Congress' Afghanistan Oversight Marred By Politics – Defense One

Congress’ Afghanistan Oversight Marred By Politics – Defense One

In Congress’ first oversight hearing on America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, lawmakers focused on political mudslinging and blaming the other party instead of asking legitimate questions about the chaotic evacuation effort and the security of the country.  The House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing is just the latest incidence of Democrats attempting to spread blame for Afghanistan among the four bipartisan administrations that oversaw the war, while Republicans sought to pin the failure squarely on President Joe Biden.   “Once again, we are seeing domestic politics injected into foreign policy,” Chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., lamented in his opening statement, ahead of testimony by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.   Democrats defended Biden, saying President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban left the president with only two options: to withdraw all troops or drastically increase the military footprint. Republicans, however, lambasted the administration for “the worst foreign affairs disaster in American history,” including the quick rise of the Taliban and the evacuation effort that has left about 100 Americans still stuck in Afghanistan.  Lawmakers made no attempts to hide their frustration.  “Thank you for your patience for putting up with the antics of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle,” Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., told Blinken.  The hearing is expected to be the first in a series. Meeks said the panel will hear from Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden administration officials to conduct thorough oversight of how the war effort went wrong over two decades.  In one contentious exchange, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., grilled Blinken on whether Afghan translators who move to the United States are being properly vetted and vaccinated against COVID-19 before being resettled in America, as well as whether any humanitarian aid is sent to the Taliban. He then asked Blinken if he was interviewed by the FBI and whether the State Department gave the FBI documents on Hunter Biden’s ties to Ukrainian gas company Burisma.  “The secretary generally refuses to answer questions about Afghanistan, so I just figured we’d talk about something he should be intimately familiar with,” Perry said when Meeks interrupted to remind him that the topic of the hearing was Afghanistan.  Perry also slammed Blinken for appearing at the hearing via video. Meeks said that because it was a hybrid hearing, everyone, including lawmakers and the witness, had the option to appear virtually.  In another tense exchange, Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., refused to let Blinken respond to his remarks on the intelligence on Afghanistan falling to the Taliban. When Blinken started to answer, Mast repeatedly talked over the secretary, saying, “I do not wish to hear from you. I’m not yielding you a moment of time…I don’t wish to hear your lies.” After Meeks intervened to allow Blinken to speak, Mast continued to talk over the chairman.  Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who famously shouted “you lie” at President Barack Obama during the State of the Union in 2009, used the vast majority of the five minutes he was allotted to speak at the hearing to read a list of Biden’s alleged lies on Afghanistan from a New York Post opinion story, before telling Blinken that he should resign. Multiple other Republican lawmakers also called on Blinken to step down from his post. Wilson ended his time without allowing Blinken to respond. When Meeks asked the secretary if he wanted to say anything in the 43 seconds remaining, Blinken focused on part of Wilson’s speech that praised foreign service officers.   “Let me simply thank the member for his support of the men and women of the State Department. I appreciated that part of his statement,” Blinken said.  Democrats also took very political stances during the hearing. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., fired back at Wilson, saying, “If I were the member of Congress who committed one of the most grievous acts in a State of the Union address when the president of the United States Mr. Obama was our guest, to shout out, ‘you lie,’ I might take more care about enumerating other alleged lies in a hearing with the secretary of State.” Connolly used his time to ask Blinken about the long history of Afghan instability, including past coups, the Soviet invasion and withdrawal, and the rise of the Taliban to make the point that Biden was not solely at fault for the chaos in the country.  “What we’re listening to on the other side of the aisle sadly is sort of a salad mix of selective facts and a lot of amnesia in the salad dressing. The history of instability in Afghanistan didn’t begin on August 14 of this year, did it?” Connolly said. After defending Biden, he also got a jab in at Republicans.  “I know that we want to give ourselves…the pleasure of attacking a political leader of the other party, so let me engage in that too,” he said, before saying he believes the disastrous U.S. withdrawal had a “direct antecedent” in President Donald Trump’s decision to meet with the Taliban. 
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