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Josh Hawley Was in Favor of Withdrawing From Afghanistan Until Joe Biden Did It

For a hot minute, the Missouri senator and insurrection advocate was a critic of the forever war. But something changed!

A close-up of Josh Hawley looking to the left with his hands clasped at his chest.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In April, Senator Josh Hawley tore into President Joe Biden’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan. Biden had, at that point, just announced that American troops would be leaving the country they had occupied for two decades by September 11—a date months later than the one that had previously been set by President Donald Trump.

For Hawley, this was unacceptable. “President Biden should withdraw troops in Afghanistan by May 1, as the Trump administration planned, but better late than never. It’s time for this forever war to end,” the Missouri senator tweeted on April 13.

Now that Biden is moving to end that forever war, Hawley’s tone has changed considerably. As chaos has engulfed the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan—suicide blasts killed 13 American troops and scores of Afghan civilians at Kabul’s airport yesterday—Hawley issued a scathing statement calling on the president to resign over his handling of the evacuation. Biden, Hawley wrote, “has now overseen the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in over a decade, and the crisis grows worse by the hour.”

“We must reject the falsehood peddled by a feckless president that this was the only option for withdrawal. This is the product of Joe Biden’s catastrophic failure of leadership,” he continued. “It is now painfully clear he has neither the will nor the capacity to lead. He must resign.”

But Hawley has been a major advocate for withdrawal for some time. In November, when President Trump announced a plan to withdraw troops from the country—and reportedly hoped to do so by the end of the year—Hawley sent a letter to Trump’s defense secretary, Christopher Miller, praising the decision.

For these reasons, majorities of Americans, including veterans of the war itself, have long called for an end to the war in Afghanistan. Yet most of our nation’s policymakers have ignored them. They are certainly entitled to keep advocating nation-building, but they have no right to force working Americans to pay the price for their agenda. The American people deserve an end to this war. They deserve to know their sons and daughters will not be put in harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary. And they deserve to see their tax dollars actually being used to defend them—from Chinese domination, above all—or reinvested at home, in their families and communities.

Hawley is demanding that Biden resign for enacting a policy that Hawley himself has advanced, repeatedly. All of this is especially absurd given that Hawley has advocated for much hastier timetables that likely would have spawned more significant chaos than what is now unfolding—and offered significantly less regard for Afghan civilians, particularly those who have aided American troops over the last 20 years.

Trump has, similarly, praised the withdrawal and criticized Biden for not bringing troops home fast enough. “I started the process. All the troops are coming back home. They couldn’t stop the process. Twenty-one years is enough, don’t we think?” he said in late June.

Hawley’s past support for the withdrawal is especially absurd given that Trump has failed to adequately explain how he would have done things differently. Trump has opined that the withdrawal should have been “conditions based,” but this was not part of the agreement his administration struck with the Taliban. The plan Trump has insisted he would have enacted—“First you bring out all of the American citizens. Then you bring out ALL equipment. Then you bomb the bases into smithereens—AND THEN YOU BRING OUT THE MILITARY”—makes no sense whatsoever in the context of a rapid timeline.

But that withdrawal plan was perhaps never intended to make sense. As Chris Miller, the acting secretary of defense who was in charge at the Pentagon at the tail end of Trump’s presidency, told Defense One, Trump’s “top national security officials never intended to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan,” and in fact, his “public promise to finish withdrawing U.S. forces by May 1, as negotiated with the Taliban, was actually a ‘play’ that masked the Trump administration’s true intentions,” which included keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan on a permanent basis to perform counterterrorism missions.

Perhaps Hawley is being consistent here, in that he supported a plan to end the war in Afghanistan and withdraw U.S. forces so long as that plan was an insincere ruse being deployed to achieve the opposite endgame, and now that a real withdrawal plan is underway, he’s steamed about it. It’s hard to say: The Afghanistan War has always been an ever-shifting welter of twisted scams. But it is perhaps Hawley who is showing a lack of fitness for public service at the moment.