Across the state and in Washington, Georgia Republicans seized on Biden’s role in the turmoil that’s engulfed Afghanistan, pinning the blame on the Democrat for the fallout of his first major foreign policy decision, which yielded wrenching scenes over the weekend of American diplomats being airlifted out of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
“When you decide to hastily withdraw U.S. troops after 20 years in Afghanistan with no plan, it’s no surprise it ends in chaos,” said Latham Saddler, a former Navy SEAL and Trump administration official now challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.
While most top state Democratic leaders avoided defending Biden’s withdrawal policy, instead focusing on the growing humanitarian crisis, Republicans questioned the president’s post-election vow that “America is back” on the world stage.
“As someone who watched the events of Sept. 11 as they happened live on broadcast, and then had friends deployed to Afghanistan for the last almost 20 years, I’m sick and heartbroken,” said Meagan Hanson, a former GOP state legislator who is vying to challenge U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath. “It didn’t have to be this way.”
Others said the precipitous unraveling of Afghan forces financed by $88 billion in U.S. aid since 2002 undercuts Biden’s campaign pledge that his decades of foreign policy experience would provide a steady hand at resolving international conflicts.
Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, another Republican Senate contender, called for Biden to fire Gen. Mark Milley, the nation’s top military officer, and urged a congressional investigation into a “colossal failure of leadership and intelligence.”
“We must immediately evacuate all Americans, allies, translators and people whose aid to us and their own country marks them for execution by the brutal Taliban,” he said. “If it takes troops, so be it.”
U.S. Rep. Austin Scott issued a similar call to bring lawmakers back to Washington immediately for closed-door intelligence briefings.
“This is one of the biggest international issues that has occurred in decades for the United States,” the Tifton Republican said. “And we need to be back in Washington, D.C., and we need to be back now, not next week.”
‘We owe it to them’
It’s not immediately clear whether the Taliban’s military successes will have long-term political consequences. Former President Donald Trump, a staunch opponent of “forever wars,” advocated for an abrupt pullout from Afghanistan and last year approved a peace agreement with the Taliban that Democrats said set the stage for the collapse.
Biden took to the defensive, saying U.S. forces succeeded in denying al-Qaida safe harbor in the region and would gain little by maintaining costly troop deployments in Afghanistan. In an address Monday, he rejected criticism of his decision, which he framed as a choice between drawing down forces or “lurching into the third decade of conflict” with a new escalation.
But few prominent state Democrats were willing to endorse his position. U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff said in a statement that the White House should “make every effort to protect and evacuate U.S. citizens” and Afghans who helped the war effort, but he steered clear of endorsing the strategy behind the withdrawal. Warnock, facing a November 2022 election for a full six-year term, didn’t immediately comment.
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, a Democrat from Lithonia, said in an interview that there was no easy answer to winding down a war that Americans had been fighting for nearly 20 years.
“I don’t see a scenario where it was not going to be messy and disorderly and chaotic,” he said Monday. “It’s time to bring the chaos to an end. I’m hopeful that we can get our U.S. personnel out safely and as many of our Afghan allies who were loyal to us.”
Others who spoke about the Taliban’s takeover also focused on the ongoing effort to rescue Western diplomats, civilians and Afghans who are likely to be targeted by the new regime.
Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J
Credit: Rebecca Wright for the Atlanta J
State Rep. Bee Nguyen, an Atlanta Democrat who is running for secretary of state, recalled how an uncle and other relatives were immediately evacuated during the fall of Saigon in 1975, when military helicopters airlifted some refugees from the roof of the U.S. Embassy in the final days of the Vietnam War.
Her parents would come later, after President Jimmy Carter decided to increase the number of Vietnamese refugees with the support of key Republicans, including Iowa Gov. Robert Ray.
“My hope is we see the same kind of political leadership we saw from President Carter & Gov. Ray,” she said in a tweet. “I pray that our Afghan allies & partners make it out alive and have the chance to rebuild their lives, the same way my family was able to. We owe it to them.”
Some also urged Georgia leaders to avoid a repeat of the backlash in the state to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in 2015. Then-Gov. Nathan Deal initially ordered state employees not to process the refugees’ food stamp benefits before reversing course.
“We need to get our allies who helped our efforts over the last two decades out of harm’s way,” said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, an Atlanta Democrat and military veteran who served in Afghanistan.
“I fully support bringing refugees from Afghanistan to the U.S.,” Holcomb said. “And we should welcome them here in Georgia.”
Washington correspondent Tia Mitchell contributed to this article.