White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had a contentious exchange with New York Times correspondent Michael Shear over the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
During Friday’s press briefing, Psaki was asked about the criticism the administration has received from Democratic lawmakers who’ve said that the military withdrawal from Afghanistan was “egregiously mishandled.”
“It is easy to throw stones or be a critic from the outside. It is harder to be in the arena and make difficult decisions,” Psaki told one reporter.
Psaki then argued the two “options” President Biden had in front of him were either sending “tens of thousands of more troops to Afghanistan to potentially lose their lives” or “you pull out and you don’t put anyone at risk.”
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“The option that he has chosen, in coordination and based on the recommendations with his military commanders and advisers on the ground, is to implement an evacuation that has saved the lives potentially of more than 105,000 people, certainly at risk of the men and women who are serving in the military as we saw the events of yesterday. That’s the choice he’s made,” Psaki said.
That sparked an interjection from Shear.
“But Jen, apologies for my colleagues, but, like, you guys have said repeatedly this idea that there were only two choices. What evidence do you have that there weren’t other choices that could have been made?” Shear asked.
“What’s the other choice anyone is offering?” Psaki shot back.
Shear offered a hypothetical “example” where Biden could have told the Afghan government in May about America’s mass evacuation to allow personnel and Afghan allies to start evacuating.
“I’m not suggesting that’s the right way to have gone, I don’t know, but it is another option and I’m sure there’s ten other options that I haven’t thought of that- so why do you present it as these being the only two options?” Shear pressed Psaki.
“There are of course other options, but there are consequences to every option. That is my point,” Psaki responded.
Psaki then suggested that under Shear’s proposed plan that a “threat on U.S. forces would have increased at that point in time.”
“But you would have been operating in a capital that wasn’t overrun by the Taliban,” the Times reporter pushed back.
“How do you know that?” Psaki replied.
“Well, the Taliban wasn’t near Kabul at that point,” Shear responded.
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“Look, Mike, I think it’s easy to play backseat, let’s look at what could have happened, three months, four months ago. I think we’ve been clear on a couple of things, I will just say,” Psaki told Shear. “No one anticipated, I think including on the outside, that the Afghan government would have fallen at the pace they fell and the president and members of our national security team has spoken to that as well. We didn’t anticipate the Afghan national security forces would have folded as they did. We didn’t anticipate that. And as a result of that all happening, we saw a chaotic situation just two weeks ago.”
“My point in response to the question is that there are consequences to any of these difficult choices and decisions. That is what faces you as commander-in-chief and that was the larger point I was trying to make,” Psaki added.