When the Trump administration struck a deal with the Taliban last year, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was fully on board with the then-president's plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The California Republican publicly applauded Donald Trump's vision of "working toward closing this chapter."
It was therefore a little surprising when McCarthy held a Capitol Hill press conference last week and told reporters he supports an ongoing U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan -- a position that puts him at odds with both the Biden administration and the Trump administration.
Two days later, the House GOP leader appeared to change his mind again, perhaps more than once. The Week summarized McCarthy's shifts this way:
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wants the best of both worlds. On Friday, McCarthy told reporters that he believes there should be no U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But when Punchbowl News' Jake Sherman asked for clarification, noting that just a few days ago McCarthy suggested there should be some sort of military presence, McCarthy flipped again and argued the U.S. should have kept its Bagram Air Base.
As foolish as this may sound, at his press conference on Friday, McCarthy endorsed bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan, telling reporters, "I don't think people are arguing about whether we should have left or not in Afghanistan," despite what he'd said two days earlier.
But at the same Q&A with reporters, the congressman also endorsed a policy in which the United States kept the Bagram Air Base. "We could have maintained it safely," McCarthy added.
So let me see if I have this straight. According to the House minority leader — the would-be speaker of the House if Republicans take back the chamber in next year's midterm elections — the United States' position should be to withdraw troops from Afghanistan while simultaneously holding onto an air base in Afghanistan.
Jake Sherman, an MSNBC contributor, added, in reference to McCarthy, "[W]e're all a bit unclear on what he believes here."
As strange as the details are, let's not miss the forest for the trees. The House Republican leader's difficulties in articulating a coherent position underscore an important truth: Criticizing the Biden administration is easy; articulating a clear alternative policy is hard.
It's a task McCarthy seems eager, but unable, to tackle. In fact, at this point, it seems the Californian's principal goal is to simply take cheap shots at President Joe Biden, even when he agrees with him.