Republican lawmakers, former officials in Donald Trump’s administration, and conservative commentators are reacting to Thursday’s horrific Kabul attack by not only condemning the Biden administration—they’re also calling for a re-invasion of Afghanistan.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), long an Afghanistan war hawk who recently called on President Joe Biden to be “impeached” for the withdrawal, demanded on Twitter that the administration “reestablish our presence in Bagram as an alternative to the Kabul airport, saying it was a “problem of will” that it hadn’t been done yet.
“The retaking of Bagram would put our military at risk, but I think those involved in the operation would gladly accept that risk because it would restore our honor as a nation and save lives,” Graham continued.
Another GOP senator, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, released a statement urging Biden to “reverse course and fight for our people,” insisting that “weakness will accelerate the bloodshed” while pushing the administration to “rip up the August 31 deadline” and expand its perimeter beyond Kabul. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) also demanded a “forceful response” from the president, saying he “must follow through on his word [and] make these terrorists pay.”
Democrats, meanwhile, spent Thursday sticking to expressions of condolence and grief over the loss of U.S. service members and Afghan civilians, with some offering a few scattered, toned-down references to payback.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for example, said in a statement that “it must be clear to the world that the terrorists who perpetrated this will be sought and brought to justice.” And Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), long considered a hawk within her party, said the attack was a “tragic reminder that we must continue our counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan,” which “includes making sure those responsible for today’s attacks are brought to justice.”
The harshest language from any Democrat may have come from Biden himself, speaking from the White House Thursday evening.
“To those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay,” said Biden. “I will defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command… We will respond with force and precision at our time, at the place we choose and the moment of our choosing.”
Democrats’ messaging focus centered almost entirely on backing up Biden’s withdrawal date and the effort to evacuate U.S. and Afghan personnel safely. But a few lawmakers did offer some pointed criticism, albeit narrow, toward the administration, as the prospect of continued terror attacks jeopardizes the president’s commitment to leave the country by Aug. 31 while evacuating thousands of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies.
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), one of the GOP’s top targets ahead of the 2022 midterm election, said the U.S. must evacuate every citizen and Afghan ally “regardless of any arbitrary deadlines”—a veiled shot at Biden.
Officials who know the region well, like Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), also questioned that deadline in the wake of what Kim told The Daily Beast was a “catastrophic” day in Afghanistan.
“This attack really hurts,” said Kim, who was the point person on Afghanistan for Barack Obama’s National Security Council. “It underscores the danger that’s there and why it is we need to complete this mission.”
“We cannot leave unless we’ve gotten every American that wants to go,” Kim added. “I’ve heard the president say that, and I hope that’s true.”
Asked if he supported sending in additional troops to complete the evacuation mission, as Republicans suggested, Kim said he would defer to the Pentagon. But he added that if the president and his advisers determined they needed more time, “more money, more troops, I will do everything I humanly can from Congress.”
Various conservatives on Capitol Hill demanded brutal reprisals, with the top Republican in the Senate calling for what would amount to a double-down on the global war on terror.
“The war is clearly not ended. You can’t unilaterally end a war. It takes two to tango and these people will never stop fighting us. Their capabilities are still intact,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) said on Fox News on Thursday morning. “We should retake more airfields throughout the country… It will take troops on the ground and a complete reassessment of our strategy. The military can do it. We need the will politically to do it.”
Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) was even blunter with his assessment, declaring on Fox News that “all bets are off” because the Taliban didn’t keep its promise of safe passage to the Kabul airport, adding that America should “expand this operation” and “start killing bad guys.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reacted to the attack by saying it offered “the clearest possible reminder that terrorists will not stop fighting the United States just because our politicians grow tired of fighting them,” calling for a redoubling of “our global efforts to confront these barbarian enemies who want to kill Americans and attack our homeland.”
Blackburn also called for the president to resign or be removed from office over the bloody terror attack, a mantra that was repeated by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who had previously positioned himself as a “forever war” critic.
“It is now clear beyond all doubt that he has neither the capacity nor the will to lead. He must resign,” Hawley tweeted on Thursday afternoon.
Former Trump National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, meanwhile, openly speculated that ISIS-K and the Taliban may have worked in conjunction on the suicide attacks despite the Taliban casualties and the long-running hostilities between the two terror groups. “I would not be surprised if ISIS-K was used as a cutout for the Taliban so they could humiliate us on the way out,” McMaster said on CNN.
“Was it worth it, really? What would be a better outcome? A sustained commitment of a few thousand U.S. troops who were continuing to enable the Afghans to bear the brunt of the fight or this catastrophe we’re seeing now,” McMaster added. “We have this ‘end the endless wars’ narrative but this is an endless jihad against us and if we don’t acknowledge that we’re putting ourselves at extraordinarily high risk.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), a Trump critic and another conservative hawk, praised McMaster’s remarks during multiple cable news hits on Thursday. Also blasting the “end the endless war crowd,” the Illinois congressman exclaimed that the “endless war just got fired up again” and that America’s next decision will determine “the future of terrorism not just in the region, but in this world.”
Trump allies, who supported the former president’s Taliban peace deal, prisoner release, and negotiated troop withdrawal, quickly jumped at the opportunity to blast the current administration while also calling for increased military action.
“Air superiority is something we have always had in Afghanistan,” former Trump Pentagon chief of staff Kash Patel said during a Fox News appearance. “And our predator program dominated the skies under President Trump, and we can do that again if we retake Bagram airfield because that is the center country ops.”
The ex-president’s one-time personal attorney Rudy Giuliani tweeted that “the terrorist attacks in Kabul only were possible because the Biden administration pulled out our troops, abandoned our Air Base and left massive armaments for the terrorists to kill us.” Ex-New York City police chief Bernie Kerik, whom Trump pardoned before leaving office, asserted that Trump would “carpet bomb the fuck out of Afghanistan right now.”
In recent days, the former president has been prolific in his public statements condemning his successor, including blasting out a fundraising appeal on Thursday calling on Biden to “RESIGN,” and reiterating his lie that Biden had lost the 2020 presidential race against Trump.
In private, the ex-president has at times been graphic in his descriptions of what he claims he’d do if he were still in power, including having American “killers” eliminate dozens of the enemy for every American who was harmed during this crisis, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
And in a moment of rambling rhetoric last week, Trump, who for years called for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan (even though he didn’t do it during his term in office, and had escalated in Afghanistan early in his presidency), seemingly endorsed a possible re-invasion and a new surge of American military involvement.
During his Alabama rally this past weekend, Trump said, “We have to go in and we should go in when it’s right, and we now may have to be forced to go in [to Afghanistan] because this person that is running our country made a horrific decision of taking all of our powerful military out.”
He continued that the U.S. may be forced to go in, and may not be forced. “But we may be forced to go in,” he said. At the same rally, the former president also characterized the Taliban as “tough fighters,” as well as “great negotiators.”
Yet at the same time, according to the two people familiar with the matter, Trump has privately voiced his irritation at other prominent Republicans who have also advocated reinvasion, but who would like U.S. troops to remain there “forever.”
The bloodlust, however, appeared to be strongest among right-wing pundits and commentators who were apparently looking to use the attack as a jumping point for another full-fledged hot war in Afghanistan.
“For every American who is killed, a city in Afghanistan should be wiped off the face of the Earth,” conservative talk radio host and former Fox News personality Todd Starnes tweeted just before it was revealed U.S. service members had died in the attack.
“I was an E6 in the Marine Corp and I’ll tell you, the war dogs are hungry and it might be time to let them eat,” Fox News contributor Johnny “Joey” Jones, a veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan, exclaimed on Thursday afternoon. “I hate that, it’s not woke... but as we would say, stack the bodies up and let them see it.”