Talking Points

2 pitfalls the GOP should avoid in its Afghanistan response

The Biden administration is taking a pounding in the court of public opinion with regard to the execution of the Afghanistan withdrawal, and Republicans are once again said to be "pouncing." But there's no denying this is a legitimate political issue. 

Whatever the overall success rate of the airlift out of Kabul, some Americans and most Afghan partners were left behind. There was a terrorist attack in which over a dozen service members perished. The images on television screens were disturbing. Polling shows that the public does make a distinction between the decision to withdraw — which most Americans still support, with an even larger majority concluding that the war was a failure — and how President Biden implemented it. This is a fair point for Republicans to bring up about Biden's proficiency as commander-in-chief, which was a major Democratic talking point in favor of his election.

There are, however, two areas where Republicans could overreach. The first is if they go beyond just siding with the majority who believe Biden botched the withdrawal, and also take up the mantle of the minority who think the war in Afghanistan was going swimmingly and should have been continued indefinitely. This is a tough spot to be in since George W. Bush started the war in response to 9/11 and then made the critical mistake of transforming it into a nation-building exercise. Former President Donald Trump wanted to get out of Afghanistan even earlier than Biden did, but now says we should perhaps reinvade to take back our abandoned military equipment. One of Trump's best features was he got Republicans out of post-9/11 stupor on foreign policy, even if he did not so consistently. It would be bad for the party to go hurtling backwards.

The second, more challenging pitfall to avoid is appearing too partisan, ghoulish, and grasping in the attempt to exercise appropriate oversight and engage in constructive criticism of what the Biden administration has done. This became the problem with Benghazi, the much-probed consulate attack in which four Americans died. There were some legitimate questions, especially about how the Obama White House chose to initially speak about Benghazi in public, and the wider Libya intervention was a fiasco.

But it did not take long for Republicans to be perceived as simply wanting to rough up then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before the 2016 election. Voters will find that just as gross under Biden.