Politics

The GOP’s Phony Complaints About Afghanistan

Nearly everything Republicans are decrying happened under Trump.

Kevin McCarthy behind a microphone, with some American flags in the background
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy speaks at the Capitol on Wednesday. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

On Thursday, suicide bombers killed scores of people outside the Kabul airport, including at least 12 American service members. Congressional Republicans snapped into action, demanding that President Joe Biden resign or be impeached. It’s the latest outburst in a string of political opportunism. For weeks, Republicans have been all over cable TV, lambasting Biden for withdrawing troops. They’ve professed dismay that thousands of jailed Taliban fighters were released from prison, that al-Qaida operatives are still in Afghanistan, and that the American president accepted a Taliban deadline to get out. All of these complaints are phony. Nearly everything the Republicans are decrying happened last year. But Republicans defended or ignored it, because the president who engineered those concessions was Donald Trump.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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McCarthy expresses indignation that Biden “allow[ed] the Taliban to dictate to America when we depart.” But Trump’s 2020 agreement, which McCarthy told critics to read carefully, did the same thing. The difference is that Trump agreed to get out by May 1, whereas Biden postponed that date until Aug. 31. “I never thought there would be an American president in my lifetime who would kowtow to a terrorist group,” Banks raged in an interview with Laura Ingraham on Tuesday, but “that’s exactly what this president is doing: accepting the Taliban’s redlines and deadlines.” Ingraham completed the farce by adding: “Imagine what the Democrats would be saying if any of this had ever occurred under Donald Trump.”

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When Trump withdrew more than 10,000 troops, Brooks and other Republicans said that was fine, because al-Qaida had been virtually extinguished in Afghanistan. But when Biden began to withdraw the remaining 2,500, the same Republicans freaked out. “Al-Qaida and ISIS-K still exist and are growing in Afghanistan,” says Banks. As a result, he warns, terror attacks are coming to the United States “without a doubt.” Scalise agrees that Biden has put the homeland at risk, now that “the terrorists have a country.”

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McCarthy even blames Biden for Trump’s release of jailed Taliban fighters. In at least three TV appearances this week, he implied that the release, which the Trump administration authorized and forced through, actually took place more recently. America is in danger, he says, because “you just had 5,000 prisoners released. They know how to come here. They have a mission on their hands.”

Republicans had a chance last year to prove they were serious about imposing conditions on the Afghan pullout. Everything they’re now complaining about—coordination with allies, severance of the Taliban from al-Qaida, adequate preparation of the Afghan security forces, vetting of prisoners to be released—was in the Crow amendment and the vetoed defense bill. Lawmakers who were serious voted for the amendment and the bill. Those who didn’t, and who are now attacking Biden, are just opportunists.

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