The Biden administration has taken heat from all sides for its messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and blame has increasingly shifted to a key voice in the president’s ear, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who is tasked with warning the president of the consequences of such decisions.
A reporter squarely asked Sullivan if anyone on the national security team would be replaced for the bungled response ‘Does the president intend to fire, reassign or ask for the resignation of any White House personnel or administration officials who handled the situation in Afghanistan?’
‘I have not heard him say so,’ replied Sullivan.
‘It’s, of course, your job to ask those kinds of questions. It’s my job just to keep doing what we’re doing, which is, every day, trying to get as many people out as possible.’
Calls have grown for the national security adviser to be fired.
‘In a national security adviser you absolutely need someone who is able to execute and ensure that any potential problems are identified early and addressed or prepared for. That didn’t happen in this case,’ Brett Bruen, former director of global engagement for President Obama’s national security council, told DailyMail.com.
‘Ultimately it falls on the national security advisor to tell the president, I understand what you want to achieve, but we have information, we have serious concerns. Let’s explore how we navigate through this. What clearly happened was Jake dismissed those and instead pressed ahead because that was what the boss wanted,’ Bruen continued.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that a number of Democratic lawmakers have weighed whether calling for Sullivan’s resignation would help Biden ‘reset the narrative,’ after the administration’s hasty withdrawal that seemed to lack meticulous planning.
‘This was an abject failure. People should be held accountable. There’s no way to spin it,’ Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis told The Hill. ‘It’s not about whether we stay or go. This is about how we left. And you don’t leave like that.’
He noted that Sullivan’s ‘primary job is to forecast ahead the potential of any consequences the president makes.’
Biden, who prides himself on loyalty to those in his inner circle, is reportedly committed to not firing anyone on his national security counsel. To make replacements would be to admit mistake.
But Bruen, who worked with Sullivan during the Obama years, made the case for his ouster.
‘While Biden may prize loyalty, our allies also prize loyalty and reliability, both of which are severely strained right now, and they’re going to have a problem dealing with Sullivan. They’re going to be reluctant to bank on his word.’
Sullivan, 44, is the youngest national security adviser to a president in more than 60 years. The foreign policy veteran used to advise Hillary Clinton when she served as secretary of state, and Clinton has sung Sullivan’s praises. She called him a ‘once-in-a-generation talent’ and a ‘potential future president.’
Sullivan was also a senior advisor to the Obama administration for the Iran nuclear negotiations, which began in secret throughout 2013.
Bruen argued Sullivan, having no previous experience at an embassy overseas, lives in ‘Beltway bubble.’
‘He has never worked overseas at an embassy or on a military base so he lives in this Beltway bubble where things sound smart, but when it comes time to implementing them there are a whole lot of challenges he has failed to account for.’
Neither the White House nor the National Security Council could be reached for comment on the criticisms.
In this handout photo provided by the White House, President Joe Biden meets with his national security team for an operational update on the situation in Afghanistan on August 22, 2021. They discussed the security situation in Afghanistan and counterterrorism operations, including ISIS-K
Calls have grown for Sullivan, left, a top adviser to the president, to be fired as a way to ‘reset the narrative’ after the messy Afghanistan withdrawal
The most recent mess in the Middle East is not what Biden promised during his campaign, when he touted decades of experience in his ‘first love,’ foreign policy.
‘Biden and Sullivan, they worked in a very different world. Things have so radically changed,’ Bruen said.
‘A strongly worded statement from Washington ain’t what it used to be. It doesn’t send chills down the spines of our adversaries or warm the cockles of our allies.’
In a series of meetings leading up to the Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline, military and intelligence officials warned Biden that the consequences of swift withdrawal could include that Afghanistan would capitulate in a matter of days. But ultimately, neither Sullivan nor Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back on the president’s desires, knowing where he stood.
Jake Sullivan: Biden national security adviser who helped negotiate Iran nuclear deal for Barack Obama in secret
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan
President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was a senior policy advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential election campaign and her deputy chief of staff at the Department of State when she was Secretary of State.
Mr Sullivan was also a senior advisor to the Obama administration for the Iran nuclear negotiations, which began in secret throughout 2013.
He and US officials including Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Senior White House Iran Advisor Puneet Talwar had met with the Iranian regime at least five times faece-to-face in Oman over the prospect of an agreement over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Those efforts paved the way for the Joint Comprehensive, which critics say created the conditions in which Iran could develop nuclear weapons after the deal expired.
Republicans also say the deal did nothing to contain Iranian terrorism in the Middle East, its ballistic missile programme, the regime’s policy towards Israel or its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine and President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
The Sunday Telegraph reported over the weekend that senior White House aides had suggested there was not much pushback on the withdrawal plan because concerned administration staffers were ‘too afraid’ of challenging Biden and Sullivan.
An administration official said the Biden administration functions ‘like an autocracy’ and stifles internal dissent.
Marc Thiessen, speechwriter under President George W. Bush, wrote in the Washington Post last week that Biden’s ‘sycophants’ had enabled him to move forward with the bungled withdrawal and questioned ‘where are the adults in the room?’
And over the weekend, Sullivan essentially admitted defense officials had warned Biden of the consequences of his plan, but he had not heeded their concerns.
‘So you followed the military advice on closing Bagram but the same military advisers were telling you to keep a force on the ground, they told you not to pursue this withdrawal agreement with the Taliban correct?’ MSNBC’s Chuck Todd asked Sullivan on Sunday.
‘There are strategic judgments that a president makes and there are tactical judgments that you give absolute premium to commanders on the ground to make,’ Sullivan replied.
‘When it comes to the fundamental question of whether the US should remain in a civil war in Afghanistan … for a third decade, that is a presidential call, not a call by anyone at the State Department or the Pentagon or any of the intelligence agencies.’
Sullivan has also been working to clean up the president’s public statements.
On Friday, Biden said that there were no reports of Americans having a difficult time getting to the Kabul airport for their evacuation flight and that al-Qaeda did not have a presence in Afghanistan.
‘Why is he misleading with his words here?’ CNN’s Brianna Keilar asked the national security advisor.
‘I reject that characterization. With respect to al Qaeda, right now our intelligence community does not believe al Qaeda in Afghanistan represents a threat to United States homeland, Sullivan said.
He added that al Qaeda could become a threat in the future, which is why the US was committed to over-the-horizon capabilities.
At the same time, Sullivan admitted that US forces on the ground in Afghanistan face an immediate threat from ISIS.
‘I know that the scenes around the airport are heartbreaking, large crowds of people wanting to leave,’ Sullivan said. ‘I know that there is complexity and there is turbulence on the ground and in Kabul, and it’s very risky and dangerous because there’s a genuine threat from ISIS-K. That is the reality of what we are up against, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that reality.’
Months ago, Sullivan promised the US would have ‘months of warning’ of an attack from ISIS upon leaving Afghanistan.
‘We will not have the same level of daily intelligence,’ he said in April of the withdrawal. ‘But at a strategic level, in terms of being able to know whether or not al-Qaeda or ISIS is developing an external plotting capability, which they do not currently possess … we will have months of warning.’
Bruen argued that Sullivan’s failures are endemic.
‘What we saw before Afghanistan was a crisis on the border. We saw the miscues on refugee admission, we saw problems with Israel and Cuba. So this isn’t new.
We’re focused on Afghanistan but they keep making these unforced errors. That’s what’s really concerning – while Biden wants to suggest his goal was the right one even if the execution was flawed, the errors in execution keep happening. I worry what the next crisis is going to bring.’
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s experience
- Earned an undergraduate degree at Yale before winning a Rhodes scholarship to attend Oxford, before heading back to Yale for a law defree
- Clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer before serving as chief counsel to Sen. Amy Klobuchar
- Began advising Hillary Clinton during the primary cycle in 2008 before jumping to Barack Obama’s campaign
- When Clinton became secretary of state, Sullivan became her deputy chief of staff and director of policy planning
- When Clinton stepped down in 2013, Sullivan became national security advisor to then-Vice President Joe Biden
- Had key role in shaping US foreign policy to Libya, Syria and Myanmar, as well as Iran under the Iran deal
- Worked as Clinton’s chief foreign policy adviser during the 2016 election
- Joined the private sector following Clinton’s loss until he was tapped for NSA in November 2020