The Under Secretary of Defense for Policy should have one purpose: Establish a war-winning policy to defeat US global threats. When a candidate for the Pentagon’s top policymaker position appears unable to fulfill that purpose, that nominee should be dropped from consideration. The Biden administration has put forth Mr. Derek Chollet as a candidate for the policy undersecretary – but has Mr. Chollet shown himself to be an independent thinker on defense policy, or merely a mouthpiece for the White House?
Mr. Chollet, since January 20, 2021, has been serving as the counselor of the US Department of State and, as such, was integral to the planning and execution of the withdrawal of US forces, civilians, and Embassy personnel in Kabul, Afghanistan. In that capacity, Chollet was justifiably the target of questions regarding the military and State Department disaster.
A Rough Hearing for Biden Nominee Chollet
During Chollet’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), the most penetrating questions came from Senator Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) regarding his personal experience in Afghanistan. He pointed to Chollet’s pre-hearing comments on the Biden administration’s withdrawal and the “success” of that effort. Mullin asked Chollet: “Has anybody been held accountable for the disastrous withdrawal that took place considering American lives that were lost and how many Americans we left behind?” Rather than answering that question directly, Chollet replied: “Accountability is critically important.” Mullin pushed forward with his original question, asking again: “Has anybody been held accountable? It’s a simple one. It’s yes, or it’s no.” Again, Chollet skirted the question. “Senator, we tried to learn the lessons from that,” he explained. Clearly frustrated, Mullin answered his own question: “So, that’s a no.”
The senator then turned to the statements of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said: “Every American who wants to get out, got out.” Mullin asked if the nominee agreed with that statement. Chollet, without hesitation, answered: “Senator, I do.” That may have been too quick an answer. Pro tip: Never offer a point of view when you weren’t there and the questioner was. “On the nights of the 29th, and the 28th, and the 30th, I was assisting trying to get those Americans out when you guys said that every American who wanted could get out,” Sen. Mullin explained. He then went on to describe the situation after the suicide bombing of the Abby Gate at Kabul’s international airport; as he tried to get people into the airport to be evacuated from Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), the gates were closed, “and you know this, as a fact,” Mullin said. “No one was getting into HKIA, they were turned around, turned away.”
“On the morning of the 30th, and this was recorded on your hotline, that you set up for Afghanistan. I was asked, because I had a three-year-old girl, plus I had Mariam and her three children, plus a whole host of other people that we were trying to get in…on the night of the 29th, you guys were taking me from gate to gate, to gate, to gate,” the senator continued.
Mullin’s account told of a dysfunctional state department that stopped him “every step of the way.” The irony of the situation was that someone from the embassy could have called over to one of the gates and offered the Taliban, who guarded the gate, money to allow entry. Then, in a phone conversation with a US Embassy employee, the Embassy official asked Mullin if he had another way to get his folks out because they had closed the airport. “And, so, for you to sit there and say that every American that wanted to get out (could get out), you are absolutely lying, and you know that to be factual and you say it with a straight face.” The three-year-old little girl died a short time later from a leg infection about which the State Department was aware. The child was an American.
Chollet Hearing Reveals Biden Policy to Endanger Americans
There came a moment when, in a single anecdote, the Biden administration’s callous and reprehensible actions in the Afghanistan retreat were crystal clear. “Your ambassador, Ambassador Pommersheim, which this is also recorded, told me personally, ‘I was told by Washington, DC, not to assist you in any way,'” Mullin told Chollet, explaining what he had learned when he and his small group finally made it to the Tajikistan border. Stranding Americans in Afghanistan with marauding Taliban eager to kill or capture them was a Biden White House policy.
And then, to put a cherry on top of the State Department’s ham-fisted handling of the situation, “Secretary Blinken, the person you were advising, goes to the podium and says, ‘the State Department has successfully negotiated to get the first Americans out,'” he told Chollet. As suspected, Mullin told Biden’s nominee at the end of his time: “There is a problem here, and there is zero chance I’ll support you going forward.”
Senator Mullin is not alone. A Washington Free Beacon article explained three Republican members of the SASC said they would vote against confirming Chollet. “… A senior Senate aide familiar with the matter said it is likely other Republicans will follow suit, meaning the nominee could only pass with slim Democratic support,” The Washington Free Beacon reported. “Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO), one of the Republicans opposing Chollet’s confirmation, told the Free Beacon he is considering putting a ‘hold’ on Chollet’s nomination.” A hold on the nomination could force President Biden to find another candidate.
The Senate confirmation process is always harrowing for the nominee. There is always some skeleton in the closet that a senator from the opposing party will want out in the open. At the same time, presidential nominees for high positions in the administration are accountable for their past beliefs, ideologies, and actions. Mr. Derek Chollet found that out. The Biden administration has done everything possible to run from accountability for its fatally poor planning and execution in the August 2021 Afghanistan surrender. Unfortunately for Mr. Chollet, Senate Republicans have the chance to hold him accountable.