Fox News host Chris Wallace confronted President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday over the administration’s claims that it will have “substantial leverage” over the Taliban after the U.S. military fully withdraws from Afghanistan by the end of August.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki shockingly claimed on Friday that the U.S. will have “enormous leverage” over the Taliban moving forward. Critics have questioned this, however, by pointing out that the Taliban has illicit ways to finance their operations. They have also said that the U.S. doesn’t have many allies in the region to put pressure on the terrorist group.
“Do you really believe we have, quote, ‘enormous leverage’ over the Taliban?” Wallace asked Sullivan, according to Newsweek. “Enough that we’re gonna be able to get out Americans and Afghan allies after we pull out? Do you really believe that and do you really believe that there’s a chance that we might be able to set up—re-set up—a U.S. embassy in Kabul?”
Sullivan replied by saying that “no one here [at the White House] trusts the Taliban. No one here is counting on any words that the Taliban offer.” He went on to add that the Biden administration is focused on “actions.” He also said that the answer on leverage is “emphatically yes,” and that the White House believes that the U.S. “possesses substantial leverage to ensure that American citizens and others get safe passage out of that country.” Sullivan then claimed that the U.S. could “bring to bear enormous pressure on the Taliban with a swift and forceful response” if necessary.
Wallace, however, was not having any of it. He pointed out that “some people question” whether the U.S. actually has leverage against the Taliban. While he acknowledged that the U.S. can “squeeze” the group financially by freezing billions of dollars in assets, he also said that the State Department has a $5 billion bounty on one top Taliban official’s head due to his authorization of suicide bombings against U.S. forces.
“Do you really believe that the kinds of soft power pressure that you’re talking about is enormous leverage over a zealot?” Wallace asked.
Sullivan hit back by claiming that the economic leverage is “soft power,” and that “billions of dollars is not soft power. That’s real hard cold cash that matters.”
“Secondly, and probably more importantly, no one is more clear-eyed about who the Taliban are…than the national security professionals that have been working on this issue for the past 20 years,” Sullivan added.
Sullivan went on to say that the Biden White House knows that the Taliban are “bad guys,” but argued that the question is “whether or not they will ultimately see it as being in their interest to let Americans through.”