Republicans Escalate Attacks on Biden for ‘Continuing’ Failures in Afghanistan
September 9, 2022
President Joe Biden remains on the defensive over the administration’s handling of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, more than a week after the exit’s one-year anniversary, as Republican rivals sharpen their knives seeing an issue ripe for exploitation ahead of the midterm elections.
With control of Congress hanging in the balance in November and a real likelihood that the party of Lincoln could steal both chambers from the Democrats, Republicans are looking to keep Afghanistan on top of everyone’s radar, especially considering Biden has yet to recover from the blow he took last August in the polls amid the botched withdrawal.
Republican lawmakers have relentlessly pummeled Biden with respect to every aspect of what they characterize as a fiasco born of weakness – from the decision to leave Afghanistan to its execution and immediate aftermath. But the criticism does not stop there in terms of timeline: Republicans are also alleging that Biden’s approach to Afghanistan is an ongoing failure.
“Even now, a year after the president’s orders were carried out, the Biden administration continues to shirk accountability and responsibility,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech on the chamber floor on Thursday. “The fact that over a year later, the Administration still cannot really account for who they brought into our country, while both Americans and vulnerable Afghan partners still remain in Afghanistan as we speak, is not a success. It is a failure.”
The minority leader’s comments come just a day after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general in a report alleged that the U.S. border patrol agency admitted Afghan evacuees into the United States “who were not fully vetted.”
“DHS paroled at least two individuals into the United States who posed a risk to national security and the safety of local communities and may have admitted or paroled more individuals of concern,” the highly-redacted report, released on Wednesday, said.
The findings, if true, contrast sharply with administration avowals. On September 1, 2021, one day after the official exit date, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters: “I can absolutely assure you that no one is coming into the United States of America who has not been through a thorough screening and background check process.”
One year later, another Biden administration spokesperson was found conducting damage control over the same issue. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, when pressed on the report, denied the accusations, arguing that the inspector general failed to take into account that the vetting process was a multi-agency effort.
During his floor speech, McConnell also tried to counter Biden taking credit for the recent airstrike that killed al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. On the contrary, the Republican leader said, “just as was predicted,” the strike proves Afghanistan is again a haven for terrorists.
“The strike was a success, but the underlying fact that President Biden’s policies led this top terrorist to set up shop with impunity right in downtown Kabul is a colossal failure,” McConnel said.
Al-Qaeda, he warned, is now rebuilding in Afghanistan under the patronage of the Taliban and the Haqqanis.
“The fact that a terrorist kingpin felt comfortable in Kabul just months after America’s withdrawal is a damning condemnation of the Biden administration’s unjustified confidence that the Taliban could be trusted not to lay out the welcome mat for our most consequential terrorist enemies,” McConnell said.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s watchdog said it will open a probe into the Defense Department’s role in the evacuation after two Republican lawmakers, citing a whistleblower, alleged that the Biden administration allowed suspected terrorists into the country.
In a letter last month, Senators Josh Hawley and Ron Johnson said they were told by a whistleblower that 324 of the evacuees from Afghanistan that entered the United States were on the Defense Department’s Biometrically Enabled Watchlist (BEWL).
Although there is no doubt most of this criticism is well-deserved, it also seems clear the Republicans care more about hurting Biden politically than they do about what is happening in Afghanistan. If they genuinely did care about Afghanistan, one would expect to hear alternative solutions to the crisis as opposed to simply berating Biden for broken policies.
Then again, for politicians, this is all just par for the course. That said, even as a political strategy the onslaught will only work if voters have Afghanistan forefront of mind as they cast ballots in local elections on November 8. There is also a risk that voters will not make every member of Biden’s party responsible for his mistakes. The Republicans will see more dividends if they are able to keep Afghanistan a hot issue as the 2024 presidential campaign heats up.
In short, Afghanistan will be invoked for the purposes of political fodder, but do not expect to hear any serious dialogue about the country’s collapsed economy, record poverty, mass oppression, and/or ongoing civil war.