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Rep Peter Meijer wants America to stop believing its own propaganda on Afghanistan

Rep Peter Meijer wants America to stop believing its own propaganda on Afghanistan
The freshman Republican also defended his trip to Afghanistan and stopped short of calling for Biden’s resignation or impeachment

Republican Rep Peter Meijer of Michigan is worried that the United States could repeat its mistakes in Afghanistan – if it continues believing its own foreign policy propaganda.

“I think one of the reasons why the past couple of weeks of Afghanistan have been such a shock to some and such a disappointing confirmation to others is because of that disconnect between reality and how that reality is projected,” Mr Meijer told The Independent in an interview on Monday morning.

Mr Meijer, a freshman member of Congress and a veteran of the War in Iraq, spoke on the heels of his visit to Afghanistan with fellow veteran and Democratic Rep Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. Mr Meijer added that it was essential to close the gap between the reality on the ground in Afghanistan and what has been projected.

“If we get back to believing our own propaganda, rather than focusing on the facts, focusing on what’s happening on the ground, we’re just dooming ourselves to wind up in the same place a decade or two from now,” he said.

A military evacuation flight leaves Hamid Karzai International Airport on 30 August 2021.

The congressman noted the latest example of this occurred as recently as the weekend, when United States Central Command announced that it had launched a defensive strike on a vehicle in Kabul and had “no indications” of civilian casualties. In the following hours, it was revealed that multiple children were killed, including a two-year-old girl.

“We believe we can spin our way out of inconvenient truths and inconvenient realities,” Mr Meijer said. “Optics don’t control reality and over the entirety of this two-decade conflict, we’ve had generals who believed their own propaganda, we’ve had a public that’s believed the narratives that was fed to it.”

Much like his predecessor from Michigan’s 3rd District, Representative Justin Amash (who notoriously quit the GOP after he called for former president Donald Trump’s impeachment), Mr Amash has not been afraid to buck his own party’s leadership. After Mr Trump incited an insurrection at the Capitol on 6 January, one of his first major votes was to impeach the then-president.

Mr Meijer’s most recent act of defiance, though, was his decision to go to Afghanistan with Mr Moulton, a move that garnered considerable criticism. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said at the time that the two congressmen’s effort “took time away” from efforts to evacuate as many people as possible from the country. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi subsequently wrote a letter to colleagues instructing them not to visit Afghanistan. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said while “I understand their frustration”, he added said “it’s not the best idea” to go to Afghanistan.

But Mr Meijer defended his actions.

“One guy texted me after seeing the criticism and said, ‘The only thing you disrupted here was the crummy morale’, because there are a lot of folks who felt ignored or abandoned and just kind of at the end of the world being given this impossible mission,” Mr Meijer said. He noted how one service member responsible for evacuating the US Embassy in Kabul was wearing the same uniform for two weeks since he didn’t have time to go back to his room and another was in tennis shoes because he had to leave his boots behind.

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“There are situations there that we should have never allowed our people to be put in,” the congressman said. “That is exactly all the more reason why we felt we needed to go because of how little administration had been sharing, because of how deceptive they had been.”

While Mr Meijer frequently criticised the Biden administration throughout the interview, from its lack of transparency, to the abandoning of Bagram Airfield, he also criticised decades of US policy in the region. A former conflict analyst in Afghanistan, during the fall of Afghan government and defence forces, he had tweeted that it was less of a show of force by the Taliban “than proof of the failure of the US mission to build a credible Afghan government”.

“As soon as the US had a defined end date and that was serious and occurring, they started to work on their plan Bs,” Mr Meijer told The Independent. “And for a lot of them, there were accommodations that could be made with the Taliban that were in their logical rational best interests. A lot better to go negotiate some kind of handover with some hope for amnesty than to fight to the death in a losing battle.”

Planes are seen on the tarmac at the airport in Kabul late on August 30, 2021, hours ahead of a US deadline to complete its frenzied withdrawal from Afghanistan

Similarly, Mr Meijer added that when he was an analyst, the Taliban was particular about not being called insurgents, since the Taliban thought it was thrown out by an internationally supported force that did not spring up internally. As a result, the Taliban found positive reception where it could offer a degree of order.

“And especially when we were killing the number of civilians with airstrikes that we were in the past two and a half years in particular,” Mr Meijer said. “The US public stopped paying attention because our men and women were not dying. Meanwhile, that was because it was a shift to an air war that grew ever more lethal for the Afghan public.”

Despite his vociferous criticisms of the Biden administration, Mr Meijer stopped short of the calls for impeachment or resignation from some of his fellow congressional Republicans in both chambers for Mr Biden.

“I think I am livid. I am furious. But at the same time, we are in this emergency today. I want us to get past this moment,” he said, while adding he hoped individuals responsible “have enough honour” to resign.

“We need to make sure we fix what’s wrong here and there are a lot of things wrong and there are a lot of a lot of individuals to hold to account. I’m not to the point of pronouncing what and who. There will be a time for that soon.”