For the second day, Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday to face questions by lawmakers over the disastrous U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
To the shock of many, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., was very critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the “fatally flawed” evacuation that resulted in 13 U.S. service members killed, hundreds of Americans left behind, along with more than $85 billion of military equipment and weapons.
“The execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,” the committee chair said in his opening words. “This committee expects to receive a full explanation of the administration’s decisions on Afghanistan since coming into office last January. There has to be accountability.”
Menendez spoke about the “double-dealing by Pakistan in providing a safe haven to the Taliban,” but blamed the quick collapse of the Afghan government and military on previous administrations.
“We need to understand why successive administrations made so many of the same mistakes repeatedly,” he said. “Perhaps most urgently, we need to understand why the Afghan government and military collapsed so precipitously. This rapid collapse laid bare a fundamental fact – that successive administrations lied to the Congress over the years about the durability of Afghan military and governing institutions. And we need to understand why.”
And while he seemed to be critical of the current administration, Menendez laid the blame for the Afghan debacle squarely on the shoulders of former President Donald Trump and his administration, misrepresenting the conditions based deal that they had struck with the Taliban — the irony being that the Democrat ignored President Biden’s actual surrender to call the Trump agreement a “surrender deal.”
“The chaos of last August is due in large part to the February 2020 surrender deal negotiated by President Trump,” Menendez said. “A deal that was clearly built on a set of lies.”
He stressed that he supported the decision to eventually withdraw from Afghanistan, but stressed how the U.S. left mattered.
“Doing the right thing in the wrong way can end up being the wrong thing,” said the lawmaker.
“And to get this right, the Biden administration needed to answer two fundamental questions. First, would the withdrawal leave a durable political arrangement in its wake; second would the U.S. and our allies maintain an ability to collect intelligence and conduct counter-terrorism operations in a region still rife with groups, including ISIS-K, seeking to do us harm.”
Answering those two points, Menendez said the U.S. “clearly fell short on the first measure,” and that the “prospects don’t look promising” on the second.
Menendez expressed his displeasure in Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin choosing to not attend the hearing, effectively threatening to subpoena Austin if he doesn’t agree to testify “in the near future.”
“A full accounting to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon — especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the U.S.-trained and funded Afghan military,” he said. “His decision not to appear before the committee will affect my personal judgment on Department of Defense nominees. I expect the secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future and if he does not, I may consider the use of committee subpoena power to compel him and others from the last 20 years to testify.”
Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, expressed concern at the hearing about the administration seeking to normalize relations with the Taliban — which he said was “one of the best-armed terrorist organizations on the planet” — calling plans to restart humanitarian aid as “deeply, deeply concerning,” Reuters reported.
“There is not enough lipstick in the world to put on this pig to make it look any different than what it actually is,” Risch said.
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