Many members of both parties have generally favored withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan for years, and there are plenty of variables involved. But the GOP’s efforts to blame the current administration for the situation calls into question their past comments, which included praising the engagement with the Taliban but now suggesting it was foolhardy, and supporting a quick withdrawal before suggesting it was too hasty or a residual force was needed. Most have offered few specifics on how the final withdrawal should have been executed differently.
When the Trump administration announced its Taliban agreement in February of last year, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called it a “positive step.” Now, McCarthy is criticizing the Biden administration for adhering to the agreement and has suggested that the United States should have kept troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.
In July 2020, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said there was “[never] a bad day to end the war in Afghanistan.” Thirteen months later, Gaetz admonished President Biden for doing just that.
“The decision to withdraw was correct,” Gaetz said on Aug. 16. “The strategy and tactics, horrific and incompetent. The fundamental error was ever believing that the Afghan ‘government’ and ‘military’ would ever fight for or win anything.”
The day the agreement was announced, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) praised it, while qualifying his support.
“I applaud President Trump, and Secretaries [Mike] Pompeo and [Mark T.] Esper for reaching an agreement with the Taliban and a corresponding joint declaration with the Afghan government,” McCaul said in a statement on Feb. 29, 2020, adding: “It is critical that a residual force remain in place until a lasting peace is achieved.”
Two days later, McCaul suggested there was no alternative to Trump’s talks with the Taliban.
“There’s a healthy amount of skepticism, but I think we have to give it a chance to work,” McCaul told Politico on March 2, 2020. “We knew the Taliban is not a nice organization; they’re pretty ruthless. But what’s the alternative?”
By the time the Biden administration was executing the final withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, McCaul had shifted to criticizing the White House’s engagement with the Taliban.
“To blame this on the prior administration, I think, is ill-conceived, because the fact is, this was a conditions-based agreement,” McCaul said on Aug. 16. “And the conditions were not being followed by the Taliban. … I have always said you can’t really negotiate with the Taliban.”
In a statement to The Washington Post, McCaul said he repeatedly advised the Trump administration to leave a residual force in Afghanistan and to only withdraw troops if the Taliban met the conditions of the deal.
“That’s why I opposed legislation in July of last year that would have directed the president fully withdraw from the country without allowing for a residual force, and why I urged the Trump Administration last year not to follow through with the deal while the Taliban was not fulfilling their obligations,” McCaul said.
Lummis’s office responded, "Her position has not changed about the need to withdraw, but she did note in the interview that the way the withdraw was executed was disastrous.”
In November, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) told Fox News that it wasn’t “premature” to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Biggs called the withdrawal “disastrous.”
Appearing at a national security conference in June 2019, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) criticized the war.
“The American people, they look at what we’re doing in Afghanistan, they look at what we’re doing in Syria, and they say, ‘Why are we there again, exactly?’ ” Hawley said at the time.
By the time Biden announced in April that he would withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, Hawley said he should stick to Trump’s May 1 deadline, “but better late than never.”
When a suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. service members a week ago, Hawley again criticized Biden, this time for the withdrawal itself.
“We must reject the falsehood peddled by a feckless president that this was the only option for withdrawal,” Hawley said. “This is the product of Joe Biden’s catastrophic failure of leadership.”
Hawley did not specify how he would have conducted the withdrawal differently.