How two congressmen snuck into (and out of) Kabul

(AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

The Biden administration was “furious” to learn that two members of Congress made an unannounced flight into the Kabul airport yesterday, flying out after touring the chaotic scene. The bipartisan duo, Democrat Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Republican Peter Meijer of Michigan, were in the country for a few hours speaking with military and civilian participants in the ongoing evacuation. This unscheduled trip apparently angered both the White House and the State Department, who claimed that they had to scramble to provide security for them, diverting resources from the ongoing effort. Both men are veterans who have fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. The pair said that the trip was part of their obligation to provide oversight of the executive branch and they were there to gather information, not “grandstand.” (Associated Press)

Two members of Congress flew unannounced into Kabul airport in the middle of the ongoing chaotic evacuation Tuesday, stunning State Department and U.S. military personnel who had to divert resources to provide security and information to the lawmakers, U.S. officials said.

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., flew in and out on charter aircraft and were on the ground at the Kabul airport for several hours. That led officials to complain that they could be taking seats that would have otherwise gone to other Americans or Afghans fleeing the country, but the congressmen said in a joint statement that they made sure to leave on a flight with empty seats.

“As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch,’” the two said in their statement. “We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand.”

While the desire for members of Congress to get a look at this unfolding disaster firsthand is understandable, so is some of the criticism being leveled at them. A trip like this really should have been scheduled in advance and in consultation with the executive branch. Obviously, they had to have security assigned to keep them safe and we don’t exactly have people to spare at the moment.

As to the claim that they were taking up seats that could have been used by Americans and allies trying to get out of the country, the two congressmen countered that they took charter flights in both directions and ensured that they flew back out on a flight that had empty seats. On the one hand, it’s true that they didn’t take up space on any of the military transport flights. But at the same time, if there are any planes taking off from Kabul that don’t have every seat filled by someone looking to escape from behind enemy lines, something is going seriously wrong. We need to maximize the outflow of personnel as much as is physically possible.

Part of me suspects that the “outrage” coming from the White House and the State Department has less to do with any disruption of the evacuation than the possibility of further losing control of the narrative. Virtually nobody is happy with the way this drawdown is playing out, including many members of Joe Biden’s own party. The last thing he needs is to have elected officials crashing the party and coming back to report that the entire thing is still a rolling disaster.

Perhaps Moulton and Meijer will have more to say later today, but they didn’t issue any sort of formal report on their visit after they returned. They’re both on the Armed Services Committee, so perhaps the intent was to report back to that body before talking to the public? Either way, there doesn’t seem to have been any significant harm done by having them inspect the ongoing process. It would also be useful to hear from somebody outside of Joe Biden’s team in terms of how things are going. Biden continues to insist that everything is on track and his plan was the only way to handle the drawdown. From what I’ve been able to discern, he is very much in the minority with that opinion.

How are we supposed to know if we’ve gotten everyone out by August 31 when the government can’t even tell us how many Americans are still in the country? And that doesn’t begin to account for the number of translators and other Afghan helpers who will be killed if they don’t escape. There won’t be many people left to do the counting once we pull the last of the troops out.