GOP drops scathing review of Afghanistan withdrawal, White House reacts
Republican lawmakers accused President Joe Biden Sunday of failing to properly prepare for last year’s Afghanistan withdrawal. In a report, GOP members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Biden left key decisions about civilian evacuations to the last minute and implied that U.S. troops should have stayed in the country longer.
“The Biden administration had largely wasted the four months since the president announced the full withdrawal, failing to adequately plan for the anticipated Taliban takeover,” the panel wrote.
Biden’s team swung back at the report in a memo defending the withdrawal that was leaked to Axios. In the document, which is reportedly meant to be circulated on Capitol Hill, a National Security Council spokesperson argued that the “partisan” interim report “is riddled with inaccurate characterizations, cherry-picked information, and false claims.” The memo pins the blame for any issues on former President Donald Trump’s 2020 agreement with the Taliban and contends that staying in Afghanistan was not an option.
“The President rejected the impossible notion that a so- called low-grade effort could have maintained a stalemate,” the spokesperson wrote. “There’s nothing low-grade, low-risk, or low-cost about any war – and there were no signs that even more time, funds, or even more importantly Americans at risk in Afghanistan, would have yielded different results.”
As the anniversary of the withdrawal approaches, the back-and-forth previews the battle lines that Republicans and Democrats will hold in the coming weeks as public fights over the operation continue. And, if the GOP wins the House in November, that debate could bleed well into 2022.
Another factor that will keep the discussion going is that each side has a point. On Biden’s side, he was no doubt right that Washington had a limited ability to create a sustainable government in Afghanistan, and another few months would have done little to change that. He also had his hands tied to some degree by the Trump-era Doha Agreement, which was widely criticized as short-sighted and half-baked.
On the other side, the GOP is on solid ground when it argues that the implementation of the withdrawal was a disaster. Republicans are also right to point out that Biden has failed to hold anyone accountable for that disaster, and it’s hard to defend the State Department’s decision to block requests to bring dozens of officials before the committee to testify about it.
As the bickering carries on in Washington, the situation continues to deteriorate on the ground in Afghanistan. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported today that more than half of Afghans are in need of humanitarian assistance, blaming the crisis on a wide range of factors including economic sanctions, a “paralyzed” banking system, and the long-term effects of decades of war in the country.
Of course, U.S. officials have the ability to alleviate at least two of those factors given that Washington has spearheaded the sanctions regime and currently holds billions of dollars in frozen Afghan central bank funds. According to many economists, that second policy has made it impossible for Afghan officials to manage their own economy, contributing to its collapse.
“The people of Afghanistan have been made to suffer doubly for a government they did not choose,” Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and more than 70 other experts wrote in a recent open letter.
Unfortunately for the people of Afghanistan, the idea of changing either of those policies is so controversial in Washington that it’s rarely even brought up in the halls of power. And Biden has already ruled out releasing the central bank funds, according to the Wall Street Journal. For policymakers in the Beltway, it’s apparently easier to have partisan arguments about the past than it is to save lives in the present.