Romney Presses State Department on Afghanistan and China

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) today pressed Brian McKeon, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, on the Administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and emphasized America’s commitment to helping our friends and partners around the world. Romney also sought assurances from the Administration to ensure that China will face consequences from the U.S. should they take military action against our partner Taiwan.

A transcript of their exchange can be found below and video can be found here.

Senator Romney: I begin by saying something that I think we can all agree with or almost all of us can which was the Afghanistan withdrawal was a very sad day in American history and in human history for many, many reasons. But at this stage, one of the things we’re all concerned about is the number of people who are working with us and working with our military, who are fighting for our values, who are nonetheless still in Afghanistan. I understand that an Afghanistan task force was created to help get these individuals out, but I’m interested in understanding how many people are associated with that task force, is it effectively getting people out? What is the state of that work now?

Secretary McKeon: Thank you, Senator Romney. I concur in what you said at the beginning, and I know that there was a Marine from Utah who lost his life on August 26. So, you know, as the Secretary said, we have a special relationship with the Marines. A lot of State Department officers knew some of those Marines from service in other posts. So we have a task force that’s led by a former Ambassador Beth Jones that’s looking across the continuum on how to get people out, which is how are we helping to facilitate travel out of Afghanistan at what we call the transit pads or lily pads, military bases now in the Middle East, primarily, and then bringing them to the United States for resettlement activities. There’s been some turnover in the task force as people have gone back to their jobs and then we issued a new call for recruits. Recently, we put out a department-wide call for people to come work on the task force and 140 or so people raised their hands, but I’ll have to get you the precise number of people that are working on it in the Department. There are also people working out at the military bases on the resettlement work and at the bases in the Middle East who they are State or USAID people. The first priority right now, as I said, is American citizens and green card holders but we’re working to evacuate Afghans at risk and other people closely associated with the United States government. There’s a number of applicants for the Special Immigrant Visa program who already have a visa, they were given a visa back in August or we’ve given them what we call an electronic visa. We’re also working to arrange flights for them.

Romney: Deputy Secretary, I would just note, at least speaking for myself, if there is need for additional resources, financial resources to provide additional personnel to speed this process, I would, for one, be very anxious to provide that support. I think we have a moral responsibility and American commitment to help those who helped us and leave no one behind—not just our own citizens—but others who fought alongside us. On a very different area, many of us have a great deal of concern about what China’s ambitions might be with regards to Taiwan. One, because of the people there who’ve enjoyed a freedom from the heavy hand of the Chinese Communist Party, but also for our own interests, particularly given the fact, for instance, that the great majority of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured in Taiwan and this would be an attractive “get” for the Chinese Communist Party. What is or what can the State Department be doing to make sure that China understands what the consequence would be—I’m not talking about military consequence—but the consequence would be of them taking an effort, a military effort to grab Taiwan?

McKeon: Senator, this is not something I work on very often, but I’m familiar with the general contours of our Taiwan policy. As you know, it’s grounded in the Taiwan Relations Act and our commitment to Taiwan’s self-defense and providing them with their legitimate self-defense needs, which the arms sales goes through the State Department approval process. I think politically, it’s a broader campaign that we do directly with the Chinese but with other governments to make it clear that coercion by China vis-à-vis Taiwan, or God forbid the efforts to seek—to change the status quo by non-military means will not be accepted by the United States and the international community.

Romney: The term “will not be accepted by”—I would love to have that expanded upon, not necessarily right here in this hearing—but to make it very clear to China what the consequence would be. I mean, oftentimes, we put in place sanctions on people who do things we don’t like. The problem is the things we don’t like have already occurred when those sanctions are put in place. I would love to be clear to the Chinese Communist Party about what would occur, not just on the part of the United States, but of our allies and friends around the world were they to take kinetic action against the people of Taiwan, and I think that specificity might be helpful in helping them calculate just exactly what the cost—and I’m talking about the diplomatic and economic cost—might be, were they to take such effort.