The Afghanistan withdrawal continues to embarrass the political establishment and woke generals. Republicans see a golden political opportunity in the debacle to attack Joe Biden and his policies. But in the process, they are reviving the dormant neoconservatism of the George W. Bush era. No longer are they concerned with ending the endless wars or stopping mass migration—they want to invade the world and invite the world just to own Biden.
House Republicans issued a resolution condemning Biden’s withdrawal and demanding America stay in Afghanistan “as long as necessary to safely evacuate any United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, and Afghan partner that requests evacuation assistance.” The resolution at first glance isn’t so bad. Most Americans agree that we need to do more to get our citizens out of there and not worry about the Taliban’s deadline for achieving it. Other Republicans, however, are more explicit about what they want.
“President Biden’s responsibility is simple: He should clearly and firmly state that the United States will stay for however long it takes and use whatever force is necessary to ensure we do not abandon our people or our friends,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Wednesday. This effectively is a call for an unlimited intervention into Afghanistan with no definite endpoint. McConnell also strongly attacked Donald Trump for daring to consider a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
McConnell’s stance was echoed by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). “President Biden should commit to staying in Afghanistan until we have rescued every American citizen and those Afghans who risked their lives for American troops,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “Instead, he intends to abandon stranded Americans to appease the Taliban and meet his own arbitrary political deadline. Joe Biden’s impotence leaves Americans in harm’s way and dishonors our entire nation.”
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) wants Biden impeached over the Afghanistan withdrawal, declaring it “the most dishonorable thing a commander-in-chief has done in modern times.”
The Afghanistan debacle finds the entire GOP and much of conservative media uniting with vociferous NeverTrumpers to condemn the Biden withdrawal. Many of these critics do make the distinction that they support the withdrawal but simply oppose the way it is conducted. But this distinction gets lost in the growing hawkishness of the party. Party leaders have now given Representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) a way back to the GOP mainstream, thanks to shared foreign policy principles. Neoconservatism is back in a big way.
While Republican leaders can’t really do much to stop Biden’s withdrawal, they can signal the party’s foreign policy priorities going forward. Based on the response to the Afghanistan withdrawal, the party now says it’s committed to invasion and permanent occupation—so long as America’s “standing” is at stake and intervention could help secure “women’s rights” in some godforsaken part of the world.
But neoconservatism’s return doesn’t just affect Republicans’ foreign policy views; it’s also shaping their approach to immigration. Much of the criticism surrounding the withdrawal focuses on how we can’t get all of these Afghans out of the country. It’s a weird sentiment considering GOP rhetoric in the Trump era was all about putting American interests over those of foreigners. Now we’re supposed to waste American blood and treasure to extract unvetted Afghans?
While Republican politicians claim those we are evacuating are translators and vetted allies, the facts belie that. Flights are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. Whoever showed up first at the Kabul Airport were the first to leave. We have no real idea who they are.
Just a few years ago, nearly every Republican warned about the dangers of Syrian refugees. They were unvetted migrants coming from a hotbed of radical Islam and held views that were antithetical to American values. The same applies to Afghans, but Republicans conveniently have forgotten this position in order to score political points against Biden. GOP officeholders have failed to offer any opposition to Afghan refugee resettlement.
Several Republican governors beg for the feds to resettle refugees in their home states, while Republican senators demand Biden bring as many as possible. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) wrote a Fox News op-ed insisting America remain in Afghanistan so we can get at least 70,000 people out of the country.
Republicans would be better served by focusing on the refugee question, or we could end up taking in over 100,000 by the end of this year. That’s on top of a border crisis that’s seen hundreds of thousands of migrants enter the country. Republicans are getting suckered into arguing for a migration influx just so they can complain about Biden not getting enough Afghans out of the war-torn country.
If the GOP was genuinely America First, it would stick to criticizing the incompetence of Biden and his desire to import tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. Instead, party leaders attack Biden for refusing to keep America as the world’s policeman. Party leaders may tweet “America First!” but when push comes to shove, they still act like neocons.