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Democrats fight to unearth Afghanistan’s failures without hitting the White House

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“As usual, a lot of Democrats are choosing to play on the land that the Republicans have created, are choosing to fit into the narrative they’ve built – and I think that’s a mistake,” Senator Chris said. Murphy (D-Conn.), Among Team Biden’s most vocal defenders amid a sea of ​​bipartisan criticism. “There is no reason we are not ready to go on the offensive as to why we have arrived in the summer of 2021.”

While Congressional inquiries will initially focus on the Biden administration’s missteps, the Democrats who lead them have promised a broad look at the failures of officials who served in the previous administrations of both parties. This is how Democrats plan to avoid a GOP-led campaign to anchor Afghanistan’s collapse solely on Biden, who his allies say inherited a flawed diplomatic deal with the Taliban from the United States. former President Donald Trump who tied his hands.

Still, Democrats’ keen interest in investigating the U.S. troop withdrawal is a reflection of widespread bipartisan anger over the end of America’s longest war – and, for many, questions as to why it has. was extended when it became clear a long time ago that war was impossible to win.

The congressional surveillance machine – which has been relatively dormant since Trump left – is starting up for the first time under Biden’s presidency to tackle Afghanistan. Democrats are already wondering how to conduct investigations without blaming Biden on it, especially as Republicans focus on the issue to present the president and his party as incompetent ahead of next year’s midterm election. .

“What we are trying to do is take a careful, thorough and objective examination of what happened and learn from it,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed (DR.I .) in a brief interview.

When asked if this could become a headache for Biden, Reed joked, “Well, I hope not. It’s more just us who do our jobs.

Murphy, who chairs the Middle East subcommittee of the foreign relations panel and could therefore be tasked with leading part of the investigation, said “we can admit that an operation of this size does not go without errors.” but that Democrats should not allow the GOP to dictate the scope of probes.

“I’m afraid we fall into this trap created by Republicans trying to make the administration appear to have the capacity to handle a smooth and chaos-free evacuation,” Murphy said. “It was impossible.”

Yet Biden faces the brunt of criticism over how the United States left Afghanistan – including a frenzied and deadly evacuation operation that ultimately left hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghans vulnerable, which its detractors attribute to poor planning and intelligence failures.

The surveillance effort began in earnest this week when Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he vigorously defended the Biden administration against criticism bipartite regarding the withdrawal.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (DN.J.) did not spare Blinken, calling the withdrawal “clearly and fatally flawed” and even threatening to subpoena Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for refusing to appear before the panel.

Menendez said he would not hesitate to criticize Team Biden in part because its panel intends to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the failures of the US engagement in Afghanistan over the past two decades. However, he said he believed Biden’s decision-making might be “redeemed” in the end.

“What I see as surveillance goes beyond this administration. In this regard, I do not consider it to be a political responsibility [for Biden]”Menendez said in an interview this week.” From my perspective, the chips fall where they can as far as the whole process goes. “

Menendez, in his third term in the upper house after serving 13 years in the House, is not afraid to criticize members of his own party on foreign policy. He frustrated the Obama administration with its opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and detente with Cuba, for example, and his hawkish views largely influenced his criticism of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Menendez, however, supported Biden’s decision in April to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country.

“I think he feels [an] institutional responsibility… I don’t think he’s thinking about the politics of this one, ”Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committee member Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said of Menendez. “So I don’t have any advice for Democrats. I think we’re just trying to give an issue of importance the attention and attention it deserves.

Menendez is not alone. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Criticized the State Department for its “delay and inaction” and “inexcusable bureaucratic hassles” which have prevented the rapid evacuation of some American and Afghan allies from Afghanistan in recent years. days, especially from Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, where planes carrying evacuees were grounded.

He escalated that criticism this week, telling reporters that “we are undermining America’s reputation in the world, but more importantly, abandoning the essential honor and moral imperative by not doing more to evacuate American citizens. and the Afghan allies who put their lives in danger ”.

Blumenthal also said he just wanted to take the Biden administration to its word and suggested that politics within the party shouldn’t be a factor.

“We must speak the truth in power and hold the administration accountable for honoring its promises and commitments,” he said. “The president is committed to allowing Afghan allies and American citizens to evacuate Afghanistan, and all I’m doing is trying to raise awareness of this problem and show that we want to encourage it. administration to do the same. ”

The next few weeks could be a difficult time for Biden’s national security officials. Austin and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 28.

This means the Afghanistan surveillance effort will remain focused on the Biden administration’s missteps for now, even if Democratic committee leaders promise to remove the camera to examine previous administrations. Once underway, this work could involve testifying former Bush administration officials, Obama and Trump.

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