Joe Biden’s speech on Monday clearly didn’t solve any of his problems — not in Kabul and not in Washington DC. Unmoved by Biden’s finger-pointing, even his own party’s leadership wants some answers for the debacle of Biden’s Afghanistan bug-out. Late yesterday, Senate Democrat Bob Menendez issued a “blister[ing]” condemnation of the catastrophe and promised a full-scale investigation into how it came about:
Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on Tuesday blistered President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and pledged to investigate the administration’s “policy execution and intelligence failures.”
In a scathing statement, warning that the nation’s “reputation is on the line,” Mr. Menendez said he would “seek a full accounting” of how the Biden administration failed to grasp the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal.
“Congress was told repeatedly that the Afghan Defense and Security Forces were up to the task, that it had the troops, equipment and willingness to fight,” Mr. Menendez said. “To see this army dissolve so quickly after billions of dollars in U.S. support is astounding. The American and Afghan people clearly have not been told the truth.”
Menendez isn’t exactly a moral force in the US Senate, but he’s certainly one of the Democrats’ leadership class in DC. He’s also somewhat on the hawkish side of the spectrum, at least in relation to the rest of the Democratic caucus, which is how Menendez ended up as chair of the SFRC. Even so, one could imagine this turning into an attempt to soften the eventual truth about Biden’s bungling, except that another quasi-hawk among Democrats wants to run a parallel investigation into the humiliating bumbling too:
Mr. Menendez’s vow to hold a president of his own party to account — with the gavel Mr. Biden used to wield in the Foreign Relations Committee — could prove a major headache for administration officials. And it came after other Democratic congressional leaders, including Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said they would also seek answers on what went wrong.
Warner will likely have plenty of material, should it turn out that he really wants to hold Biden accountable. Let’s not forget that congressional investigations can be used to punish, and they can be used to forestall punishment until people tire of a scandal. (Menendez knows something about that strategy from personal experience.) In this case, however, the intelligence community is outraged over the situation and even more angry over Team Biden’s attempts to blame them for the disaster that practically everyone could have predicted.
They’re already leaking like a sieve to the press:
You saw this one coming: The more talk of an intelligence failure, the more likely that intel world would strike back. Sure enough, we now have a spate of leaks asserting that the intelligence agencies provided prescient reads on Afghanistan.
Driving the news: “Classified assessments by American spy agencies over the summer painted an increasingly grim picture of the prospect of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and warned of the rapid collapse of the Afghan military,” The New York Times reports (subscription).
- The front-page headline: “Contradicting Biden, Reports Warned of Rapid Collapse.”
- “By July,” The Times adds, “many intelligence reports grew more pessimistic, questioning whether any Afghan security forces would muster serious resistance and whether the government could hold on in Kabul, the capital.”
There’s blood in the water in DC now, and the sharks are starting to circle the White House. Normally a president would get some protection from his party in that situation, but Biden’s incompetence and perhaps even more so his speech has apparently left him with few allies, The Hill reports today:
Some Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), have rallied to Biden’s side and circulated White House talking points to their members. Pelosi also urged Democrats during a conference call to stand behind Biden, according to a source familiar with the conversation.
But the quick fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, images of chaos coming out of Kabul and questions about how, and how quickly, Americans and tens of thousands of Afghan allies and their families will get evacuated have merged into broad, bipartisan frustration between the two sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. …
Other Democrats stopped short of criticizing Biden directly but broke with his handling of the exit strategy.
Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, said that while the U.S. military shouldn’t have stayed “indefinitely,” the drawdown “should have been carefully planned to prevent violence and instability, and to ensure that the hard-fought progress gained over the past two decades—particularly when it comes to Afghan women and girls—would not be lost.”
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), who is up for reelection next year, added that “the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan reveals a failure to prepare for a scenario where the Afghan government and military would refuse to fight the Taliban’s advances when put to the test.”
Kelly’s departure is predictable, considering Arizona’s military-friendly electorate and barely-purple status. Carper has no such considerations in Biden’s home state of Delaware. If Carper feels the need to peel away from Biden in the Blue Hen State, then Biden’s in serious trouble, and so are Democrats already facing tough midterm challenges with Biden at the helm … such as Mark Kelly.
At the moment, the White House strategy appears to be to hunker down and hope all of the bad images from Kabul go away. Perhaps that could have worked before the era of the smart phone, but technology — even in Afghanistan — pretty much guarantees that the bad images will never go away, and likely will never stop coming. The abandonment of Afghan allies is a stain that will never wash, and a stink on Biden and his administration that will never entirely fade. Even his fellow Democrats are getting repelled by the stench.
Update: Is Pelosi feeling the pressure now too? Hmmmmm:
Speaker Pelosi, when asked about a congressional investigation into the Afghanistan withdrawal, said the House Foreign Affairs committee will hold a hearing next week https://t.co/DucfamYB5n
— Natalie Brand (@NatalieABrand) August 18, 2021
I’d bet that Pelosi has a stall more in mind than anything that might “blister” Biden. Just opening a can of worms like this entails a lot of risk, though, especially when Senate committees are covering the same ground and might end up embarrassing anyone attempting diversionary tactics in the House. Pelosi knows that well enough, which makes this a rather interesting move.