Hours before the U.S. military announced the official end of the war in Afghanistan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki took heavy fire on Monday afternoon from a litany of establishment liberal media outlets, Fox’s Jacqui Heinrich, and usual cast member Philip Wegmann over the administration’s handling of the withdrawal, what to say to those being left behind, and whether America is now less safe of a country.
ABC’s Stephanie Ramos had a very simple question using Biden’s own words against him from August 10 that he didn’t “regret” the decision: “After watching the heart-wrenching dignified transfer yesterday, is that still his position? Does he not regret the manner in which this withdrawal was conducted?”
Psaki insisted that Biden did and will continue to “honor” the lives lost, so Ramos pressed: “So, after meeting with the families of the fallen service members, he still sticks by his decision? He doesn't regret at all how this has played out in the last couple of weeks?”
Psaki shamelessly went back to her false choice that The New York Times’s Michael Shear slammed her for on Friday, which was that Biden still believes this manner of withdrawal was correct because it was this or have years of more dead with thousands more troops staying in Afghanistan.
A few minutes later, CBS’s Ed O’Keefe stood up for the people Team Biden were leaving behind: “If, for some reason, and we don't have a specific example just yet, but there very well may be...what would be your message to those Americans who may be left behind who were trying to get out?”
Psaki rattled off a long, winding answer about how Americans were still being evacuated (which we learned hours later was a lie), so O’Keefe tried again, but concerning Afghans and what they should do in terms of hunkering down post-deadline.
NBC’s Peter Alexander took up Doocy’s spot in testing Psaki’s patience and began by wanting to know how the U.S. would define success “knowing that there will be likely thousands of SIV applicants and others still there and certainly some Americans as well.”
A Psaki word salad later, Alexander cited the billions of military equipment now in the hands of the Taliban as a way of asking whether America was less safe because of how the war ended (click “expand”):
ALEXANDER: When we talk about, as the U.S. prepares to leave, whether tonight or tomorrow, there are going to be billions of dollars worth of U.S.-made munitions, arms, military aircraft, armored vehicles that have fallen into the hands of the Taliban here, giving them new capabilities they didn't have before this. Are Americans less safe now because the Taliban now has access to billions of dollars worth of American-made weaponry?
PSAKI: Well, let me unpack your question a little bit, because the U.S. military, part of their retrograde effort is to reduce the amount of military equipment or apparatus that anyone on the ground has access to. I'm not going to get into the details of how they do that, but that is part of their effort. I will also reiterate something that our national security advisor said just last week. We had to make an assessment several weeks ago about whether we provide materials to the Afghan national security forces so that they could fight the fight. Obviously, they decided not to fight. Or not. And we made the decision to provide them with that equipment and the material. The third piece, I would note, that's very important here is that we have not assessed that any group on the ground, whether it's ISIS-K or the Taliban, has the ability to attack the United States. [SWATS BUG] Whoa. We clearly need to — sorry, that was an aggressive bug. We need to ensure that remains the case, but that is not a capability that we have assessed to be the case at this point in time. There is a difference between the threat that is posed to U.S. men and women serving or people who are gathering outside of the gates in Kabul and whether these individuals can attack the United States.
ALEXANDER: So I guess the simple question is, acknowledging that you're going to try to limit what access they do have to some of the weaponry in ways that you can't communicate here, but at the end of the day, whether it's not the United States that's under risk as a function of this, are Americans around the globe — I mean, are western interests now more at risk because the Taliban has new access to all this weaponry?
PSAKI: Well, again, Peter, I would say that we — the world will be watching. We have an enormous amount of leverage, including access to the global marketplace, which is not a small piece of leverage, to the Taliban, who are now overseeing large swaths of Afghanistan. Certainly, our objective was not to leave them with any equipment, but that is not always an option when you are looking to retrograde and move out of a war zone. But that is our clear leverage we have with the Taliban, and again, our capacities — our over the horizon capacities which, by the way, killed two ISIS terrorists just last week and continue to be utilized by our men and women on the ground, remain in place and remain in place in the region. There are other parts of the world, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, where we don't have a presence on the ground, and we still prevent terrorist attacks or threats to U.S. citizens living in the United States or around the world from — from growing.
ALEXANDER: Just last question and then I’ll share — to the next person, is the U.S. more or less safe today than we were before the Taliban took over?
PSAKI: Well, again, we are not going to do anything that's going to allow terrorists to grow or prosper in Afghanistan or any terrorist organization. That continues to be the President's commitment and his order to his U.S. military over the past several days and the actions that CENTCOM have announced show that he's going to deliver on that promise.
Heinrich came up shortly thereafter and touched on the New York Times story that said American University in Afghanistan students were fearful for their lives because the U.S. had given their names to the Taliban.
Psaki pushed back on the story as “inaccurate,” “misreported,” and “misconstrued.”
After two more questions from Heinrich about how the U.S. expected to use drones to eliminate terror threats from hours away, The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker posed to Psaki the story of how one family member of a deceased Marine found Biden’s interactions with them at Dover to be “scripted and shallow” (click “expand”):
PARKER: Going back to the President's meeting with the families at Dover yesterday, the sister of one of the Marines killed in the airport attack told The Post that the president's comments struck her family as scripted and shallow, and she said, “you can't f-up as bad as he did and say you're sorry. This did not need to happen and every life is on his hands.” [INAUDIBLE] Can you talk a little bit about how the President thought the meeting with the families went and also what responsibility, if any, for these deaths does he think he bears?
PSAKI: Well, I think the President made clear as the secretary of state and our national security advisor made clear, we're all responsible and they’re respons — they feel responsibility and the buck stops with the President. And I think you heard him say that on Thursday when we — he spoke to the loss of life of these — [SWATS BUG] — servicemen and women as soon as it — shortly after it had happened. It is certainly the — the right of any individual who met with the President yesterday to speak publicly about their experience, but I'm not going to speak about the President's experience beyond what I have said already.
One of the more astonishing exchanges came in one of the last back-and-forths as Psaki couldn’t even provide a definitive number of Afghans allies who will be left behind to...PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor.
Yes, even the ever-reliable administration flack couldn’t even get answers to a basic question.
Wegmann closed out the briefing with an astonishing moment of his own:
WEGMANN: The Washington Post reports that the Taliban offered to stay out of Kabul and let the United States forces secure the city. We told them that we only needed the airport. Is that reporting accurate?
PSAKI: I have not seen this reporting. I have to look at it.
His other two questions concerned the lists and, in doing so, Wegmann called out the disconnect between Psaki denying the list story to Heinrich even though Biden had largely confirmed to him on Thursday the idea of giving names.
If Monday’s briefing were any indication (and the world didn’t know that the war was about to end), Tuesday’s episode of The Psaki Show will be a must-watch.
To see the relevant briefing transcript from August 30, click here.