‘Benghazi multiplied by 10’: Afghanistan becomes a rallying cry for Republicans

The hostile question from the Republicans stressed that while the United States’ longest war is now over, the battle for the 2022 midterm period has just begun. Afghanistan has become a top issue in conservative media and a rallying cry for Republican candidates eager to turn the demoralizing exit into a referendum on Biden as his polls fall. And if the Pentagon’s reputation is being harmed in the process, then so be it.

“It is not about Afghanistan. It’s about incompetence, “said Curt Anderson, a GOP strategist who advises senators like Missouri’s Josh Hawley and Florida’s Rick Scott, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

“Democrats and some people in the press are selling this idea that this will go away,” Anderson said. “But it’s a joke, the idea of, ‘oh, this happened. The commander-in-chief and everyone under him is completely incompetent, and the voters forget that.’ What? Under what rock are you hiding?”

Democrats, however, point to opinion polls showing domestic issues are more important to voters who supported withdrawal from Afghanistan – even though they felt it should have been handled better. They also argue that Republicans are hypocritical when they blame Biden for ending an occupation begun by a Republican president, George W. Bush, and for continuing the withdrawal that predecessor Donald Trump had made months before.

It was Trump, the Democrats also note, who appointed Milley as chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the first place. Milley earned the wrath of the left when he participated in a controversial photo shoot with Trump in the summer of 2020 after protesters were cleared out of a park near the White House. When Milley later said he was inadvertently used as a prop, Trump and the right turned against the general.

But Biden persisted in Milley, and the attacks from the right were intensified in a congressional hearing in June, where he parried a question of critical race theory with a long, viral-clear monologue about the military’s need to better understand all theories, and pushed back against GOP criticism of the fact that the armed forces had become too “awake”.

The two issues – the war in Afghanistan and the culture war in the home – collided on Wednesday when Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) attacked Milley for both incidents, as well as for admitting that he was a source of at least three recent books, portraying Trump as an erratic and dangerous leader who pondered the wrongful use of the military to mix in the 2020 election, which he lost.

“Perhaps we would not have had 13 members and hundreds of Afghans killed and service members wounded and citizens abandoned if you had been focused on duty to this country instead of going after the Biden administration’s vigilant social experiment with the US military, low book interviews and collaboration with officials, ā€¯Jackson said, urging Milley to resign.

After an annoyed sigh, Milley replied, “I serve for the pleasure of the President, Mr. Jackson.”

The day before, in a hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Hawley (R-Mo.) Named the new book “Peril” by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, claiming that participation in the effort had “distracted” the general from the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.

“General, I think you should resign,” Hawley said.

In another heated exchange, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) Accused Milley of leaking “private conversations with the president” to Woodward and other writers – a claim that Milley rejected, without success.

“I think what you did to have time to talk to these writers, polish your image, build it blisters, but then not focus on Afghanistan … is disappointing for people who have served with you or under you, under your command, and it does not serve our nation well, “said Blackburn.

Biden has made it clear that he is behind Milley, saying earlier this month that he has “great confidence” in the general after the Woodward revelations first came to light. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also defended Pentagon leaders for their approach to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“They gave their advice as they should, and then they implemented the president’s decision,” she said.

During the hearings, Democrats defended Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and the military’s evacuation efforts, which flew 120,000 Afghan allies and US citizens out of Kabul after the Taliban took power. On Wednesday, Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) Applauded the Pentagon for constructing “the largest human airlift in history,” saying the stay in Afghanistan was not worth the price the United States would pay in money and life.

The day before, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), A fierce critic of the military-industrial complex, stressed how the failure in Afghanistan can be traced back 20 years. She accused Republicans of double-talking, noting that they were “far less interested in this topic” during the Trump administration, “as the Afghan government and the Afghan army hit one failure after another.”

“The Republicans’ sudden interest in Afghanistan is ordinary old politics,” she said.

With the Democrats in defense of Milley and Biden, the rep barred. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) Milley with leading questions and scored the general for his earlier assessment that the Taliban would not be able to readily defeat the Afghan military.

“You really interrupted that call, did not you, General?” said Gaetz.

He also accused the president of spending more time on talks with Woodward than “analyzing the very likely prospect that the Afghan government would immediately fall to the Taliban.” Gaetz emphasized his point by waving a copy of the book.

“If we did not have a president who was so fascinated, you would all be fired,” Gaetz told the panel, “because that’s what you deserve.”

Milley defended strongly during both hearings, anticipating lawmakers’ questions about the Woodward book by directly addressing them in his opening statement. He said his two phone calls to General Li Zuocheng during the tumultuous months of the Trump administration were aimed at reassuring the Chinese that the United States would not launch an attack.

The first call in October was made at the instigation of then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper; the second, a few days before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, was carried out at the request of the Chinese and coordinated with then-Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, Milley said.

The general stressed that the calls were part of his general duties to “conflict with military action, manage crisis and prevent war between major powers armed with nuclear weapons.”

He also shot back at lawmakers who asked why he had not withdrawn in protest after Biden rejected his advice to leave troops in Afghanistan, arguing that such a move would have been “an incredibly politically defiant act”. . ”

“This country does not want generals to figure out what orders we will accept and do or not. That is not our job,” he said.

Gaetz and Milley first clashed in June when the Florida Republican brought critical race theory and tried to drag Austin, who is black, into the discussion. Austin hesitated. But Milley did not and outraged the right wing in June during a passionate exchange with lawmakers.

“I personally think it’s offensive that we accuse the U.S. military … of being ‘awake’ or something because we’re studying some theories out there,” Milley said.

“I have read Mao Tse Tung. I have read Karl Marx. I have read Lenin. It does not make me a communist,” Milley continued. “So what’s wrong with understanding, having a certain situational understanding of the country that we are here to defend?”

Gaetz later called Milley “the president of woketopia,” and Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson said the general is “not just a pig, he’s stupid.” Former President Trump himself urged Milley to resign because of the remarks in June, calling them “sad” and “pathetic.”

The brutal back and forth has surprised even experienced Pentagon officials, who are used to Republicans being more respectful of the military – though less so under democratic administrations – and who worry that the military might just become another institution, drawn into partisan warfare.

“My concern is that the military will be seen politically and that confidence in the military will be affected by it,” said David Lapan, a former Pentagon spokesman and most recently Department of Homeland Security under Trump. “The military has been one of the most trusted institutions in the United States, but the concern is that people will begin to doubt the military’s loyalty to the country.”

Mary Kaszynski, a spokeswoman for the democratically-adjusted VoteVets group, said U.S. voters “are sophisticated” were able to see that Trump was trying to abuse the military for his own purposes and that Republicans are “hypocritical” for their loud criticism of withdrawal.

“Foreign policy is never the number one issue for voters. And it is very unlikely that it will be the number 1 edition in a year from now, “she said, pointing to a poll conducted by the group last month. “We are in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic. There is the economy. People are worried about jobs, health care and the climate. Even among veterans, a right-leaning society, there is strong two-to-one support to end the war.”

While Democrats believe Afghanistan will disappear, Republicans have signaled they will continue the pressure in Congress, the campaign trail and in the media. The ongoing resettlement of tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees also promises to keep the problem alive in the coming months.

Republican strategist Chris LaCivita, a Marine Corps veteran, acknowledged that Afghanistan in itself would not be a key issue in the midterm period. but Republicans say it will be part of a broader narrative they want to tell about Democrats’ foreign policy, not unlike the aftermath of the 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

“Afghanistan is not Dunkirk. It is more of a Benghazi multiplied by 10,” he said.

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