Afghanistan blame game
By: Alex Thompson and Tina Sfondeles (POLITICO)
The biggest problem that Joe Biden is addressing, at the moment, is that the political narrative can't get ahead of events on the ground. Any political spin is already obsolete before it can be released because of the next photo and breathless angst of news reporters on the ground. No doubt heads will roll within the Biden administration as CYA after the fact.
All the political finger pointing hides the ultimate failure of Afghanistan. The rapid collapse of Afghanistan is a clear, unequivocal, and tangible demonstration that providing training, tools, opportunity, and support doesn't change anything.
While political Washington (and NATO, the United Nations, and European coalition members) wave hands, tear hair, rend clothing, and point fingers searching for scapegoats, the ultimate failure rests entirely upon the underlying methodology for reconstructing Afghanistan. The United States attempted to apply an Affirmative Action model to Afghanistan by providing training, tools, opportunity, and benevolent support. And that Affirmative Action model failed miserably as the chaos in Afghanistan clearly demonstrates.
Afghanistan provides lessons that can guide our domestic policy, too. We should be asking questions about the merits of Affirmative Action methods since that model proved of little value in Afghanistan. Afghans simply began jumping off the gravy train at the first sign of trouble. The Affirmative Action approach changed nothing in Afghanistan. Why should we believe that approach will work in the United States?
So it’s not a surprise that there’s already quiet finger-pointing within and without the Biden administration for the humanitarian mess in Afghanistan, which is violently playing out as people swarm the Kabul airport trying to evacuate.
With Joe Biden acknowledging today the process has been “gut-wrenching” and “far from perfect,” there are index fingers aimed in all directions. Some point at the White House’s National Security Council (NSC) for not taking more control of the interagency process. Others look at the White House, suggesting they were wary of right-wing attacks if they allowed a rush of Afghan refugees into the country which then forced the U.S. government to plead with other countries to house Afghan visa applicants.
The administration is quick to point out that Congress didn’t amend the statutes governing the special immigrant visa (SIV) process, which further slowed things down. The State Department is drawing ire for delays in issuing the visas to Afghans who helped the U.S. The intelligence community and the military are getting heat for not anticipating the imminent fall of Kabul.
As POLITICO’s Alex Ward pointed out today, there are plenty of people to blame from the past twenty years too.
No heads have rolled yet inside the administration, but there is now increased scrutiny on the officials in the administration who have been overseeing Afghanistan.
Russ Travers, the lead on “vulnerable Afghans” at the National Security Council, was tasked with coordinating the inter-agency process on SIV’s. There’s also his boss, Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall, who covers embassy security. A NSC spokesperson said the president still has confidence in Travers, Sherwood-Randall, and his team.
Many others have their index fingers aimed at the State Department, particularly Afghanistan Task Force Director Ambassador Tracey Jacobson. “She obviously did a heck of a job,” sniped one colleague. “She has a lot of questions to answer.” The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Others in the administration say that the White House let political fear of GOP attacks make them act too cautiously on relocating Afghans to the U.S.
As one administration official put it: “It’s like they want the credit from liberals for ending the Trump cruelty to immigrants and refugees but they also don’t want the political backlash that comes from actual refugees arriving in America in any sort of large numbers.”