Democratic Representative Seth Moulton and Republican Representative Peter Meijer found a way to get to Kabul International Airport in the past few days. According to the two congressmen, they visited in secret – and against U.S. government restrictions – to reduce risks and impact on the mission.
And they came back with a somewhat surprising conclusion – that as much as they wanted the U.S. to leave the country on its own terms, and disregard any Taliban-imposed deadlines, the best and safest option appears to be maximizing cooperation with the Taliban, at least for now.
Washington should be ashamed of the position we put our service members in, but they represent the best in America. These men and women have been run ragged and are still running strong. Their empathy and dedication to duty are truly inspiring.
We came into this visit wanting, like most veterans, to push the president to extend the August 31st deadline. After talking with commanders on the ground and seeing the situation here, it is obvious that because we started the evacuation so late, that no matter what we do, we won’t get everyone out on time, even by September 11. Sadly and frustratingly, getting our people out depends on maintaining the current, bizarre relationship with the Taliban.
The congressmen said they departed Kabul “in a plane that was not full, in a seat designated for crew so that we didn’t take a seat from someone else.”
I can’t bring myself to completely cheer the two congressmen; they did disregard restrictions imposed for safety, and their presence had to have disrupted the regular operations of U.S. personnel, at least a little bit. It’s good that the two men tried to minimize how their visit would impact the ongoing evacuation work, but there’s just no way that two members of Congress can go to the middle of the tensest and arguably most treacherous spot in the world and not tie up some U.S. resources.
But it appears the congressmen went with the right motives and best intentions. They wanted to see the situation at the airport for themselves, to make sure the administration wasn’t spinning them with happy talk. Congressional oversight of the executive branch doesn’t occur only when the president, Pentagon, or State Department find it convenient. Americans have a lot of people who have earned their ire in recent days, but I don’t think these two men belong anywhere near the top of the list.
I find Phil Mudd’s furious full-throated denunciation of the two congressmen on CNN this morning off-base and bizarrely over-the-top. Mudd, the former deputy director of the CIA’s National Counterterrorism Center, called the congressmen “reprehensible… they want to bypass Disneyland and take an Instagram trip to Afghanistan because they want some eye candy for a bunch of constituents?” Mudd asserts, without evidence and despite the account of the congressmen, that two Afghans will be left behind because of Moulton and Meijer. “What happens to the two refugees who didn’t get those seats?”
It’s a similar complaint from some unnamed senior administration official in the Washington Post:
“It’s as moronic as it is selfish,” said a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to provide a frank assessment of their trip. “They’re taking seats away from Americans and at-risk Afghans — while putting our diplomats and service members at greater risk — so they can have a moment in front of the cameras.”
But the congressmen didn’t take seats away from Americans and at-risk Afghans, it’s hard to see how their presence put our diplomats and service members at greater risk – everybody’s at really high risk already! – and the two congressmen weren’t in front of the cameras in Kabul.
And no Speaker of the House who met with Bashir Assad during the Iraq War, over objections from the administration, should be giving these guys any grief about checking out the U.S. evacuation effort. (Also note that Mike Thompson is still in Congress; he’s one of the “Baghdad Three” who traveled to Iraq right before the start of the war on a trip financed by the Iraqi intelligence agency.)
The situation in Afghanistan is a colossal disaster, and it feels an awful lot like a lot of people who don’t want the administration to be blamed are doing everything they can to refocus the country’s ire on two members of Congress who went over there to see how bad it was with their own eyes.