White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was grilled during Thursday’s press briefing over whether or not President Joe Biden ignored the advice of some of his top cabinet officials and whether he lied to the American public about the advice that he was receiving.
A reporter asked Psaki about a new book from Bob Woodward which apparently claims that the president allegedly did not take the advice of Secretaries Austin and Blinken.
“Well, I think that people should take — one, let me first say: I’m not going to confirm or substantiate anonymous unconfirmed reports in a book,” Psaki responded. “But I think you’re asking an important question, which is: How does the president take a range of advice from different people? And sometimes it’s conflicting with each other as well, of course.”
Later during the press conference, a journalist asked about a report that said General Miller, who was in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, had recommended that Biden leave 2,500 troops on the ground.
“The President told ABC back in August that none of his advisors recommended leaving 2,500 troops in Afghanistan,” the reporter said. “General Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that that was exactly what he recommended.”
“Was the president’s answer in that interview an honest answer?” the reporter asked.
“First of all, I’m not going to get into details of private advice that the president gets from his national security team or military advisors,” Psaki responded. “What is clear is that the president asked for — welcomed — candid, non-sugarcoated advice on Afghanistan and what we should do, given what we walked into, which was a deal struck with the Taliban with a May 1st timeline, including the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters, where we would need to get our U.S. forces out, otherwise we would face conflict. That’s what he was facing.”
When further pressed on if Biden heard that a full scale withdrawal would be “devastating and should not happen,” Psaki said that he was provided a “range of advice” and that she would not “get into more details than that.”
PSAKI on Woodward/Costa revelations about advice Biden received on Afghanistan withdrawal:
"It was not 'the status quo' or 'withdraw'. It was 'withdraw' or 'increase troops'. And that's how [Biden] saw the decision." pic.twitter.com/Cj3i1LuJvx
— Zach Purser Brown (@zachjourno) September 16, 2021
.@JacquiHeinrich: "Did the President adhere to the recommendation from the commander on the ground be Afghanistan that he feared that a full withdrawal would be devastating and should not happen?"
Psaki: "He was provided a range of advice." pic.twitter.com/dFxwGJUPlR
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) September 16, 2021
TRANSCRIPT PROVIDED VIA THE WHITE HOUSE:
REPORTER: I’d like to ask you a little bit more about the — some of what’s detailed in the upcoming book of Woodward and Costa, specifically in the area of the president taking or not taking the advice of Secretaries Austin and Blinken.
We’ve seen the president defend his decision to exit Afghanistan in the way that he did. But as the public [may] see this and read this and say, “top, close officials suggested a slower path out.” The public watched what happened with some of the chaotic things. What should we take from that in terms of how the president processes the information his advisors are giving? And does he have any second thoughts about not taking the gated, slower approach that’s described?
PSAKI: Well, I think what people should take — one, let me first say: I’m not going to confirm or substantiate anonymous unconfirmed reports in a book. But I think you’re asking an important question, which is: How does the president take a range of advice from different people? And sometimes it’s conflicting with each other as well, of course.
First, what we’ve said from the beginning, as it relates to Afghanistan, is the president asked his team to present to him clear-eyed assessment, candid advice on the path forward. Everyone knew, coming into the beginning of the administration — he knew, the vice president knew, the national security team knew — that we were in a situation facing a May 1st timeline of either getting our troops out or facing conflict with the Taliban. That’s what we walked into and the circumstances we were discussing.
What we also know now is that, given it took 6,000 troops to protect the airport, this was not a scenario where it was either maintain the status quo — the president never felt that was a real, viable option. And now, we looked at — 6,000 troops were needed to protect the airport. That wouldn’t have been a viable option. It was not the status quo or withdraw; it was withdraw or increase troops. And that’s how he saw the decision.
REPORTER: One of the things that Secretary Blinken talked about was the concern about European partners. Jonathan was asking about questions related to European partners —
REPORTER: — being upset now. Is there a tension point between a president who talked about being a steady hand and normal relationships when the French are mad today; they were — other NATO partners and others were unhappy about the exit? Is there an issue there, where the president is going it without consideration of those partners?
PSAKI: I don’t think the president sees it as “without consideration.” There was extensive consultation. There was extensive briefings — both at the secretary of state’s level, at the secretary of defense’s level — in advance of the president’s announcement in May about his decision to withdraw our military presence in Afghanistan. It doesn’t mean that all of our allies and partners are going to always agree with everything we do, nor do we always agree with everything they do.
But sustainable and good diplomatic relationships mean you work where you can agree and you sustain strong partnerships to address global issues in the world regardless.
I think what the president’s view is here is that — one, his decision to withdraw our troop presence in Afghanistan was, as he has talked about extensively, in large part because he felt it was a 20-year war that had gone on for too long, that did not have a military outcome that would be successful, and that it was in our national interest to do so.
Also, our resources as a country, as a national security team, are not unlimited. And he wants to have the capacity and the ability to have partnerships — like the one we announced last night that is an important partnership moving forward for security in the Indo-Pacific — to address big issues, whether it’s technology or cyber or even climate. And that’s what he feels the United States should be focused on.
REPORTER: Thank you. And then I wanted to get to the hearing on the Hill with General Miller. The president told ABC back in August that none of his advisors recommended leaving 2,500 troops in Afghanistan. General Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that that was exactly what he recommended. Was the president’s answer in that interview an honest answer?
PSAKI: First of all, I’m not going to get into details of private advice that the president gets from his national security team or military advisors.
What is clear is that the president asked for — welcomed — candid, non-sugarcoated advice on Afghanistan and what we should do, given what we walked into, which was a deal struck with the Taliban with a May 1st timeline, including the release of 5,000 Taliban fighters, where we would need to get our U.S. forces out, otherwise we would face conflict. That’s what he was facing.
In terms of the mechanisms of who provided what advice through what forum, I’m just not going to get into that level of detail from here.
REPORTER: But did the president hear, specifically, the recommendation from the commander on the ground in Afghanistan that he feared that a full withdrawal would be devastating and should not happen?
PSAKI: He was provided a range of advice. I’m not going to get into more details than that. But what’s important to note, at this point, is it’s crystal clear that 2,500 troops would not have been sustainable on the ground; it would have been either increase troops on the ground or withdraw troops on the ground. And the president has been clear many times, he was not going to send thousands and thousands more troops to fight a war the Afghans did not want to fight themselves.
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