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Afghan chaos leads to resignations and reshuffling — in Europe, but not in Washington

Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Sigrid Kaag speaks to reporters after she announced her resignation on Sept. 16, after members of parliament voted in favor of a motion of censure against her, in The Hague. (Sem Van Der Wal/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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After a majority of the Dutch parliament affirmed this week that the government had mishandled evacuations from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, Sigrid Kaag said she had only one option: resign as foreign minister.

“Although I stand by our commitment, I can only accept the consequences of this judgment as the minister with ultimate responsibility,” Kaag said in a statement released Thursday.

On Friday, Kaag was followed by another member of the Dutch cabinet, Ank Bijleveld. The defense minister released her own statement of resignation, noting that she could “no longer adequately take responsibility for my people” amid the criticism.

The moves in the Netherlands are another sign of how the collapse of the Afghan government, preceded by the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from the country, appears to be causing more disruption in European capitals than in Washington.

In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson reshuffled his cabinet this week — demoting ally Dominic Raab from foreign secretary, one of the highest political positions in the United Kingdom, and reassigning him as justice secretary.

Much of the criticism of government action in Europe has focused on the slow and chaotic reaction to the fall of Kabul and the ensuing scenes at the city’s airport.

Raab had been criticized for vacationing on the Greek island of Crete while the Taliban was taking over Kabul. He later got into a heated dispute with Defense Secretary Ben Wallace over whether the fall of the Afghan government should have seen foreseen.

(Though Raab was technically demoted, he was also given the new title of deputy prime minister, a position not usually used in Britain, which some interpreted as a simultaneous promotion.)

The Dutch government, meanwhile, had been criticized for not working out a plan to evacuate embassy staff and their families from Kabul, despite repeated diplomatic warnings about the Taliban’s advance.

Lawmakers from across the political spectrum voted this week in favor of the censure of Kaag and Bijleveld, both of whom served in Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s caretaker government. Though the vote did not require them to resign, both chose to.

Other governments have also faced harsh criticism for their handling of evacuations. German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass has faced calls to resign after Afghans who worked with his government complained of a dangerously slow path out of the country.

Mass has so far brushed aside these calls, but admitted that the government made mistakes and misjudged the situation. “I don’t know if it’s possible to completely make up for everything,” he told Der Spiegel last month.

The situation in Europe contrasts with that in the United States, where — despite the fact that the Americans led the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, maintained the largest footprint in the country and ultimately, under President Donald Trump, made a deal with Taliban to pull out U.S. forces — many have moved on.

This week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken faced tough questioning from lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the State Department’s handling of evacuation efforts in Afghanistan. Some lawmakers have called for an independent commission on Afghanistan.

While Republicans have called on Blinken and others to resign, President Biden has said he would not seek any resignations and instead has said he takes full responsibility for any decisions made about Afghanistan.

Polling paints a more complicated picture of Americans’ support of the Biden team, with many strongly backing the administration’s move to pull out of Afghanistan, if not the way it did it.

In Europe, the U.S. pullout has led to renewed calls for the continent to reconsider its military and diplomatic reliance on Washington — calls that have grown only stronger with the continued U.S. travel restrictions on Europe and a new fallout with France over the sale of American submarines to Australia.

Speaking this week in what was widely dubbed a State of the European Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested that the bloc would need to think about security independence. “Europe can — and clearly should — be able and willing to do more on its own,” von der Leyen said.

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