Washington, D.C. – This morning, Wyoming Congresswoman and House Armed Services Committee member Liz Cheney (R-WY) joined NBC’s “Meet The Press” to discuss the continued fallout from President Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Watch the full interview here and see the transcript below:
CHUCK TODD: Wyoming Congresswoman Cheney, welcome back to “Meet The Press.”
REP. LIZ CHENEY: Thank you, Chuck.
TODD:Look, I know you disagree with the withdrawal decision sort-of overall, but let’s focus short term here for a moment. The national security adviser did say, “If the president gets advice that more resources are needed to get Americans out, then he would be open to that.” Given the situation, should that be the next course of action?
REP. CHENEY: We have to ensure that we get every American out, and we have to ensure that we get out the Afghans who helped us. That’s our duty. That’s our responsibility. You know, as you pointed out, Chuck, what we’re watching unfold on the ground is a complete catastrophe. To hear the national security adviser say, “Well, it’s a little complexity, a little turbulence,” or to suggest that this is simply a civil war, is fundamentally at odds with reality. Our mission in Afghanistan was to deny terrorists a sanctuary, and the Biden decision now to completely withdraw has handed them an entire country. Has, in fact, ensured, not just the Taliban, but al Qaeda, ISIS, the Haqqani Network — terrorist organizations that want to attack the United States now have an entire country as a sanctuary from which to do so.
TODD: Is the Taliban a direct threat to the United States or not? That has been a dispute —
REP. CHENEY: Absolutely.
TODD: What makes you say that?
REP. CHENEY: Absolutely. Well, we know, the facts make me say it. We know the Taliban has never renounced al Qaeda. This is one of the things that was such an indefensible step by the Trump Administration. When President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo decided that they were going to sign a surrender agreement with the Taliban, decided that they were going to begin to negotiate with the Taliban —
TODD: You concur with President Trump’s own national security adviser — I was going to actually play a clip for you — H.R. Halderman —
REP. CHENEY: McMaster —
TODD: I’m sorry — McMaster — I’ve done that a few times, been around this town for too long, I guess. And he basically accused Secretary of State Pompeo at the time and the president — he called it a surrender agreement. Why do you call it a surrender agreement?
REP. CHENEY: It is, absolutely. We sat down and negotiated with terrorists because we completely excluded the Afghan government from those negotiations. We gave credibility to the Taliban. Secretary Pompeo told us that the Taliban was going to renounce al Qaeda. They told us that the Taliban was going to fight terrorists. They forced the Afghan national government — we did — to release 5,000 prisoners. So, we completely undercut the Afghan national government, we absolutely emboldened the Taliban. And we know now from public reporting that the moment that agreement was signed, the Taliban went to members of the Afghan national army and said, “The Americans are leaving you, and you should lay down your arms when the time comes, or we’ll kill you and your families.” So, that led directly to the catastrophe that we’re seeing today.
TODD: Do you think President Biden could have gotten out of that agreement? He feels as if — that it would have been — that we’d have paid a high price, maybe even with more attacks on our soldiers on the ground.
REP. CHENEY:I think there’s no question — you know, President Biden is the President of the United States and he’s had no problem in reversing course on other things. He decided he’s going to rejoin the JCPOA, he decided he’s going to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord. He’s reversed a number of decisions of the Trump Administration. So, in this circumstance where, absolutely, the U.S. national security requirement was to maintain a presence on the ground, to help to, frankly, embolden and train the Afghans who were bearing the brunt of this and fighting for us. President Biden ignored the advice of his military leadership and decided instead he’s going to withdraw. All you have to do is look at what is unfolding today, look at that interview we just heard. The fact that we’re now somehow relying on the Taliban to protect Americans — and the White House is denying what we know is happening on the ground, which is that Americans are being beaten, they’re being prevented from getting to the gates of the airport, and they are probably being held hostage.
TODD:Ten years ago, we had a poll that showed over 70% of Americans thought that we were more likely — that this was going to end without being able to leave a stable democracy in Afghanistan. In some ways the American public, sort of, foresaw this a decade ago. The American public now, even as they don’t like what they see on the ground, 60% say this isn’t worth it. That seems to be why there’s no political support with — four presidents in a row have tried to get out because the public has not been with them. Isn’t that fundamentally why we’re getting out?
REP. CHENEY:I think I actually look at it the other way, Chuck. We need to have leaders who will tell the public what’s necessary, who will help to explain why, in fact, we need to have a presence on the ground in Afghanistan. So, when you’ve got three presidents in a row having said we have to get out —
TODD: Even President Bush was trying to find a way out as we’re now learning in an IG report.
REP. CHENEY: I don’t think there’s any question, but that we have to maintain, we needed to maintain a presence on the ground. 3,500 forces, counterterrorism operations, counterintelligence operations — that allowed us to have the kind of assurance that the Taliban would not, in fact, take over as they have done and create now a brand-new safe haven. Again, it’s not just the Taliban. It’s the Haqqani Network, it’s al Qaeda, you’ve got ISIS. You have the very groups, particularly al Qaeda, that attacked us 20 years ago from bases in Afghanistan, now back into a position where they can do the same again.
TODD: It does seem as if President Biden is going to pursue a strategy, a counterterrorism strategy, that’s similar to what both the Obama and the Trump Administrations started to do late there in how we go after enclaves in Syria and enclaves in Africa. Is that possible in Afghanistan?
REP. CHENEY:Right now, no. If you look at where we are today and you look at the damage this decision has done — it’s not just damage in Afghanistan, it’s damage globally for the United States. Look what the members of the British Parliament have been saying about us over the course of the last week. Look at what our NATO allies are saying about us. The arrangements they’re now making, frankly, in some cases, excluding us. We have to as a nation recognize evil in the world. When you see mothers standing outside those gates handing their babies off, that’s because they know the Taliban is evil. And as Americans, we have to say we must fight that and defend ourselves against future attacks.
TODD: But was nation building a step too far? In some ways I understand you have to build some institutions if you want to create that stability, but it didn’t work in Vietnam and it didn’t work here.
REP. CHENEY: Look, you have to build those institutions. I think that’s exactly the point. I think we have to be very specific. There’s no question that there were mistakes, there were strategies that were pursued that didn’t work, strategies that were pursued that didn’t have the resources they needed, but for the United States to be in a position where we need to ensure Afghanistan is not a safe haven, that means that we’ve got to provide the support necessary to continue to have the Afghans bear the brunt of the fight, it means that we’ve got to help to build the institutions that can withstand the al Qaeda and the Taliban threat that continues. So, this isn’t about building a democracy that looks like the United States, it’s about what can we do to maintain stability so that we don’t have further terrorist attacks from Afghan soil.
TODD: Unfortunately, I’m out of time, Congresswoman Liz Cheney. I’d love to get you back here and talk a little about that January 6th Committee that you’re working on as well.
REP. CHENEY:I’ll look forward to it.
TODD:Appreciate you coming on and sharing your perspective with us.
REP. CHENEY:Thanks, Chuck. Great to be with you.