Aug 16, 2021

Mitch McConnell Briefing Speech on Afghanistan Transcript August 16

Mitch McConnell Briefing on Afghanistan Transcript August 16
RevBlogTranscriptsMitch McConnell Briefing Speech on Afghanistan Transcript August 16

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell spoke about the situation in Afghanistan during a press conference in Kentucky on August 16, 2021. He criticized Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops. Read the transcript of his remarks here.

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Sen. McConnell: (00:03)
Well, after I finish, I’ll be happy to take questions on other matters, but I want to address the situation in Afghanistan. I think it’s important to remember why we went into Afghanistan in the first place. Afghanistan was a haven for Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda was the organization that attacked us on 9/11. We didn’t go into Afghanistan to build a modern Jeffersonian democracy. We went there because it was in our own interest to try to prevent terrorists from operating in a safe haven in Afghanistan. And even though we have been there a long time, I do not accept the notion that this has been an endless war. For example, over the last year, we didn’t lose a single American military personnel in combat, not one. Why were we still there? To keep the lid on so that this relatively stable situation would not become a haven for terrorists once again.

Sen. McConnell: (01:11)
The previous president and the one before that wanted to completely withdraw from Afghanistan. I was a part of arguing against that, both to President Obama and to the previous president, President Trump, as well as to the current president, not because I thought we were ever going to see in our lifetimes some modern democracy in that part of the world, but because I thought it was in our own interest to prevent it from becoming a haven again and providing a victory for terrorism. So against everyone’s advice, including the current president’s own military, he decided to withdraw and to withdraw rapidly. What we have seen is an unmitigated disaster, a stain on the reputation of the United States of America. Every terrorist around the world, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen, in Africa are cheering the defeat of the United States military by a terrorist organization in Afghanistan.

Sen. McConnell: (02:30)
If you insisted on leaving… Which as I said earlier, I think entirely leaving was a mistake. But if you insisted on leaving, at least you should have had adequate concern not only for the Americans who are still in Afghanistan, but the Afghans who cooperated with us, the interpreters, the people who were part of the government, the people who are on our side through these 20 years, while not only were we there, but the Europeans were there too. Remember, this was a NATO mission, a NATO mission. And now we see these heartbreaking pictures of people clinging to airplanes as they try to escape from the airport in Kabul. An unmitigated disaster.

Sen. McConnell: (03:26)
I hope the president will put in enough troops to get out as many people as possible. Not only all the Americans, obviously, but those who worked with us, who depended on us. We’ve even gotten phone calls in my office from people who have family over there who were worried about them getting out. Honestly, this administration looks at me like it couldn’t organize a two-car funeral. And maybe it’s not too late, I hope not, for the president to put in enough troops in and around Kabul to at least get out all the Americans and as many of the Afghans as possible who are our friends, who are interpreters, on whom we relied all of these years. It is a sad day for the United States of America. Having said that, I’ll be happy to take a few questions. Yeah, [Chris 00:04:28].

Speaker 2: (04:28)
Do you think the intelligence the president got was insufficient or wrong, or do you think the president just mishandled it?

Sen. McConnell: (04:37)
It won’t surprise you to know I was in a number of these briefings over the last couple of months. It was pretty obvious to me what was going to happen. I predicted it, and I’m not in the intelligence business, that the Taliban would be in power by September the 11th, which is a date of historic significance, just based on what we were hearing in these briefings. I know for a fact that the president’s military leaders argued against this decision. I think the president felt strongly about this, obviously. He overruled his own military leaders to do it, and he owns it.

Speaker 3: (05:33)
President Trump, and you mentioned even Obama, were favoring a withdrawal of troops from the region. And so given that, how do you figure that this might’ve been any… Would this have been any different if President Trump was still-

Sen. McConnell: (05:48)
Easy. I argued against it with Trump, too. I made the same argument to President Trump, and simply the fact that President Trump announced we were going to leave in May didn’t mean President Biden had to do that. But I argued against this to President Trump as well. And President Obama had similar inclinations, and I argued against it at that time as well. Again, not because I thought there was any realistic hope some Western-style democratic government was going to emerge in Afghanistan, but because we went there because it was in our own national interest. Our national interest is why we went there. And I fear also for the Afghan women and girls, who in all likelihood are going to be put back into a totally untenable position by these barbarians.

Speaker 3: (06:48)
How long should America have been in Afghanistan?

Sen. McConnell: (06:51)

Speaker 3: (06:52)
How long should America have been in Afghanistan, do you think?

Sen. McConnell: (06:56)
Well, we’ve been in Germany, Japan, and South Korea for over half a century. I don’t know the answer to that, but what I can tell you is it was not a haven for Al-Qaeda. Not a single American military personnel got killed in the last year. It was a relatively benign way to keep the lid on to avoid exactly what we’re seeing.

Speaker 4: (07:28)
Senator, the president is going to be speaking in probably less than an hour. What should he say to the American people?

Sen. McConnell: (07:34)
At this, he needs to get enough troops in to Kabul to try to save as many Americans and Afghans who cooperated with us out of there as possible.

Speaker 4: (07:44)
Do you think he needs to apologize or accept-

Sen. McConnell: (07:49)
Well, we’ll see what he has to say, but what he can do at this point seems to me… And they’re ramping it up. Apparently, the last time I read, there were 7,000 troops in there, or about to be on there, to secure the airport and get as many of our people out as possible.

Speaker 2: (08:04)
So what should be the policy going forward?

Sen. McConnell: (08:09)
I think Afghanistan is lost. Every terrorist around the world is cheering, in Syria, in Yemen, in Africa. They’ve watched the Taliban in effect take America, or defeat America in effect.

Speaker 2: (08:34)
Is there anything that could be done to keep terrorist cells from reforming there?

Sen. McConnell: (08:38)
I’m sorry?

Speaker 2: (08:38)
Is there anything that can be done to keep terrorist cells from reforming in Afghanistan-

Sen. McConnell: (08:39)
Well, it would be very, very difficult to do that from a distance in Afghanistan. There were suggestions we’d provide air power, but air power would have to be located six or seven hours away. And at this point, there isn’t an Afghan army to push back against the Taliban. The Taliban appear to me to be totally in control of the country.

Speaker 5: (09:05)
Senator, did we lose the strategic placement for our own national security?

Sen. McConnell: (09:14)
Is what?

Speaker 5: (09:15)
Did we lose a strategic spot for where our military was in the Middle East for national security by pulling out when we did?

Sen. McConnell: (09:25)
Well, I don’t know how many ways I can say it. I don’t think America’s reputation, America’s national security, or America’s interests are in any way advanced by this precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan. I can’t think of anything good coming out of this.

Speaker 3: (09:43)
Do you have any concerns about the current state of a lot of hospitals in America right now where they’ve run out of ICU beds? And what do you think could be done to help some of those hospitals?

Sen. McConnell: (09:54)
Vaccines, vaccines, vaccines. I’m perplexed, as some of you have heard me say before, that there is still resistance among Americans to vaccines. As a polio survivor myself who welcomed when I was a youngster the advent of the Sabin and the Salk vaccines, the fact that they worked, the fact that they have essentially eradicated polio in the entire world. But it took 70 years to come up with two effective vaccines for polio. Here, we came up with three highly effective vaccines in less than a year. And I’m perplexed by the reluctance of Americans to take the vaccine.

Sen. McConnell: (10:46)
I just came from doing a public service announcement to broadcasters on this subject. As you all know, I’ve used some of my own campaign money to try to encourage people to take the vaccine. I know there are plenty of people that don’t believe someone like me or someone like the president or some actor. Just look at the statistics. I believe it’s the case that 97% of the people who are in the hospitals are unvaccinated. 97% of the people in the hospitals are unvaccinated. That’s a fact. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact. So I’m still hoping that more and more Americans witnessing this resurgence will get vaccinated. I think that’s clearly the answer.

Speaker 6: (11:37)
[crosstalk 00:11:37] time for one last question, please.

Speaker 3: (11:39)
Into the roundtable discussion today, did you hear concerns from business leaders who were concerned that schools were closing, or any other type of things like that might cause further disruptions in the economy?

Sen. McConnell: (11:47)
Yeah. Many of them are around. You can ask them if you all are here. You can ask them the impact. One of the things I heard, won’t surprise you, is that the $300 extra bonus per week, which will end on September 5th, is creating difficulty in getting people back to work. I think all of them are wrestling with encouraging their own employees to get vaccinations. I think we’re all pitching in with whatever audience we have to try to encourage people to do the right thing. Thanks a lot, everyone.

Speaker 6: (12:23)
Thank you all.

Speaker 7: (12:26)
We’re going to go that way, yes.

Speaker 6: (12:27)
Senator, thanks for being with us.

Sen. McConnell: (12:27)
No problem.

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