On Tuesday, Rep. Peter Meijer secretly flew to Afghanistan and viewed the chaos of the evacuation at Hamid Kharzi Airport firsthand. On Friday, he found himself grappling with the deaths of 13 service members who guarded the very gates he observed.
Now, the freshman Republican said, the officials responsible for putting troops in what he called an “impossible position” should step down, though he declined to name names just yet.
“If they don’t have the sense of honor to frankly resign, to take responsibility, I think that would be pretty shameful and I think that’s a decision that individual needs to make. But if they have any honor, they will recognize their own culpability,” he told The Daily Beast in an interview Friday.“I don’t want to get into names but you can clearly see just overwhelming strategic, operational failure that individuals need to be held accountable for.”
He added that, if those individuals didn’t do “the right thing,” that’s where Congress would have to step in.
Asked if that extended to a possible impeachment inquiry—as floated recently by some members of the Republican Conference—Meijer said only that he would review the articles and “make a determination based on the strength of the charges and the facts on the ground.”
“There absolutely needs to be unsparing accountability for those who put our forces in the impossible position they’re in right now,” he said.
Three days ago, the Michigan Republican, who served in Iraq in the Army Reserves and worked in Afghanistan at an NGO, witnessed that position in person when he and Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton (MA) shocked and angered officials in Washington from the Pentagon to the Capitol by making an unauthorized trip to Kabul.
But Meijer said their rogue trip was absolutely necessary to get to the truth of the situation the military faced after briefings Congress received were either old, incomplete, or contradicted by reporting on the ground.
The reality they observed caused both him and Moulton to change their minds on whether the date of withdrawal should be extended.
“It’s an upside down world. I would vastly prefer we stay as long as we can to get as many people as we can, but the sad reality is that we are entirely dependent on the Taliban,” he said. “With the Taliban support, we are at least able to get most of the people out, mostly without a problem.”
A violation of that would risk an open conflict with the Taliban which would likely cost even more American and Afghan civilian lives.
“Just a catastrophically bizarre scenario that is lost on no one there,” he said.
He described troops having to escort Afghans carrying infants or those in wheelchairs without the proper documentation back outside the gates—a heart-wrenching task that there “is no training for.”
“When I say this is an impossible position, it’s not just from a security standpoint, not just from a tactical standpoint, from a moral standpoint,” he said.
Several committees in the House and Senate—including the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where Meijer is a member—have indicated they will hold hearings on the Afghanistan evacuation in the coming months.
But beyond oversight of the immediate situation in Afghanistan, Meijer said it’s imperative Congress retakes its war power authority instead of allowing it to be “outsourced” to the White House, that the legislative branch uses its Article I authority to conduct a thorough review of the war in Afghanistan starting from its inception.
Meijer, who took over his Michigan seat from the fiercely independent lawmaker Justin Amash, seems to be picking up right where the former Republican-turned-Libertarian Amash left off with congressional war authority.
“The problem is we have outsourced all of that to the presidency,” Meijer said. “These are inherently congressional responsibilities.”
He went on to say that a 20-year war was what happens “when the legislative branch is entirely dependent on intelligence analysis that is being manipulated by the president,” before mentioning former President George W. Bush’s lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and former President Barack Obama downplaying of the strength of ISIS throughout his time in the White House.
“What happens when, when they use assessments to support political expediency of the moment,” he said. “We deny reality for so long before it comes back and bites you in the ass.”
Meijer also expressed support for potentially forming a 9/11 style commission to create a full, unvarnished account of the war in Afghanistan.
“That is essential, especially while this moment is still fresh. We cannot get distracted,” he said. “We owe it to those who gave their lives, we who gave their hearts, who gave their youth to this mission, to make sure we never put another American soldier, sailor, airman, or intelligence officer in the position that we have put our forces overseas in for the past 20 years over in particular the past 20 days.”
Among those who gave their lives were the 13 servicemen on Thursday, who died when a suicide bomber managed to get close to a gate where members of the military were checking the papers of Afghans trying to access the airport.
Asked whether he met any of those who died, Meijer paused and sighed deeply.
“I don’t want to get too into that, but I did know the group,” he said. “I’m just from a distance, right, my heart just breaks for those men, obviously, for their families, for their colleagues. They should have never been put in that position, but they were and they did the absolute best that they could with what they had. And they saved lives.”