NBC’s Guthrie Hammers Top White House Aide Over Afghanistan ‘Fiasco’


During a testy interview with White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Monday, NBC’s Today show co-host Savannah Guthrie demanded answers on the administration’s catastrophic failure in Afghanistan and how the foreign policy “fiasco” could possibly be salvaged. When the top aide attempted to play word games, the anchor slapped him down.

“Mr. Sullivan, friends and foes alike are calling this withdrawal a fiasco, a debacle. And it is one that apparently the administration did not fully appreciate or see coming,” Guthrie pressed. She then teed up a soundbite of President Biden during a July press conference assuring Afghanistan wouldn’t be another Vietnam:

 

 

JOE BIDEN [JULY 8]: The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR [PBS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT]: Do you see any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam with some people feeling –

BIDEN: None whatsoever. Zero. There’s going to be no circumstance where you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.

Following the embarrassing clip, Guthrie grilled: “And yet, that is precisely what we have seen over these last few days. How do you explain getting this so wrong?” Sullivan actually attempted to quibble over semantics with her: “Well, first, Savannah, to be fair, the helicopter has been the mode of transport from our embassy to the airport for the last 20 years.”

Guthrie immediately shot down the absurd and unserious response:

But you know the larger point – it’s not the helicopter….It’s not the mechanism. No, no, it’s the last-minute scramble. You know that. It’s the last-minute scramble when the assurances from the President himself where this was not what we were going to see.

Moments later, she followed up: “I mean, that’s the critical question facing the President….Why was he saying – regaling reporters how well equipped and better equipped the Afghan forces were, if in the end, they had no will to fight? Shouldn’t we have known that?”

While Sullivan tried to deliver his talking points and spin the unmitigated disaster, Guthrie kept holding his feet to the fire:

Why the last-minute scramble to get Americans out of the embassy? Why haven’t those Afghan civilians who supported our troops over the last 20 years, why are they still waiting, hoping to get out of this country? Why the last-minute scramble just on Saturday? You added another 1,000 troops. Nothing about this seems like it’s part of the plan.

Wrapping the contentious exchange, Guthrie pointedly asked if the White House was willing to do anything to stop the widespread atrocities being committed by the Taliban:

And finally, the Taliban is notoriously vicious, particularly to women and girls, and there have already been reports of surrendering soldiers being executed, of Taliban commanders demanding unmarried women and girls be handed over. Are you aware of such atrocities and what is the U.S. in a position to do about it?

Guthrie was not alone in hammering the administration, all three network morning shows blasted the Biden White House on Monday for creating a devastating situation in Afghanistan that was “Saigon on steroids.”

Here is a transcript of Guthrie’s questions to Sullivan in the August 16 interview:

7:11 AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE:  And joining us now, also from the White House, President Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan, good morning to you. Thanks for being with us.

JAKE SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.

GUTHRIE: Let’s first talk about the status of the evacuation effort going on at this hour. How many evacuees are there left to go? When do you expect this to be completed?

(…)

GUTHRIE: Mr. Sullivan, friends and foes alike are calling this withdrawal a fiasco, a debacle. And it is one that apparently the administration did not fully appreciate or see coming. Let me play you some of what the President himself has said in the last six weeks or so.  

JOE BIDEN [JULY 8]: The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR [PBS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT]: Do you see any parallels between this withdrawal and what happened in Vietnam with some people feeling –

BIDEN: None whatsoever. Zero. There’s going to be no circumstance where you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy of the United States from Afghanistan.

GUTHRIE: And yet, that is precisely what we have seen over these last few days. How do you explain getting this so wrong?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, Savannah, to be fair, the helicopter has been the mode of transport from our embassy to the airport for the last 20 years.

GUTHRIE: But you know the larger point – it’s not the helicopter.

SULLIVAN: That is how we move people back and forth, so –

GUTHRIE: It’s not the mechanism. No, no, it’s the last-minute scramble. You know that. It’s the last-minute scramble when the assurances from the President himself where this was not what we were going to see.

SULLIVAN: It is certainly the case that the speed with which cities fell was much greater than anyone anticipated, including the Afghans, including many of the analysts who looked hard at this problem. And part of the reason for that, Savannah, is because at the end of the day, despite the fact that we spent 20 years and tens of billions of dollars to give the best equipment, the best training, and the best capacity to the Afghan national security forces, we could not give them the will. And they ultimately decided that they would not fight for Kabul and they would not fight for the country –

GUTHRIE: And that may be –  

SULLIVAN: And that opened the door to the Taliban to be able –

GUTHRIE: And that may or may not be the U.S.’s fault – yeah.  

SULLIVAN: I’m sorry, just to complete the thought, that opened the door to the Taliban to come into Kabul very rapidly. We had –

GUTHRIE: I guess the question is, why though, did the administration not know that? I mean, that’s the critical question facing the President. Why did he assume that there would be this will to fight? Why was he saying – regaling reporters how well equipped and better equipped the Afghan forces were, if in the end, they had no will to fight? Shouldn’t we have known that?

(…)        

GUTHRIE: And there is no easy answer in Afghanistan. There is no question about that. But I guess the issue before you and the administration now is why this withdrawal wasn’t better executed. You made the decision in April to have this end of summer, initially 9/11 withdrawal of U.S. troops. Why the last-minute scramble to get Americans out of the embassy? Why haven’t those Afghan civilians who supported our troops over the last 20 years, why are they still waiting, hoping to get out of this country? Why the last-minute scramble just on Saturday? You added another 1,000 troops. Nothing about this seems like it’s part of the plan.

(…)

GUTHRIE: And finally, the Taliban is notoriously vicious, particularly to women and girls, and there have already been reports of surrendering soldiers being executed, of Taliban commanders demanding unmarried women and girls be handed over. Are you aware of such atrocities and what is the U.S. in a position to do about it?

(…)

GUTHRIE: Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor at the White House, I know it’s a busy time. Appreciate your time this morning, sir. Thank you.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.



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