In defense of his Afghanistan policy, President Biden has leaned into the necessity of ending American involvement there, protecting and giving safe passage to our allies and friends, and faulting the political leaders of that country who, without clear support from the former president during peace talks, failed to instill confidence in the country and the military.
These arguments have proven popular, and they apparently have thrown the GOP itself into some disarray. Rather than remain laser-focused on the errors and seize the moral high ground, extremist voices within the party began their usual tactic of standing on the precise opposite side of whatever Biden wanted. This has led to some rather questionable takes and badly mixed messaging.
Fox News led the way down this path. Tucker Carlson, who is no fan of immigrants, compared Afghan refugees to an invading force. "If history is any guide, and it's always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country, and over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions," Carlson said on Monday. "So first we invade, and then we are invaded." This puts him at direct odds with senior members of the GOP including Sen. Mitt Romney, who called for expedited asylum for "our Afghan friends" in an attempt to recast the GOP as the party that values and rewards loyalty and service.
Laura Ingraham, another popular Fox News host, openly questioned whether America should take any of those fleeing from Afghanistan. "Is it really our responsibility to welcome thousands of potentially unvetted refugees from Afghanistan?" she asked her viewers. "All day, we've heard phrases like, 'We've promised them.' Well, who did? Did you?" Meanwhile, the Biden administration has been busily messaging its commitment to accelerate the safe evacuation of more than 20,000 Special Visa Afghanis in order to spare them from reprisals by the Taliban, winning back some who were understandably distraught by images of desperate crowds trying to climb into rescue planes at the Kabul airport.
Far-right QAnon and white nationalist leaders took things even further than the Fox News hosts. Hewing to the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," some began to praise the Taliban and even declare they are on their side. "I'm rooting for the Taliban," said Nicholas Fuentes, a far-right extremist whose followers call themselves Groypers, commenting on the advance of the armed rebels on Kabul. He followed up with a post on Parler noting that the Taliban had banned abortion, vaccines and gay marriage and concluded, "[M]aybe we were fighting on the wrong side for 20 years." Not to be outdone, Rep. Lauren Boebert, who has pushed QAnon related conspiracy theories, tweeted to her 668K followers, "The Taliban are the only people building back better."
While these extreme positions may play well to the MAGA base, Fox viewers and far-right extremists, they are squandering the GOP's best chance at making Afghanistan become Biden's Benghazi. The White House apparently took a day to test the national temperature and then came out strongly in favor of both admitting more refugees while doubling down on the necessity of the "hard call" to leave Afghanistan—splitting the difference between never-Trump Republicans who felt we should not have ever left and GOP radicals who demanded we leave but don't want to accept any of the human costs of the damage we inflicted.
This has pitted the GOP against itself on both questions and made it difficult for GOP leaders to form a coherent response. Do they say that Biden isn't doing enough to help refugees and risk the ire of the Fox faithful? Do they argue we should have stayed longer to ensure a more orderly evacuation and risk the anger of the far-right isolationists? Or do they simply stay focused on the question of the botched evacuation, which might not hold much political water past the next news cycle?
The next move is theirs.