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Congressman Who Served In Afghanistan Discusses Antony Blinken Hearing

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We're going to hear some reaction now to Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He's been testifying today on Capitol Hill via computer screen, answering questions about the Biden administration and Afghanistan. One of the people asking those questions today is Representative Peter Meijer, Republican of Michigan. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and served in Iraq in the Army Reserves, then worked with an NGO in Afghanistan. Congressman Meijer spoke with my colleague Mary Louise Kelly earlier today before he had a chance to question Secretary Blinken. And the first thing Mary Louise wanted to know was, had he learned anything new yet?

PETER MEIJER: Honestly, no. I hoped to, but, you know, there's been a lot of focus on, you know, the situation they inherited, kind of attempts to cast what happened as the fault of the Trump administration's policies and really just an effort to avoid any sense of accountability or responsibility for what we witnessed.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Yeah, that is one of the key defenses that Secretary of State Blinken has been offering of the Biden administration, that they inherited a deal. He said, we inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan. Which piece of that do you disagree with?

MEIJER: I - you know, I was not in the conversations during the presidential transition. But from the conversations that I had with members of the Biden administration, as we were getting briefed in April, May, June, July, they had continued with some of the policies and some of the negotiations that were undergone in Doha. They continued on, the special envoy, Ambassador Khalilzad. So I'm a bit staggered by that accusation.

KELLY: You mentioned that you were being briefed back in the spring, and that brings me to another point that I want to put to you from Secretary Blinken today. He was asked, you know, about the administration's record in Afghanistan, and one of his defenses was, we thought we had more time. He said even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained. Congressman, what's your reaction to that?

MEIJER: I mean, there were certainly more pessimistic assessments that did not get disseminated or were blended or were dismissed. I mean, I think you can - there's a lot of areas I'm willing to give some grace on this. But to me, the paramount frustration, as somebody who worked with a bipartisan group of colleagues back in April imploring the administration now that they finalize the deadline, please tell us what is your plan to get the special immigrant visa-eligible individuals out, to clear the backlog of thousands of applicants, to make sure that we get our loyal Afghan allies out. I mean, this was when, you know, we knew that there was a very large number. We didn't think that we would be in a position where we're having to force to scramble to evacuate Americans. But we had time in the spring. We had time in early summer, and it just never seemed to be a priority for the Biden administration.

KELLY: As you know, President Biden, if he were on this call with us, would say, look; you know, we were asked by the then-president of Afghanistan, don't pull everybody out because we don't want to create a sense of alarm and have everybody running for the exits, undermine confidence. But let me turn to just unanswered questions still for you because you're pushing for a congressional investigation into the Biden administration over Afghanistan. What is the biggest genuine question still not answered for you?

MEIJER: How we got it so catastrophically wrong if we didn't see, didn't know or didn't expect the mid-level and regional negotiations that were taking place outside of Doha - you know, the accommodations between Afghan national security forces and Afghan government officials essentially looking at the tea leaves and negotiating their own pre-surrender surrender. But on that point of if we would have gotten our allies out earlier, it would have precipitated panic - it's very logical to say, listen; we have all these folks who worked with us. Our military is leaving. We made a promise to them. And you take out a couple of hundred people a day on charter flights, you don't have the chaos. You don't have the pandemonium. I just think that's revisionist at best when the Biden administration's claiming that.

KELLY: In the moment or - in the minute or so that we have left, let's look forward. Are you clear after today's testimony how the U.S. intends to deal with the Taliban, with a government in Afghanistan, multiple members of which are on either U.S. or U.N. terror lists?

MEIJER: I have not yet seen that clarity. I don't think we know right now. I think a lot is dependent on the actions the Taliban take. But it's very clear that any leverage we had is gone.

KELLY: We are where we are. So what - if you could whisper into the president's ear and give him a piece of advice, what would it be?

MEIJER: That we still have loyal Afghan allies who are trapped. This is still a rescue mission, and we can't just pivot to talking about trillions of dollars in domestic spending and think that they're just going to magically wind up in a better situation. We made a promise. We have a commitment, and we need to follow through with that for the sake of our nation's honor and those who served alongside us.

KELLY: That is Michigan Republican Peter Meijer. He sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Thank you very much, Congressman. We appreciate it.

MEIJER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.