Rep. Peter Meijer Is ‘Furious’ at the White House’s Afghanistan ‘Lies’
Because “the information we were getting from the administration was outdated, it was inaccurate, and sometimes just plain deceptive,” freshman Rep. Peter Meijer (R–Mich.) and four-term Rep. Seth Moulton (D–Mass.) made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on August 24.
The congressional duo—both of them Iraq War vets, both of them intervention skeptics—were promptly criticized for recklessness by the White House, the congressional leadership and the Pentagon. Meijer was defiant about the importance of what he learned there: “We were being lied to up and down.”
On Wednesday morning, hours after President Joe Biden’s speech marking the end of the 20-year U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Meijer was still describing himself as “very angry at everybody”—about the hundreds of Americans and visa-qualified Afghans left behind, about the two decades of failed leadership and congressional abdication that led up to this, and about the administration’s brazen dishonesty.
“If you want to talk to specific lies,” the 33-year-old Meijer told me over the phone, “one: that there is no more Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. That’s a lie; we know it. Two: them saying that the Haqqani network and the Taliban are two separate entities. That’s a lie. Three: that Americans were not ‘stranded’—Jen Psaki, that was a lie. Four: that Americans were not being beaten by the Taliban or being harassed trying to get into the airport. That was a lie. Boy, there’s a bunch of others too.”
Meijer, who holds the Grand Rapids congressional seat previously represented by Libertarian Justin Amash, first jumped into politics in 2019 out of concern that Amash, still then a Republican, was spending too much time bashing Donald Trump. In his first month on the job, Meijer himself faced intense criticism and a GOP primary challenger for witheringly criticizing Trump and then voting to impeach him for his role in stoking the Capitol riot.
Though the two men diverge philosophically, they share an independent streak, a desire to “end the endless wars,” and a certain generational facility with social media. After the State Department left stranded dozens of employees of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which funds Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, one of a group of 15 such journalists got out of Afghanistan at the last minute only by sliding into Meijer’s DMs.
“They’re now resettled in a safe country,” Meijer said. “But it’s just astounding how out of touch or unaware or oblivious this administration has been. It’s just been every step of the process.”
Now making the media rounds, Meijer is calling for Congress to buff up its foreign policy responsibilities iand repeal open-ended Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMFs). He is also calling for the resignations of officials who botched the U.S. retreat.
“There are a lot of things that I cannot wait to share until we are a little bit past this point—because there are situations with folks who are still trying to get out—that are just jaw-dropping for the organizational failures,” he said.
The following is an edited transcript of our conversation. “It’s delusional,” Meijer contends, “to call what has happened over the past two decades, and as we saw encapsulated over the past two weeks, as anything but an abject failure.”
Reason: What was your impression of President Biden’s speech?
Peter Meijer: What my fear has been for a while is that there will be these victory laps and attempts to make this a Mission Accomplished moment. Without a doubt, the men and women of our armed services and our diplomatic personnel on the ground have done incredible work. But I’m a lot less focused on the people we were able to get out than on those we left behind, and I think that’s where our focus needs to continue to be, no matter how much the president would like to put this in the rearview and focus on his domestic agenda.
Reason: Tell us a little bit, given your knowledge and your ongoing work on this, about who is left behind. Who are these people, what is your sense of their danger, and how many of them are there?
Meijer: We have several hundred Americans. And again, for each of these American citizens, they in many cases have non-U.S.-citizen family members. So it’s those American citizens who were left behind and their family members. And then it’s also a staggering number—thousands upon tens of thousands of individuals who either have Special Immigrant Visas, have applied for them and are close in the pipeline, or are otherwise eligible for those Special Immigrant Visas who are currently being hunted by the Taliban.
We’ve seen plenty of incidents of reprisal killings, and I don’t know that I’ve spoken to somebody who hasn’t said, “The Taliban have come to my house, have asked my family where I am.” Or they came to their house and the house was empty because they’re in hiding, and asked the neighbors where these people are. So I think there’s a very real and palpable fear that the Taliban will not respect the general amnesty that they put out, but are instead interested in retribution. I hope that that’s not the case, but I think it is very wise and prudent to assume any worst-case scenario here.
Reason: I know that you are in favor of withdrawing from the war, and you’ve been a critic of some of our ongoing missions out there. The president last night said, “I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit.” What if anything is wrong with that approach?
Meijer: One thing I want to make very clear, one of the reasons why I was optimistic and supportive of the withdrawal, was because of the work that was being done in Doha to negotiate towards a power-sharing agreement and a unity government that was likely going to be more decentralized, that would allow a bit more provincial autonomy.
In order to negotiate, you need to have leverage, and the two points of leverage we had, one, was our physical presence on the ground, and number two was the existence of the Afghan government and the Afghan National Security Forces. So while I am sympathetic at the notion that we don’t want to be engaged in the forever war and we don’t want to be engaged in a forever exit, the reality is that we were moving towards this negotiated power-sharing agreement, and then frankly stumbled on the one yard line. We failed to adjust our withdrawal, adjust the conditions as the security situation eroded, as the Afghan National Security Forces and Afghan government’s credibility and durability eroded. We just made the mad rush for the exits.
So we should not have had as mad a rush to the exits without any adjustments, without any accounting for the situation as it was collapsing. Because once that snowball starts to pick up steam, you wind up with tens of thousands of people overrunning the runways. You wind up with crushes at these gates that exposed our Marine soldiers and sailors to mortal peril, and for which 13 of whom lost their lives.
This is not an indictment on the idea of withdrawing, but on the way in which we so recklessly, and against all reports coming out of the ground, stuck to an untenable approach.
Reason: You worked in intelligence in Iraq. This rapid
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