A group of veteran foreign policy and military hands said unanimously on Tuesday that President Biden has not accepted responsibility for his administration’s troubled withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Former State Department Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, longtime diplomat and former Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute, and former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster all faulted Mr. Biden’s handling of the Afghan endgame in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Questioned by Rep. Brian Mast, Florida Republican, Mr. Armitage said the president has not owned up to the mistakes that ended a 20-year combat mission and left the Taliban insurgents in charge in Kabul.
“I think he’s acknowledged his rather valiant decision to get out, which took some courage,” Mr. Armitage, who served under President George W. Bush, said. “But the total evacuation was totally mishandled and I don’t think many people have owned up to that yet.”
Mr. Lute noted that Mr. Biden “has said a couple of times, ‘The buck stops here.’ But it’s not clear what happens to the buck after it stops with the president. So, I haven’t seen the sort of corrective action that would indicate good moves.”
Top administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, have already been grilled on Capitol Hill as lawmakers analyze the policies which led to the humiliating U.S. and allied withdrawal in August.
Lawmakers’ questioning and takeaways from the hearings largely broke down among party lines, with Republicans highly critical of the key decisions under the Biden administration leading up to the withdrawal and Democrats insisting that the failure of the two-decade war was a result of misguided policy throughout multiple administrations.
Mr. McMaster in his prepared testimony for Tuesday’s hearing was highly critical of the February 2020 Doha withdrawal agreement with the Taliban and put significant blame on the Trump’s administration for the fall of the U.S.-backed Kabul government and the chaotic and hasty U.S. troop withdrawal this summer.
“We must stop pretending that our surrender to the Taliban in February 2020 and subsequent concessions to that terrorist organization — which strengthened our enemies and weakened our Afghan allies — were not the principal reasons for a lost war and its consequences,” said Mr. McMaster, who served barely more than a year as President Trump’s top security aide before resigning under pressure in April 2018.
Mr. Biden has argued the Trump deal with the Taliban tied his hands to a full, time-based withdrawal from Afghanistan, though some have questioned Mr. Biden’s decision to continue the previous administration’s policy while reversing many others. Mr. Trump said his agreement was based on the Taliban insurgency agreeing to a number of conditions and that a full withdrawal would not have occurred without the Taliban meeting their end of the bargain.
Mr. McMaster said the bilateral deal left the U.S.-backed Afghan government without a seat at the table, resulting in a significant blow to Afghan resolve in the face of the Taliban offensive this year.
“The psychological blows we delivered to our Afghan allies included negotiating with the Taliban without the Afghan government, not insisting on a cease-fire, forcing the Afghan government to release 5,000 terrorists and criminals, curtailing intelligence support, ending active pursuit of the Taliban, withdrawing all U.S. aircraft from the country, and terminating contractor support for Afghan security forces,” the retired general argued in his prepared remarks.
Mr. McMaster has publicly parted with his former boss on several issues. His high-profile resignation came amid reported disputes with Mr. Trump and other senior administration officials.
But at the same time, Mr. McMaster said Mr. Biden shared the responsibility for the decision to continue with the policy and for his handling of the withdrawal.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a disconnect between what our leaders tell us about what was happening in Afghanistan during this crisis, and what was actually happening on the ground,” Mr. McMaster said of Mr. Biden’s handling of the withdrawal. “And I think the hypocrisy has reached kind of unprecedented levels.”
The remarks signal a lasting discontent with Mr. Biden’s handling of the withdrawal as members of Congress continue to push for accountability.
Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rick Scott of Florida introduced legislation Tuesday to create a Joint Select Committee on Afghanistan composed of 12 members from both the House and Senate, which the lawmakers say would be modeled after the congressional inquiry into the Iran-Contra affair. The sponsors say the commission is needed because the administration continues to “obscure the facts” surrounding the withdrawal.
“Last month, President Biden’s misguided and dangerous decisions in his botched withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan led to the United States’ most stunning, unforced and humiliating defeat in decades,” Mr. Scott said.