America's "forever war" may have ended after U.S. troops hastily left war-torn Afghanistan, but political infighting in Washington over the humiliating debacle appeared to have just warmed up.
On Capitol Hill in Washington, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are demanding answers from the White House over the bungled withdrawal that most Americans considered a failure. The chaotic exit has also caused new rifts between the United States and its allies, giving another hard hit on the country's already crumbling credibility.
Without doubt, how the U.S. military exit was handled needs accountability. Washington clearly misjudged the situation in Afghanistan and left many parties, including itself, underprepared, and this ill-prepared decision has led to a surge of disorder and deadly violence.
Terrorist attacks last week killed more than a dozen U.S. service members and scores of Afghan civilians during evacuation efforts from the Kabul airport. Afghan civilians were allegedly shot and killed by U.S. soldiers amid chaos immediately after the Kabul airport attacks. In addition, a U.S. drone strike on a vehicle purportedly carrying a suspected suicide bomber reportedly killed ten members of one family, including seven children, in a Kabul neighborhood on Sunday.
It remains to be seen how the White House is going to respond. Government spokespersons have recently repeated a claim that the U.S. forces have worked harder to avoid civilian casualties than any other country in the world, though its military campaigns, including unchecked airstrikes, have taken a heavy toll on civilians.
Some Republicans have even called for the impeachment or resignation of U.S. President Joe Biden over the disastrous endgame in Afghanistan. However, no matter how hard they are pushing, they are not likely to have their way. Democrats, who still control the House of Representatives, are surely going to reject any articles of impeachment put forward by Republicans.
But the Biden administration will still be subject to congressional oversight, as members of his own party were also critical of the operations during the final days of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. The House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Democrats, is scheduling hearings later this month.
That being said, Democrats have been widely expected to be less hostile and confrontational than their Republican colleagues. Also, they have sought to distract firepower from Biden by pointing fingers at the 2020 agreement that the Donald Trump administration struck with the Taliban that all U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by May 1 this year.
Biden ordered a review of the plan when taking office in January before deciding to move the deadline to Aug. 31, prior to the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that took almost 3,000 lives in the United States. Domestic critics and allies alike had previously urged the White House to allow some U.S. troops to stay beyond the deadline if more people need to be evacuated.
Republicans, for their part, are trying to seize upon the foreign policy crisis to dent the Biden White House, whose poll numbers have recently slipped to the lowest point of his eight-month presidency, and make it an advantageous topic in future elections, as many of the party are still holding a grudge against the loss last year.
There have been comparisons between the Kabul debacle and the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where members of an Islamic militant group killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Following the Benghazi incident, Republicans launched wide-ranging investigations into the attack and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and used it as political ammunition to deal a blow at the Democrat, when she ran for the White House years later.
The differences in how the two sides will conduct the oversight over the Afghanistan fallout, including the way in which the incidents will be interpreted, along with their mismatched political calculations and intentions, have clearly set the stage for rancorous infighting in Washington and beyond.
In light of that, there are growing concerns that oversight and accountability from Congress would quickly devolve into shouting matches. Loyal members of the rival parties will stick to their own talking points and hype rhetoric rather than solving problems, as seen countless times in Washington over the years.
Entrenched partisanship has long plagued the United States, and has even fueled the politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic. Polarized political debates on such scientific issues as mask wearing and vaccination have been hampering the country's efforts to suppress the disease, which has killed 640,000 of its citizens, along with nearly 40 million infections, both the highest in the world.
It would be a pity if America's infighting over the military departure crowds out any meaningful conversation and debates, and deviates focus from much-needed reflection and correction for Washington over the pullout fiasco, as well as two decades of war in the Asian country.
After all, if the massive deaths of Americans in the pandemic have failed to let Washington politicians put public interests ahead of partisan interests, how is it possible that they can make the right call over this Afghanistan departure?