Afghanistan, accountability and Maine’s congressional delegation


The Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee have sent a letter to the White House asserting that “the security and humanitarian crisis now unfolding in Afghanistan could have been avoided if you had done any planning.” This puts the Democratic administration on notice that it will have to defend itself. This is what happens when you have more than one political party in a country. It’s called partisanship.

The Democrats’ partisan instincts would normally incline it toward those familiar slogans about “moving on” and getting back to regular government business, but the Afghan debacle will not allow that. The combination of complete collapse and horrible “optics” make these dodges unacceptable.

Three Democratic chairs of Senate committees have pledged to get a full accounting of “what went wrong” in Afghanistan. The Senate Armed Services Committee, under chairman Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), will hold hearings on “what went wrong in Afghanistan.” Reed blamed the fiasco part on the administration’s failutres. Sen. Mark Warner, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, has said that he intended to work with other committees “to ask tough but necessary questions” about why the United States was not better prepared for the collapse of the Afghan government. He promises to investigate the intelligence and diplomatic failures and the lack of imagination “as we transitioned military forces from the country.”

“The execution of the withdrawal from Afghanistan was fatally flawed,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His committee will also examine the rapid collapse of the U.S.-trained-and-equipped Afghan army. “To see this army dissolve so quickly after billions of dollars in U.S. support is astounding. We are no witnessing the horrifying results of many years of policy and intelligence failures,” Menendez added.

Claiming that Washington’s international reputation is “on the line,” Menendez pledges a “full accounting” of the Biden team’s “policy execution and intelligence failures associated with our withdrawal and its aftermath.” The senator’s framing of his examination was fair. He thinks his committee must examine 20 years of policy. This implies a fully bipartisan inquiry, well beyond an examination of any mistakes Trump may have made.

House Foreign Affairs Chair Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to testify before his panel as soon as possible. “The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly changing and it is imperative that the administration provide the American people and Congress transparency about its Afghanistan strategy,” Meeks declared.

The chairman opened the hearing with a statement which incorporated every talking point Biden included in his accounting to the nation. Trump’s prior agreement with the Taliban is responsible, he explained, for forcing him to conform to a narrow deadline. The evacuation was a triumph and he has a mass of statistics to prove it. Even if it doesn’t look like a triumph, he insisted, nobody has offered a better scenario than the one his administration devised.

Maine has one republican senator, one “independent” senator and two democratic representatives. All have a share in the oversight powers given to Congress by our Constitution. They all know some historical examples of how failures by a party’s presidential administration led to heavy congressional losses. The outcome of the Afghanistan investigations could be fatal to their own political ambitions.

This brings us to my recent Facebook friend, Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller, a Marine Corps officer who published a four-minute, 45-second video to Facebook criticizing America’s military leadership following the suicide bombing at Kabul Airport. He called out Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.

He was categorical in his criticism. “People are upset because their senior leaders let them down, and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying, ‘We messed this up.’” Scheller said that the US should never have abandoned its most strategic airbase – Bagram – before all American citizens and their allies had been evacuated. He does not accept General Milley’s assertion in June 23 that Bagram “wasn’t tactically or operationally necessary” for the US military’s final exit from Afghanistan.

He did not single out Biden or Trump of any other professional politician. A follow up video went so far as to advocate a revolutionary reform of America’s military command. More than 30,000 people, some of whom served under Scheller, have sent messages of support to his site. 

Scheller’s message deserves our full attention and the full attention of Maine’s congressional delegation.

A 17-year Marine veteran, he sacrificed his career to demand accountability. He was immediately relieved of command. He violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibition of disrespect for senior leadership. He knew this and has said that his relief of command was appropriate. He would have done the same. This attests to his own acceptance of accountability. He has probably sacrificed a 20-year pension and may face arrest. He has since disclaimed any VA benefits. His criticism of his superiors is on behalf of his fellow soldiers in the ranks.

The full cost of Scheller’s insubordination has yet to be determined, but it’s clear that he has sacrificed a lot in the name of accountability. Accountability is essential to maintain the vitality of any organization. If congressional hearings confirm accusations of incompetence, steps must be taken to correct this state of affairs. In the absence of corrective policies, the problems with America’s military high command, State Department and intelligence services will persist and grow worse after Trump and Biden are gone.

Maine’s voters should expect their congressmen to insist on serious hearings to discover the faults exposed by the Afghan debacle. We can’t expect our elected officials to sacrifice their careers. Politicians don’t do that sort of thing. But it’s not unreasonable to expect every one of them to take a few risks in order to contribute to institutional oversight.


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