National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan attempted to put a positive spin on America’s chaotic and disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan on Monday as the Taliban took over the country, waving off the scenes of diplomats being helicoptered to safety as just the course of doing business.
NBC anchor Savannah Guthrie, however, wasn’t buying what Sullivan was selling.
A day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken futilely insisted that the Biden administration was not experiencing its own “Saigon moment” amid images of Americans hastily retreating from the Afghan capital of Kabul, Sullivan appeared on NBC’s Today to discuss the collapse of the Afghan government amid America’s troop withdrawal.
At one point, Guthrie noted that “friends and foes alike are calling this withdrawal a fiasco,” pointing out that President Joe Biden himself confidently said just a few weeks ago there was “zero” chance that the Taliban would overrun the country and there would be parallels to the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.
“There’s gonna be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of the embassy of the United States from Afghanistan,” the president said last month.
“And yet that is precisely what we have seen over these last few days,” Guthrie noted. “How do you explain getting this so wrong?”
Sullivan, however, suggested the frenzied dash out of Kabul as the Taliban takes control was fairly common.
“To be fair, the helicopter has been the mode of transport from our embassy to the airport for the last 20 years,” the national security adviser replied.
“It’s not a helicopter,” an incredulous Guthrie interjected. “It’s not the mechanism. It’s the last-minute scramble, you know that! It’s the last-minute scramble when the assurances from the president himself were, this was not what we were going to see.”
Sullivan eventually acknowledged that it was “certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated,” adding that “many of the analysts who looked hard at this problem” were caught off-guard by how quickly the situation deteriorated.
“And part of the reason for that, Savannah, is because at the end of the day, despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to get the best equipment, the best training, and the best capacity to the Afghan national security forces, we could not give them the will,” he stated. “And they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul, and they would not fight for the country.”
Guthrie pushed back, asking why the “administration did not know that” ahead of time.
“What the president kept saying over and over again was that it was not inevitable that Kabul would fall,” Sullivan responded. “And it was not inevitable. There was that capacity to stand up and resist. That capacity didn’t happen.”
Amid the swift and catastrophic destabilization of Afghanistan, Democratic allies of Biden have said the White House “really screwed this up,” focusing much of their anger at Blinken and Sullivan for misreading the situation on the ground and not being more prepared for a quick Taliban takeover.