August 16, 2021
Today, U.S. Senator Ben Sasse, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, joined Jake Tapper to discuss the tragic unraveling of events in Afghanistan.
Full transcript is available below.
Jake Tapper: Republican Senator, Ben Sasse. He's a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senator Sasse, good to see you again. So, CNN sources tell us that the Biden Administration still plans to get out 30,000 Afghan allies, interpreters and such, out of the country not including their family members. From what you're hearing, is that realistic?
Sen. Sasse: Well, first of all let's just say, Jake, that that whole last segment should make every American want to vomit because the 60,000 number that she's naming is right and all of their families is not some abstraction, these are moms and dads with little kids at their knees, some of them at the wire at the airport and every one of them should be gotten out by us. What should be realistic is that we should do what is necessary to keep our word that we've given to these people. This is a shameful day in America.
Tapper: I don't disagree with you. I'm seeing a lot of voices on the right though saying this is all part of Biden's plan to flood the United States with immigrants - people like Stephen Miller, who's a former immigration adviser, and others on the far right. People like J.D. Vance criticizing the idea of bringing these people into the country. Are you going to - is there political will among the Republicans in the U.S. Senate to help these people?
Sen. Sasse: First of all, I don't give a rip what Stephen Miller has to say about anything. But, the significant point here is the United States gave our word to people and the United States has to be the kind of nation that keeps our word.
President Biden's speech was shameful today. It was a campaign speech. Everybody knows what he campaigned on. Everybody knows, to quote Bob Gates, that President Biden has been on the wrong side of almost every major foreign policy issue for forty years. The fact that he ran on withdrawal isn't the point. What the American people needed to hear today is that he has a plan for the ongoing national security crisis that's happening at the Kabul airport. It involves Americans, but it also involves a lot of people who fought alongside Americans so that we wouldn't have another 9/11 on our soil. We would take that fight to the Taliban.
And so, the fundamental misunderstanding that the American people have is not because of any place that military has failed. Obviously, the military failed in the planning for this, but the fundamental problem we have is that the troops haven't failed over the last 20 years, politicians have failed to explain to the American people what we were doing in Afghanistan and how we were being successful.
There's this false choice that comes out in every Biden speech right now when he just resurrects all these old talking points that we've heard for months and months and months. This false choice of zero troops, immediate withdrawal, precipitous with no clarity, no planning, and isolationist nonsense or we need 150,000 occupying ground troops. We haven't had 100,000 troops in Afghanistan in a decade.
The truth is what we had, not a month ago, but what we've had and why we've been successful at decapitating terror organizations was a small forward deployed asset-light but impact-heavy group that was sustaining intel and special forces operations so we could decapitate a lot of folks who are like bin Laden, except that Americans never know their name because they never took down a World Trade Center building.
Politicians have failed to explain this to the American people and I think the American people when they understand this, when they talk to troops who've served in Afghanistan, they want something very different than what they're seeing on their TV screens today - these images of weakness and betrayal.
Tapper: What do you make of the Biden argument that what has happened in Afghanistan in the last few weeks suggests - you know, with Afghan leaders fleeing, like Ashraf Ghani, the president - former president - or Afghan military leaders surrendering, collapsing, that that underscores the point, the argument that building up the Afghan army, of building up an Afghan democracy has failed. He made that argument today so as to underscore that he made the right decision, removing for a second that the issue of this calamitous exit, just talking about a continued presence because that's what you're talking about. What do you make of that?
Sen. Sasse: On the Senate Intelligence Committee for months, going back to probably mid-April, you've had a loud chorus or Republican and Democratic voices screaming at Biden Administration officials, "What is your plan?" They have told us that they were sure that everything would be fine through the pause and fighting season over the winter, and if the Taliban ever mounted some significant offensive that moved toward Kabul, it wouldn't happen until next spring. And we repeatedly - again, I mean we, Republicans and Democrats - raised voices at Biden Administration officials, saying, "Why are you so sure of this, and what is your contingency plan?" And they would sort of murmur and say, "Well, we don't want to embarrass the President. So, we don't want to go into great detail. But clearly, you're being too pessimistic, but of course we have a contingency plan."
They didn't have a contingency plan, and the reason so many of the Afghan security forces melted is because the Biden Administration messaged over and over again this nonsense about a negotiation with the Taliban, off in some Belgian restaurant somewhere, and they messaged repeatedly that they were not going to support our allies in the moment of crisis.
And so, you had the Biden Administration actively undermining the confidence of the commanders in the Afghan security forces. President Biden tried today in that speech to blame a lot on the former Administration - and I've been very clear. I fought with President Trump many, many, many times about his plans to withdraw from Afghanistan.
So, there's a lot of blame that this Administration puts on the last one because they began negotiating with the Taliban. I get that. But today what the President did is he pivoted and started attacking Afghans, including moms and dads who were at the edge of that airport with their kids. Why are they there? Why did they come to that airport? Because our troops promised them that the U.S. would never just turn tail and cowardly have another Saigon-like event.
This is worse than Saigon. What is happening at the Karzai International Airport today is a more shameful, lower moment in U.S. history than 1975 in Saigon, and Biden comes out of his bunker, he comes back from Camp David trying to do a campaign photo-op speech, and he attacks the Afghan people, who are at the edge of that airport because we promised them security. They fought with us, and we said that they would be secure, and his Administration undermined the confidence of those people fighting, and they didn't believe they were going to have air support, and then we bizarrely in one of the great blunders in military history evacuated Bagram Air Force Base in the night. Why? Why would we have evacuated Bagram Air Force Base?
The Biden Administration undermined the confidence of the fighters in Afghanistan.
Tapper: Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, good to see you again, sir. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
Sen. Sasse: Thank you.