As the situation in Afghanistan worsened, amid the Taliban’s rapid takeover and subsequent U.S. evacuations, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle pointed fingers at the Biden Administration, the Trump Administration, and, in some cases, both the current and former president alike.
The speed by which fall of the Western-backed government in Afghanistan took place came as a surprise to many — Sunday saw Afghan president Ashraf Ghani flee the country as the Taliban took that capital city of Kabul, with President Joe Biden authorizing additional troops to help facilitate the “orderly and safe drawdown” of U.S. personnel and allies.
While many Republicans, including Congressional GOP leaders Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, issued scathing takedowns of the Biden Administration, some Republicans said that the previous administration also bears responsibility.
Rep. Liz Cheney, a staunch conservative and rare Republican critic of former President Donald Trump, told ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday that both the current and former tenants at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are responsible for the situation in Afghanistan, as does former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“I think absolutely President Biden bears responsibility for making this decision,” the Wyoming Republican said. “But there is no question that President Trump, his administration, Secretary Pompeo, they also bear very significant responsibility for this.”
Then-President Donald Trump signed a deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that limited direct military action against the insurgents. That allowed the fighters to gather strength and move quickly to seize key areas when President Joe Biden announced his plans to withdraw all American forces by the end of this month.
“They walked down this path of legitimizing the Taliban, of perpetuating this fantasy, telling the American people that the Taliban were a partner for peace,” Cheney continued. “President Trump told us that the Taliban was going to fight terror. Secretary Pompeo told us that the Taliban was going to renounce al-Qaida. None of that has happened. None of it has happened.”
In an interview with CBS News Monday, Cheney, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said that the Trump administration “never should have” negotiated with the Taliban.
“The Trump Administration, the agreement that was negotiated, Secretary Pompeo negotiated, actually was a surrender agreement,” Cheney said. “It was a document that had a date certain for our withdrawal, it committed to prisoner releases, and we were all told, the American people were told that the Taliban was gonna renounce al-Qaida.”
“So we had delegitimized the Afghan government, cut them out, negotiated with the Taliban, a terrorist organization, signed an agreement with them, we never should have done that.”
But she also blamed the Biden Administration, saying that the U.S. “never should have withdrawn forces” from Afghanistan.
“I think, ultimately, when you look at how we got to this point, certainly there is sufficient blame on both sides,” she said, calling the decision to withdraw one which “makes us less safe, and it’s gonna make the war longer.”
Trump officials negotiated a May 1 withdrawal deadline with the Taliban last year, but Biden extended that date — initially to Sept. 11, then revised it to Aug. 31.
Cheney’s sentiments were echoed by Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, who blasted the “unmitigated disaster in Afghanistan” as “the predictable outcome of the Trump-Biden doctrine of weakness” in a statement.
“History must be clear about this: American troops didn’t lose this war — Donald Trump and Joe Biden deliberately decided to lose,” Sen. Sasse wrote.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a Marine who served in Iraq, said that calling the situation in Afghanistan “anything short of a disaster would be dishonest” and called for an “immediate evacuation” of all allies that helped U.S. and NATO forces.
“While I am proud that a strong, bipartisan majority in Congress voted to expand the Special Immigrant Visa program in support of our Afghan friends, my worst fear has become realized: That ultimately this effort would distract from what is truly needed, an immediate evacuation,” he continued. “The fact that, at this hour, we have not even secured the civilian half of Kabul Airport is testament to our moral and operational failure. We need to rectify this immediately. America and our allies must drop the onerous visa requirements where a typo can condemn an ally to torture and death, and the military must continue the evacuation for as long as it takes.”
Moulton also noted that “we should also not forget that the tragedy that unfolds before us today was set in motion by Secretary Pompeo and President Trump, who negotiated in secret with the Taliban terrorists last year in order to meet a campaign promise.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham said that the takeover of Afghanistan “is a sad and dangerous event for U.S. national security interests and the world at large” and said that Biden “seems oblivious to the terrorist threats that will come from a Taliban-run Afghanistan.”
“It is only a matter of time until al-Qaeda reforms in Afghanistan and presents a threat to the American homeland and western world,” Graham wrote on Twitter Sunday.
Florida Rep. Michael Waltz, a Republican who served in Afghanistan as an Army Green Beret, told Spectrum News that while he had “real issues” with the deal that the Trump Administration negotiated in Afghanistan, the Biden Administration needs to “own” the situation in Afghanistan.
“This was an absolute failure and planning on the part of the Pentagon, the State Department, the administration,” Rep. Waltz told Spectrum News.
Democrats and White House officials, on the other hand, blamed Trump for handing Biden a tenuous situation, or the Afghan government for not being prepared for the U.S. to withdraw.
Massachusetts Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a Marine who served in Afghanistan, told MSNBC Monday that Biden “inherited a decision that was wrenching.”
“It was not status quo or withdrawal, it was ramp up American forces in Afghanistan to hold the Taliban at bay during the fighting season, or it was to finally end a failed forever war,” Auchincloss continued. “He made the high integrity decision that he was not going to hand off this boondoggle to yet another administration, and what we are seeing now is that, truly, there was no political leadership in Afghanistan with whom he could work, and a counterinsurgency requires a political, not a military solution.”
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan defended the Biden Administration’s decision to withdraw on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Monday.
“We went to Afghanistan for one reason, which was to get the people who attacked us on 9/11,” Sullivan said. “A decade ago we got Osama Bin Laden. We degraded al-Qaida. We stopped terrorist attacks against the United States from Afghanistan for 20 years.”
“But what the president was not prepared to do was enter a third decade of conflict, flowing in thousands more troops, which was his only other choice, to fight in the middle of a civil war that the Afghan army wouldn’t fight for himself — he would not do that to America’s men and women or their families, and that is why he made the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan,” he continued.
For their parts, both Biden and Trump, as well of members of their respective administrations, have pointed fingers at one another.
In a statement released Saturday, Biden said that he “inherited a deal cut by” Trump, blaming him for leaving the Taliban “in the strongest position militarily since 2001” and drawing “U.S. Forces down to a bare minimum of 2,500.”
“Therefore, when I became President, I faced a choice—follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our Forces and our allies’ Forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict,” Biden wrote. “I was the fourth President to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan—two Republicans, two Democrats. I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”
Trump, on the other hand, called for Biden to “resign in disgrace” in a statement. Pompeo called Biden’s attempt to blame the Trump Administration “pathetic.”
“I wouldn’t have let my 10-year-old son get away from this kind of pathetic blame-shifting,” Pompeo said on Fox News on Sunday. “He should be less focused on trying to blame this on someone else than to solving the problem of making sure that we protect and defend American security.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.