When your actions put you on a par with a university student in his early 20s – particularly when you are members of Congress – then you probably need to take a long hard look at yourself.
Democrat Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Republican Peter Meijer of Michigan said in a joint statement that as members of Congress they “have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch”, having arrived on an unannounced visit to Kabul. Yet all I could think of was the tale of Miles Routledge, a UK student who also took a trip to Afghanistan because he was a fan of "extreme" tourism – and then had to be flown to safety by the British Army.
Former CIA analyst and FBI Senior Intelligence Adviser Philip Mudd told CNN that the congressmen, without the support of their leadership, decided to “bypass Disneyland and take an Instagram trip to Afghanistan because they want some eye candy for a bunch of constituents”. Not unlike Routledge.
To be honest, it's tough not to agree with Mudd's assessment, who was angry enough to call the pair "reprehensible". The two congressmen are both both military veterans, with experience of the region – but I still can't quite understand the reasoning behind going at this exact moment.
“As members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch,’” the two said in a statement. “We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand.” And yet, grandstanding is what it looks like.
The Associated Press quoted unnamed officials saying that both the Department of Defense and the White House were furious when the trip was disclosed and that it was both "unhelpful" and a "distraction".
Sara Jacobs, a California Democrat, tweeted: “Whether it is Haiti or Afghanistan, taking up space in a disaster zone for your own ego helps no one.” That is the sound of the nail being hit on the head.
There is nothing wrong with congressional oversight – so called fact-finding missions have a valid place. There is also nothing wrong with pushing for Joe Biden to extend the withdrawal deadline beyond 31 August, one of the aims for both Moulton and Meijer. But surely there has to be a better way than this?
"There is no place in the world right now where oversight matters more," the two congressmen said – and few would disagree. But to place yourself right at the centre of things like this shows a stunning lack of clarity. An evacuation that you understand has to happen at speed is taking place – anything that potentially takes energy away from that process is definitely a bad thing. No matter no noble the intentions.
Moulton tweeted of the visit to the airport in Kabul: "Witnessing our young Marines and soldiers at the gates, navigating a confluence of humanity as raw and visceral as the world has ever seen, was indescribable."
You would have thought that “indescribable” was probably not the language to use when trying to highlight how much you had seen in Kabul. Oversight indeed
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