New Jersey’s Bob Menendez isn’t giving President Joe Biden a pass on the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan just because they’re both Democrats.
As chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez made that clear this morning when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared before his committee.
“Mr. Secretary, the execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,” said Menendez, who demanded a full explanation on the events in Afghanistan since Biden took office in January. “There has to be accountability.”
Menendez attached blame for the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan not just on Biden, but on two decades worth of American presidents.
“The diversion of attention and resources when the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq despite its irrelevance to the 9/11 attacks. The double dealing by Pakistan in providing a safe haven to the Taliban. The list goes on,” he said. “We need to understand why successive administrations made so many of the same mistakes repeatedly. Perhaps most urgently, we need to understand why the Afghan government and military collapsed so precipitously.”
The biggest blame goes to Donald Trump, Menendez said.
“The chaos of last August is due in large part to the February 2020 surrender deal negotiated by Donald Trump, a deal that was clearly built on a set of lies,” stated Menendez. “A deal that led to the release of 5,000 hardened Taliban fighters, boosting the militant group on the battlefield this summer.”
Menendez voted to confirm Blinken, but he’s butted heads with him before. When Barack Obama was president, they were on different sides on U.S.-Cuba relations and the Iran nuclear deal.
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, pushed Blinken on Monday to to say if Biden asked Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to be untruthful about the success of the Taliban.
Blinken refused to comment on leaked transcripts.
Smith also challenged Blinken’s claim that the Administration encouraged US citizens to leave Afghanistan.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was also asked to appear before Menendez’s committee today but declined. Menendez called that “disappointing.”
“A full accounting of the U.S. response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon – especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the U.S. trained and funded Afghan military,” Menendez said. “I expect that the Secretary will avail himself to the Committee in the near future. If he does not, I may consider the use of the Committee’s subpoena power to compel him and others over the course of these last twenty years to testify.”
Menendez made it clear that his vote to confirm several Biden nominees to Pentagon posts might be affected by Austin’s level of cooperation.
Still, Menendez praised Blinken for sending a message that the “world bear witness and take action when possible in response to Taliban abuses” during his recent visits to Germany and Qatar.
He urged the Biden Administration to “strengthen its resolve and efforts to secure the relocation of our civil society partners, now at grave risk, who were left behind in Afghanistan.”