Near the top of the list of those who must be held accountable for America's debacle in Afghanistan are those individuals who hold Senate-confirmed positions. They were the architects of this disaster: Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left), Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (center), and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley (right). Together, these individuals either counseled the President that they would execute his direction effectively and safely, or they developed and implemented a strategy that they knew would not work. (Blinken photo by Jonathan Ernst/Pool/AFP via Getty Images); Austin & Milley photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
America has just experienced perhaps its greatest foreign policy debacle in modern history by surrendering to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The enemy that the U.S. held accountable for harboring the al-Qaeda terrorist group that attacked us on 9/11 once again governs Afghanistan. The Taliban now holds the keys to whether, how, and when Americans left behind will be returned home safely. The question today is who will be held accountable for this debacle, a debacle in both strategy and execution.
There is really no debate about whether the exit plan from Afghanistan failed miserably. Americans left behind, our military equipment left behind, and the Taliban are victorious and now in power while our wartime allies were left blindsided and furious. We lost 13 U.S. service members along with nearly 200 Afghans killed. Who will be held accountable?
The disappointing fact is that there is a long and rich list of potential targets. It begins with President Joe "The Buck Stops Here" Biden as the obvious choice. The President bears ultimate responsibility for making the decisions that led to America's surrender and leaving our citizens behind. The President should be held accountable.
Also, near the top of the list of those who must be held accountable are those individuals who hold Senate-confirmed positions. They were the architects of this disaster: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley. Together, these individuals either counseled the President that they would execute his direction effectively and safely, or they developed and implemented a strategy that they knew would not work. Either scenario would demand that they also be held accountable.
There is broad bipartisan consensus that these four individuals bear much of the responsibility for recent events. Now is the opportunity for rational and cooler heads in Washington to demonstrate that Congress can respond appropriately to the tragic recent events. Here are our recommendations -- a simple but effective and achievable proposal.
Holding the President accountable will be difficult. Congress has the tools — impeachment and censure — to hold a President accountable. The impeachments of Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump were an overreach by those in Congress hell bent on attacking a sitting President. It was always clear that in those cases impeachment would fail, and to many that the actions of Clinton and Trump did not meet the test of treason, high crimes or misdemeanors. As in those cases, the most appropriate action at this time is use the censure process. Congress can and should send a definitive statement that President Biden's actions in regard to Afghanistan have been unacceptable. A censure would be a vote of disapproval of the President's actions in Afghanistan. As awful as Afghanistan has been, poor decision making does not legitimize the overturning of an election.
Blinken, Austin, and Milley should be held accountable and forced to resign from office. These three individuals do not carry an election mandate with them into their positions. Congress has the tools to formally remove them from office through impeachment, and they have other tools to achieve the same result. Simply by strongly stating that they have lost the confidence of the Congress, it would be obvious that they would have to leave their positions. Congress's real or threatened public shaming of Blinken, Austin, and Milley would be powerful leverage for getting them to do the right thing — resign.
Some may legitimately ask, what about Jake Sullivan, Susan Rice and others? In other attempts to hold people accountable (think recent impeachment actions) the efforts were seen as overreach. The results, partisan bickering and nothing happening. This is a responsible proposal, holding accountable those with an electoral mandate or Senate confirmation for their gross negligence and performance in this national disgrace. This makes a strong statement. The alternative is the path we already seem to be heading down, no one being held accountable.
The censure of the President, and three Cabinet members removed from office would send a clear message to the American people, our allies, and our enemies that we have recognized the serious errors that were made in Afghanistan. It would make clear that the decisions that were made are not the launch of a new Biden doctrine, but were serious miscalculations in American foreign policy. It also will send a clear message that Congress intends to exert its power as an independent branch of government to influence policy and exercise its War Powers. At this moment of weakness and vulnerability, this is the kind of signal of strength and resilience we need to send to our allies and enemies alike.
Pete Hoekstra is a former Representative in Congress from Michigan. He served as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. More recently he was U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
John Shadegg is a former Representative in Congress, representing Arizona's 3rd Congressional District from 1995 until 2011.