Where are the resignations? The leaks? The anonymous sources and Gold Star families? The profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter in solidarity with our abandoned Afghani allies? Compare and contrast the reaction to Trump pulling out of Syria without incident and Biden’s catastrophe in Afghanistan, and you tell me why the difference in coverage.
It is no exaggeration to claim that the situation in Afghanistan is the worst international crisis in a generation, if not longer. The nearest points of comparison, for various reasons, are the 9-11 terror attacks, the botched incursions into Somalia and Mogadishu in the early 1990s, the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, or the fall of Saigon a few years before that. Whatever your preferred comparison, there’s no doubt that what we are witnessing right now is a truly historic event, one with repercussions that will be felt for years to come, many of which we can’t possibly be aware of yet.
In the meantime, the horror unfolds in near real time on our television and computer screens. On Thursday, a pair of bombings at the airport and a hotel used as a staging area for transportation, resulted in the death of 13 US servicemen and close to a hundred Afghanis. It was the worst attack on the US military since August 2011, almost precisely 10 years ago. The grim news accompanied by the startling revelation that the Biden Administration has been providing names and other personal information to the Taliban, supposedly in the hopes that they would provide safe passage to these US citizens and allied Afghanis to the airport. In reality, we have supplied our enemies with a kill list, making it very clear why we’ve seen sporadic reports of individuals turned away from checkpoints or even beaten in the street.
No one has provided anything like a reasonable explanation for how we could be so catastrophically naive, nor is that the only area of complete confusion as to who precisely is responsible for this disaster. As many commentators and military experts have pointed out, one of the most critically awful decisions made during the botched withdrawal process was closing the US military base at Bagram and access to the state-of-the-art airport there. The base was far more defensible than a public airport in the middle of a city of some 4,000,000 people, much less a city soon to be controlled by the Taliban. In addition, it is widely believed that closing the base served as a signal to Taliban leadership that we would do nothing in the face of their aggression and attacks, regardless of what happened on the ground, giving them full license to take Kabul itself.
On Thursday, President Biden denied that it was his decision to close the base. A reporter asked, “Did you personally reject a recommendation to hold, or to recapture Bagram Air Force Base?” He replied, “On the tactical questions of how to conduct an evacuation or a war, I gather up all the major military personnel that are in Afghanistan — the commanders, as well as the Pentagon. And I ask for their best military judgment: what would be the most efficient way to accomplish the mission.” President Biden continued, “They concluded — the military — that Bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul. And so, I followed that recommendation.” On August 18, however, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, was asked the same question. His reply was strikingly different. “On your question of Bagram, securing Bagram, you know how big Bagram is…Securing Bagram is a significant level of military effort of forces, and it would also require external support from the Afghan Security Forces. Our task given to us at that time, our task was protect the embassy in order for the embassy personnel to continue to function with their consular service and all that. If we were to keep both Bagram and the embassy going, that would be a significant number of military forces that would have exceeded what we had or stayed the same or exceeded what we had. So we had to collapse one or the other, and a decision was made.”
If true, this is a stunning admission. Was Biden aware of the decision? Who set the troop level so low, merely 600-700 to protect the evacuation of tens of thousands, that we couldn’t secure both? Why were we concerned about an embassy we were evacuating and abandoning anyway? Why not just move the embassy staff to the far more defensible Bagram? Incredibly, we don’t know the answer to any of these questions. No one has leaked and, even more importantly, no one has resigned, either in protest before or after the debacle. The mainstream media, in general, while being critical of Biden, seems largely indifferent to the details of these important questions and the ensuing consequences, both short- and long-term.
Perhaps needless to say, this is radically different from the overall firestorm that accompanied even positive developments during the Trump era. Consider perhaps the nearest parallel: His decision to pull a small number of troops out of Syria, a country our military was never authorized by Congress to be in, and had only entered in pursuit of ISIS. In total, there were about 1,000 troops in the region, no permanent military bases, no authorization from Congress, or long term military objectives. The troops went in, ISIS was decimated, and Trump wanted to bring them out, but nothing could ever be so easy. The decision was made in late 2018, but not carried out for almost another year. Almost immediately, it was framed as both a betrayal of our Kurdish allies and a boon to terror organizations around the world.
At issue was the fate of Kurdish fighters who aided us in tracking and defeating ISIS. The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey, the only majority Muslim country in the NATO alliance. In Turkey itself, the Muslim dominated government has been skirmishing with a Kurdish contingent since the 1980s. There have been armed attacks on both sides, including even attacks on military bases by the Kurdish resistance and no shortage of violence, making it yet another one of those intractable ethnic conflicts that plague the Middle East in general. Somehow, however, the thousand troops Trump sent in to tackle ISIS were transformed into the lynchpin of our security in the region and an unending commitment to protect the Kurds. At the time, Trump said the fighting had “nothing to do” with the United States, which of course was clear, concise, and completely accurate.
The media and political class erupted in a firestorm anyway. The Associated Press described it as a “decision to abandon Kurdish allies in Syria.” The Washington Post reported that “US troops say Trump’s Syria withdrawal betrayed an ally.” The Atlantic found unnamed foreign officials to claim, “What does that mean for our confidence that in a time of crisis or challenge we will have the backing of our American allies?” The Hill pondered five unintended consequences of our withdrawal, that the Kurds would align with Syrian autocrat Assad (didn’t happen), Russia’s influence grows (didn’t happen), ISIS prisoners escape (some did, but not nearly on the scale feared), NATO tensions boil over (didn’t happen, they paid more money to NATO than in decades), and questions swirl about nukes in Turkey, obviously nothing happened there either. USA Today, armed with a helpful report from a US government official, claimed “Terror group rebuilds after Trump pulls US troops out of Syria,” again nothing of note has come from the region.
The pinnacle of the hysteria surrounding this largely inconsequential and what should’ve been an uncontroversial decision to remove a mere thousand troops was the resignation of Secretary of Defense General James, Mad Dog, Mattis. In his resignation letter, General Mattis declared that Trump had a “right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.” The media immediately went into overdrive, tying these few words directly to the situation in Syria. The Atlantic profiled “The Man Who Couldn’t Take it Anymore,” quoting Mattis as saying “I had no choice to leave.” In an article filled with innuendo, even as the author, Jeffrey Goldberg, admitted “Here is where I am compelled to note that I did not learn any of these details from Mattis himself,” there were bold claims such as “Many generals and admirals worried that sustained exposure to Trump would destroy Mattis, who is perhaps the most revered living marine.” Mr. Goldberg wasn’t alone. CNBC said the letter was “a must-read warning about the future.” The New York Times said it was a “rebuke” of Trump. NBC News claimed Mattis “scolded Trump.”
Ultimately, none of the chaos or carnage feared by pulling out of Syria came to pass. There were a couple of clashes between Turkey and the Kurds in the two weeks following our withdrawal, and then it quickly disappeared from the news. Incredibly, throughout it all, next to none of the coverage pointed out the obvious contradiction: Turkey, for all its faults, is a member of the NATO alliance. How precisely were we supposed to defend the Kurds when a military incident involving Turkey would require France to attack us? The establishment always claimed Trump was constantly clashing with our allies, here they were all but encouraging him to commit acts of war against one.
The contrast with the much farther reaching and dramatic decision to pull out of Afghanistan despite the facts on the ground couldn’t be more striking. The underlying assumption of most mainstream coverage is that Biden had made the right move, even if he carried out the withdrawal poorly. There is no breathless concern about abandoning our allies, little thought to the long term ramifications. Instead, it’s generally assumed that the long term prospects are good after this little blip. “Joe Biden has a very intuitive sense of the American people. He understands that there is a great deal of American support for Republicans as well as Democrats for reducing America’s involvement in the world,” Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University, explained to CNN’s Erin Burnett. “One of the things he is banking on is a short period of chaos will be accepted by the American people as a down payment on a future more sustainable American position in the world.” CNN’s resident propagandist, Stephen Collinson, has bemoaned the poor planning, but continues to insist, “Still, a time of grief and emotion is never a good time for political prognostications, and it is possible the American people will process the imagery of defeat and horror in Kabul as validation for his decision to finally get all US troops home.”
Others in mainstream outlets are voicing more full-throated support. According to Ezra Klein, writing for the New York Times, “There was no good way to lose Afghanistan to the Taliban.” He continues, “Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure. It’s also obscuring the true alternative to withdrawal: endless occupation.” Eric Levitz, writing for New York Magazine, declared that “The Media Manufactured Biden’s Political ‘Fiasco” in Afghanistan,” literally blaming the messenger by declaring that “‘Straight News’ has chosen sanctimony over circumspection.” The piece was written before the attack in Kabul, beginning by praising the withdrawal, “America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has yet to cost our nation a single casualty.” Mr. Levitz continues, apparently writing from another dimension, “Evacuations of U.S. citizens and allies from Kabul’s airport are proceeding at a faster pace than the White House had promised, or than its critics had deemed possible. Afghanistan’s decades-long civil war has reached a lull, if not an end. On the streets of Kabul, ‘order and quiet’ have replaced ‘rising crime and violence.’ Meanwhile, the Taliban is negotiating with former Afghan president Hamid Karzai over the establishment of ‘an inclusive government acceptable to all Afghans.’”
Perhaps needless to say, even amidst criticisms of Biden, the establishment media is finding ways to blame Trump. Mr. Collinson takes up this canard in almost every piece. “Biden was dealt a tough hand by ex-President Donald Trump, who had negotiated an even earlier exit from Afghanistan, and whose sidelining of the government in Kabul helped precipitate the collapse of the Afghan state.” This is complete spin, pure partisan wishcasting and blame throwing. President Trump wanted to exit Afghanistan as soon as 2017, but kept delaying repeatedly to ensure the Taliban was in check. Before the suicide bombing on Thursday, a US service member hadn’t been killed in the country in 18 months. The May 1 withdrawal date was always going to be based on conditions on the ground and was chosen before the summer fighting season to reduce the risk of an immediate Taliban resurgence. Further, Biden didn’t even stick to that plan, moving the date to September 11, right in the middle of the fighting season. He could’ve moved it back again if he so chose, but didn’t.
Of course, the same establishment crew attacked Trump even in the midst of obvious success. Shortly after we completed our withdrawal from Syria, the United States killed the commander of Iran’s terrorist Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, a man who had exported terror around the world and was personally responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of US soldiers. Though this was indisputably a huge achievement for the US and a benefit to the world, it was immediately characterized as an unlawful “assassination,” sure to spark a war. None other than the UN declared it “illegal,” a phrase parroted over and over again by the mainstream media, and then candidate Joe Biden himself said, “We could be on the brink of a major conflict across the Middle East. I hope the administration has thought through the second- and third- order consequences of the path they have chosen.”
Perhaps he should have done the same thinking prior to precipitously withdrawing without any plan to evacuate? What are we on the brink of now? Inquiring minds want to know, but precious few are asking.
Beyond the obvious difference in tone of the coverage and the acceptance that President Biden’s position is the correct one, even if implemented incorrectly, one wonders where are all the interviews with betrayed Gold Star families, an almost ritualistic occurrence in the Trump era, as recently as the false story that he called fallen soldiers losers? In addition, where are the myriad pieces questioning Biden’s overall fitness for office and mental acuity, and where are the liberals and progressives on Facebook and Twitter updating their profile pictures in solidarity with our abandoned Afghan allies? How about the anonymous sources? They don’t exist, nor has there been a single resignation in either protest or disgrace, no letters from former National Security Officials blaming Biden and claiming he should resign, or even any leaks from inside an Administration that has manifestly failed. It’s almost enough to make you think the lot of them are hypocrite frauds, but that couldn’t possibly be the case, right?