda’s continuing efforts to strike us, giving Taliban control of Afghanistan completes what one analyst calls a mega-terror state in the region, with Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan sharing borders. … By choosing surrender and guaranteeing defeat, [Biden] created a more dangerous landscape for America and its allies. All the lies in the world can’t cover up his disaster.”
“Liar in chief: Top generals refute Biden’s claims regarding US troops in Afghanistan” Christopher Tremoglie, Washington Examiner: “President Joe Biden is the liar-in-chief. In August, Biden said in an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos that “no one that he can recall” advised him to keep some US troops in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, a little over five weeks after Biden’s claim, top US generals testified under oath that they recommended to Biden to keep some troops in Afghanistan. If true, this is just the latest lie Biden has said since becoming president. … This is not the first time Biden has lied during his political career. It’s not the first time Biden has lied as president. … Yet, the legacy media and politicians, people who were hellbent on exposing every one of President Donald Trump’s falsehoods, ignore Biden. … Yes, politicians lie, but Biden was championed as the ‘honest’ candidate in last year’s election. … Democrats don’t really care about a president lying. They just cared about getting Trump.”
On The Left
Left-leaning commentators also acknowledge the discrepancies between Biden’s comments in early August and Tuesday’s testimony from top military brass. However, the withdrawal and exit didn’t happen in a vacuum. Prior presidents also played a part, they say.
“Blame-shifting over US withdrawal ignores deeper failings in Afghanistan” Julian Borger, The Guardian: “For obvious reasons, the Republicans on the armed services committee sought to keep the focus on the past eight months, accusing Joe Biden of surrendering to terrorists … The Republicans barely mentioned that … the surrender in question truly began in February 2020, with the Trump administration’s agreement with the Taliban in Doha. … Milley, McKenzie, and Austin, however, took a different route in their testimony. They confirmed that in the policy of review in February, March, and April, they had advocated retaining a small force of about 2,500, [contradicting] Biden’s baffling insistence in an ABC News interview on 19 August that he had received no such advice from his military advisers. … The deeper question – never likely to be answered, or even asked, in the bearpit of Congress – is why the US has suffered from such recurrent amnesia each time it has gone off to war.”
“Defense officials just debunked much of the criticism of Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal” Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post: “Austin effectively conceded in his testimony that three presidents never acknowledged … that the mission of the war — to create a viable Afghan government and military — failed spectacularly. … Biden’s critics will have a hard time explaining why a limited force left indefinitely in Afghanistan would have been a viable alternative. … The idea that the administration did not prepare for the collapse of the Afghan government was false as well. Both Miley and Austin described the advance planning in detail, including the pre-positioning of troops and rehearsing a noncombatant evacuation. … Finally, the widespread declaration that the administration’s airlift was a ‘failure’ was exaggerated and lacked context. … 124,000 [people were evacuated], Austin said. In sum, the testimony went a long way toward confirming an uncomfortable truth: The 20-year war to create a viable Afghan state was a fruitless, misguided, and arrogant undertaking. Biden finally decided not to sacrifice more troops and spend more money on an unwinnable venture.”
“Top US generals punch holes in Joe Biden’s defense of Afghanistan withdrawal” Peter Bergen, CNN Opinion: “Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said in essence on Tuesday that both former President Donald Trump and Biden had botched negotiations with the Taliban — and the net result of the US actions was a ‘logistical success but a strategic failure.’ … Generals Milley and McKenzie said that they advised the Biden administration that unless the US kept 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, the Afghan military would collapse. … This clearly contradicts what President Biden told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos last month … The upshot of Tuesday’s hearing was that even the most senior US generals couldn’t defend the debacle that has unfolded in Afghanistan during the past several weeks, a disaster owned by President Biden, even if it was teed up by President Trump’s ill-fated ‘peace’ negotiations with the Taliban that culminated in the Doha agreement.”
Flag This: The Blame Game
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted Aug. 23-29, “54% of US adults say the decision to withdraw troops from the country was the right one, while 42% say it was wrong,” Ted Van Green and Carroll Doherty report. “The public is also broadly critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan: Only about a quarter (26%) say the administration has done an excellent or good job; 29% say the administration has done an only fair job, and 42% say it has done a poor job.” As it relates to US veterans, Morning Consult polling shows that “58% of Afghanistan war veterans said they back Biden’s decision to withdraw, including 42% who ‘strongly support’ the move.” Meanwhile, “49% approve of Biden’s handling of foreign policy in Afghanistan, ranking him lower than his three wartime predecessors.” Lastly, “48% of Afghanistan veterans described America’s involvement in Afghanistan as ‘successful,’ compared with 27% of all voters.”
Flag Poll: The Blame Game
With hindsight on our side, do you agree with President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan? How would you rank his administration’s handling of the exit? Comment below to share your thoughts.