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President Joe Biden has yet to accept responsibility for his botched Afghanistan withdrawal, and Republicans may be letting him off the political hook by apportioning blame to his underlings.
But as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testify before Congress this week regarding the 20-year war's chaotic end, Republicans have trailed their political fire onto Blinken — helping Biden sidestep some of the culpability before next year's midterm elections.
Republicans, such as Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, called for Biden's impeachment shortly after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last month. But that clamoring has been replaced with calls for Blinken to resign amid his testimony before the House Foreign Relations Committee and its Senate counterpart.
"The past two days of hearings have only affirmed Antony Blinken’s ineptitude to serve as secretary of state and cemented Joe Biden’s abysmal reputation on foreign policy," Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told reporters. "Antony Blinken must be fired immediately.”
Ex-military brass similarly called for Austin, who will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, to resign. This comes after national security adviser Jake Sullivan was asked directly during a White House press briefing last month whether any officials would be stood down over Afghanistan. But the calls have not been amplified with the same coordination as those reserved for Blinken.
For example, RNC spokesman Tommy Piggott reminded reporters this week Blinken promised Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal would be "responsible," it would "remove our troops from harm’s way," and ensured the country would "never again become a haven for terrorists."
"[Three] promises, and 3 lies," Piggott wrote in an email. "Americans deserve answers, transparency, and accountability. That accountability needs to start with Blinken — he must be fired."
Opposing lawmakers and operatives typically are not shy about calling on administration figureheads to resign, and Blinken is an obvious scapegoat without the optics problems of criticizing Lloyd, a retired four-star general, after 13 service members died in an ISIS-K terrorist attack in Afghanistan during the withdrawal.
But for America Rising spokesman Joe Gierut, it was Biden and his allies' "stunning lack of competence" in Afghanistan that his pro-Republican opposition research political action committee is latching on to.
"As their domestic and foreign policy failures continue to stack up, polling reveals the American people have lost confidence in their judgment and ability to lead," Gierut told the Washington Examiner.
Gierut is right: Biden's approval ratings have nosedived after his bungled Afghanistan withdrawal.
Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan's capital on Aug. 14, Biden's popularity has dropped from an average 50% approval/44% disapproval rate to 46% approval/49% disapproval rate, according to poll aggregator website FiveThirtyEight. The president's popularity started declining earlier this summer as the more contagious coronavirus delta variant became the country's dominant strain, but Afghanistan precipitated the trend.
Biden has sought to skirt criticism of his Afghanistan withdrawal by repeating that most of the country believed it was time to end the war. But while claiming the "buck stops" with him, he attributed part of the blame to the Afghan National Security Forces and former President Donald Trump's Taliban-negotiated May 1 deadline.
It is the same approach adopted by Blinken during his hearings. The secretary, for instance, insisted Biden inherited a withdrawal deadline but not a plan.
Tom Cochran, a partner at public affairs firm 720 Strategies and a Barack Obama State Department alumnus, extended responsibility to his old boss and George W. Bush. But dismissing Blinken only condemns those making the final decisions after two decades of questionable foreign policy, he added.
"The buck stops with the president, but if we took 19 wrong turns and after the 20th we were still lost, would we blame that last turn — especially if we had a gut feeling of being in the wrong place after turn two or three?" Cochran said.
The White House has managed to minimize the political impact of Blinken's testimony, aided by the diplomat's message discipline and congressional Democratic majorities. The latter, in particular, has meant Republicans have been unable to mount Benghazi hearing-like investigations into the administration, similar to those against then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The White House has also benefited from the timing of California's gubernatorial recall election this week. Biden's West Coast trip to stump for Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom excused the president from holding full-court press briefings as the nationalized state election has filled newspaper column inches and 24-hour cable news airtime.
But the White House has not completely allowed the calls for Blinken to resign to slide. Last week, press secretary Jen Psaki denied any Biden advisers offered to step aside, providing a one-word response when needled on whether the president has faith in them.
"Yes," she said.
The Democratic National Committee has also defended Blinken from criticism concerning his congressional testimony.
"While Republicans continue their performative stunts, Secretary Blinken continues to answer questions from senators and make clear that the decision to end a 20-year war that cost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars was the right decision instead of committing another generation to a costly war," said DNC spokesman Ammar Moussa.
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Original Author: Naomi Lim