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Tag: afghan withdrawal

Testimony By Military Chiefs Vindicates Biden's Afghan Decisions, Evacuation

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Top military leaders appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, taking questions from lawmakers about, among other topics, President Joe Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan. Biden has faced heavy criticism for the chaotic evacuation and has seen his approval numbers decline since it was carried out. But despite much of the media's framing and the Republicans' spin, Biden's actions and choices were largely vindicated by the day's testimony.

CNN, for one, didn't see it that way. It aired a segment Tuesday afternoon focusing on the fact that officials testified that they advised Biden to leave 2,500 troops in Afghanistan rather than pull out completely at the end of August, as he did. Host Jake Tapper said this contradicted Biden's remark in an ABC News interview that he hadn't acted against the generals' advice.

Since the withdrawal, many commentators in the media concluded that the chaos that resulted must be blamed on Biden. Backed by military hawks, many of whom helped launch the disastrous War on Terror in the first place, pundits grasped for concrete failures they could pin on Biden. CNN and Tapper seemed happy to latch on to this one: Biden didn't listen to the generals. And to make it worse, he lied about it.

Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz seized on this issue too:

But this framing of the hearing was superficial and misleading.

When Biden was asked by ABC News about reports about the generals advising him to leave troops in Afghanistan, he gave a defensive and admittedly confusing answer. At one point, he said he couldn't recall anyone giving him this advice. But he also said that the generals were "split" on the issue, directly implying that some of them had, in fact, given this advice. It was a squirrelly answer, to be sure, but it's not a major cover-up.

And the reality isn't a mystery at all. In fact, the central narrative of Biden's decision to pull out of Afghanistan was precisely that he was going against the mainstream views of the hawks in the national security community and the top military brass. Many argued that this was what made the decision bold and difficult for Biden, and it's why Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama before him were never able to leave the country, despite their stated desires to end such conflicts. Biden finally stood up to the generals.

After all, the general's advice to leave behind 2,500 troops wasn't a piece of tactical wisdom that Biden ignored. They were asking him to abandon his central policy objective on Afghanistan, which was to get out. They were also asking him to abandon the deal Trump had made in 2020 to finally leave the country.

For the media to latch on to this criticism is to give away the game so many of Biden's critics in the commentariat have played. It was a constant refrain from critics during the withdrawal that Biden's choice to leave — a highly popular position among voters — wasn't the problem; the problem was the way Biden did it. That argument completely collapses if one takes the position that the thing Biden could have done to withdraw better was not withdraw at all.

Indeed, despite the fact that so many of Biden's critics were desperate to say he botched a withdrawal that, in theory, could have been run properly, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley gave testimony completely contradicting this view.

"From an operational and tactical standpoint, [the evacuation] was successful. Strategically, the war was lost. The enemy is in Kabul," Milley said. "It was a logistical success but a strategic failure."

This is precisely what many in the media and the GOP refuse to acknowledge. The evacuation actually went off remarkably well, given the conditions it was carried out under. The military didn't expect the Afghan government to collapse as quickly as it did, but once it fell, the U.S. implemented a high-stakes plan to evacuate more than 100,000 people from a hostile country with impressive agility.

The strategic failure, such as it is, also isn't Biden's. It was a failure of the war itself, which began 20 years ago. But that fault doesn't lay with the Biden presidency. He came in with the Trump administration's agreement to leave the country already in place and with an American people who were ready to see the war end. And under his leadership, the military carried out a successful evacuation from a dismal situation.

Milley even admitted that, had the president followed his and others' advice to leave in 2,500 troops, the Afghan government wouldn't have been able to sustain itself when U.S. forces withdrew.

"The end-state probably would've been the same, no matter when you did it," he said.

And Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin admitted that, had the U.S. stayed behind past August, it would have reignited the war and required more troops to be sent in:

These facts effectively demolish the mainstream criticisms of Biden on Afghanistan. The evacuation was a logistical success. The main alternative Biden was presented with by the generals was leaving 2,500 troops behind. That would've reignited war with the Taliban, required more troops, and it wouldn't have fortified the Afghan government to better resist the Taliban in the future. It would've just been kicking the can down the road, and whenever the U.S. finally decided to pull out for real, the "end-state probably would've been the same."

But Biden's critics refuse to learn these lessons, even when they're presented under oath.

There is one major criticism of Biden on Afghanistan that does have merit, though, but Republicans and members of the media rarely raise it. He was much too slow in issuing Special Immigrant Visas that were already in the pipeline for Afghans who had helped the U.S. military and wanted to leave. And he should've made it much easier for refugees of all kinds to leave the country and come to the United States. Biden was far more permissive of accepting Afghan immigrants than the Trump administration was, but not nearly to the extent demanded by the circumstances and justice.

That's a very different story from the one we're hearing. But it's what the public should know.

Joni Ernst’s Idiotic Lie About Biden And Veterans Ripped Down Live On Air

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa was clearly playing to the Republican Party's MAGA base when, during a September 1 appearance on CNN, she falsely claimed that President Joe Biden has never thanked U.S. troops who served in Afghanistan for their service. But CNN's Jake Tapper fact-checked the GOP senator on the air, and that segment was followed by additional fact-checking from Tapper's colleague Daniel Dale.

Ernst told Tapper, "What I have not heard from this president is a thank you to those veterans who have served in the Global War on Terror. Not once has he expressed empathy and gratitude to the men and women who have put the uniform on and have fought so bravely overseas the last 20 years to keep our homeland safe. And I feel that by not acknowledging his gratitude for them, he's diminishing their service."

Tapper, however, responded, "I have heard President Biden express gratitude and praise veterans…. Just as a factual matter, I have heard him talk about this."

Ernst, however, tried to claim that while Biden had "acknowledged those that are doing service or had done service at the Kabul Airport during the evacuation, but not over the greater Global War on Terror."

In an article published on CNN's website on September 3, Dale explains, "Ernst's claim is not even close to true. Biden has thanked troops who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over and over again — explicitly saying 'thank you' and explicitly saying the nation is grateful to them and indebted to them. Biden has also spoken empathetically about the sacrifices made by these service members and their families."

Dale adds, "Biden's public words as president so clearly contradict Ernst's assertion that, for fact-checking purposes, we don't even need to go into detail about his eight-year tenure as vice president — during which, he repeatedly expressed his appreciation for troops who had served or were still serving in Afghanistan and Iraq…. Ernst and her office are entitled to argue that Biden's words about the troops have been insufficient or insincere; that's a subjective claim beyond the scope of a fact-check. But on CNN, Ernst asserted something else: that Biden had never uttered such words at all. And that's plain false."

Dale goes on to cite specific examples of Biden thanking U.S. troops. During an April 14 speech Biden praised the "valor, courage and integrity of the women and men of the United States armed forces who served" in Afghanistan.

Biden, on April 14, said, "I'm immensely grateful for the bravery and backbone that they have shown through nearly two decades of combat deployments. We as a nation are forever indebted to them and to their families. You all know that less than one percent of Americans serve in our armed forces. The remaining 99 percent of them — we owe them. We owe them. They have never backed down from a single mission that we've asked of them. I've witnessed their bravery firsthand during my visits to Afghanistan. They've never wavered in their resolve. They've paid a tremendous price on our behalf. And they have the thanks of a grateful nation."

Dale also notes that during a May 28 speech for Memorial Day, Biden told a major deployed to Afghanistan, "I want to thank you so much — your entire family's service to our country. You're all incredible. You so underestimate how important you are."

Biden, during that May 28 speech, went on to say, "I know that many of you deployed yourselves, probably more than once. Over the past 20 years, our volunteer force and our military families have made incredible sacrifices for this country…. To all the Gold Star families across the country: We will never, ever, ever, ever forget."

Only three days later, during a May 31 speech, Biden spoke at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia outside Washington, D.C. and spoke of "7036 fallen angels" killed in Afghanistan or Iraq and said, "On this Memorial Day, we honor their legacy and their sacrifice. Duty, honor, country — they lived for it, they died for it. And we, as a nation, are eternally grateful."

Dale quotes a July 8 speech on Afghanistan withdrawal in which Biden said of U.S. troops, "I want to thank you all for your service and the dedication to the mission so many of you have given, and to the sacrifices that you and your families have made over the long course of this war. We'll never forget those who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country in Afghanistan, nor those whose lives have been immeasurably altered by wounds sustained in service to their country. We're ending America's longest war, but we'll always, always honor the bravery of the American patriots who served in it."

Mainstream Media Ignored Afghan War For Years

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

When the Taliban reclaimed Afghanistan last month, their victory was the culmination of two decades of failures by U.S. political, military, and diplomatic elites across four presidencies.

It also starkly revealed the failures of the U.S. press, whose relatively minimal coverage of the country in recent years had allowed those responsible for faltering U.S. policy to escape accountability. Conveniently for those leaders and pundits, the recent spike in context-free negative coverage of the Taliban takeover has now helped make President Joe Biden the scapegoat for ordering the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Afghanistan was only treated as a major news story when U.S. forces invaded in 2001, when they evacuated last month, and to some extent during the Obama-era surge in troop levels. Over the last decade, even as events transpired that led inexorably to U.S. defeat -- the deaths of tens of thousands of Afghan soldiers and civilians to an ongoing civil war and terrorist strikes, the loss of the Afghan government's credibility amid a host of corruption scandals, a revived Taliban undeterred by U.S. airstrikes or the U.S.-trained Afghan military -- news coverage remained largely muted. As one Afghanistan specialist put it, "This is the least reported war since at least WWI."

To be clear, we know as much as we do about these events thanks to the essential coverage provided by American journalists and their Afghan colleagues. But their work was generally ignored by broadcast and cable news channels and rarely made the newspaper front pages. Without sustained media focus, it was relatively easy for the bipartisan foreign policy community to continue on its flawed course. Only in the frantic final days of the U.S. presence in the country -- when it was too late to change the outcome but just in time to assign blame -- did Afghanistan become a singular focus for major news outlets.

The New York Times, for example, ran 55 front-page stories about Afghanistan in August, according to a Media Matters review of the Nexis database. That figure is higher than in any single month other than October 2001 -- when the U.S. invaded the country -- and higher than in any full year since 2015. The Times averaged roughly three front-page stories about Afghanistan a month over the four years of the Trump administration; it has averaged nearly three such stories a day since August 16.

graph of ny times afghanistan coverage

The same pattern played out on TV. Afghanistan coverage on CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News in August 2021 exceeded that of any full year since during the surge in 2010, according to the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer. In fact, CNN and MSNBC spent more time covering Afghanistan last month than they did from 2017 to 2020 combined.

Here's what the coverage looks like by month:

graph stanford cable news afghanistan coverage

Coverage on the broadcast nightly news shows had also been sparse, according to data that researcher Andrew Tyndall provided to Responsible Statecraft:

broadcast nightly afghanistan coverage

The Taliban's swift seizure of territory culminating with the capture of Kabul as the government evaporated and the military dissolved; the U.S. evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans and Afghan allies; and the terrorist attack that killed 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghans are all major stories that dominated last month's news coverage.

But when major stories happened in Afghanistan in previous years, they did not break through to nearly the same extent.

economist afghanistan chart

While U.S. combat fatalities waned in recent years, American service members continued to die in Afghanistan, and the ongoing civil war between the country's government and the Taliban remained deadly for Afghan forces and civilians alike. The discrepancy between those casualty figures may have made the war seem less pressing to Americans, but it is crucial to understand the context in which the Taliban swept across the country.

At the same time, Afghanistan's U.S.-backed government remained breathtakingly corrupt, destroying its legitimacy with the local public. Its U.S.-trained security forces engaged in rampant sexual abuse of children. Its capital was rocked by deadly terrorist attacks. Despite all this, the U.S. financial support for the regime kept flowing, at an estimated total cost of more than $2 trillion. The Trump administration dramatically expanded airstrikes, resulting in a surge of civilian casualties.

These failures have been documented both inside the government and outside it. The office of John Sopko, the Special Inspector General of Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), investigated and documented a wide array of U.S. strategic errors and failed policies over the years. Most recently, Sopko concluded that "the U.S. government struggled to develop a coherent strategy, understand how long the reconstruction mission would take, ensure its projects were sustainable, staff the mission with trained professionals, account for the challenges posed by insecurity, tailor efforts to the Afghan context, and understand the impact of programs."

U.S. officials knew the Afghan effort was going poorly, even as they bragged of their successes to the American public. And it's true that some outlets tried to puncture that facade. The Washington Post reported in December 2018 on the Afghanistan Papers, documents generated as part of SIGAR's investigations which revealed "explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public." Sopko told the Post that the documents show "the American people have constantly been lied to."

That's a dramatic statement that should have triggered a rethinking of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. But as with so much of the great Afghanistan journalism of the era, the story did not significantly break through on TV news and become part of the broader media understanding of the war.

As the Taliban swept to power in the face of the U.S. withdrawal and Afghanistan became the central story for the press to an extent not seen since the 2001 invasion, another weakness came back into focus.

Americans needed crucial context about the failure of the U.S. mission given the relatively minimal reporting on Afghanistan in recent years. But as coverage of the country dramatically ramped up over the last month, outlets instead frequently prioritized the views of Washington-based journalists and pundits who presided over the quagmire in the first place.

Over the last month, news outlets all too often turned to the very people responsible for U.S. policy toward Afghanistan. These architects of failure were regular guests on TV, prioritized for quotes in print articles, and had their views splashed across the op-ed pages of major newspapers. By presenting the end of the war through the same perspectives which guided their coverage for two decades, news outlets took them off the hook for the calamities they helped bring about -- and allowed them to pass the blame to Biden.

The press is in a dangerous position when its interests align with the people it covers. And in this case, it shares with generations of U.S. politicians, diplomats, and military leaders a desire to escape nagging questions of its conduct over the longest war in U.S. history.

Methodology

Media Matters searched articles in the Nexis database for The New York Times for any variation of the term "Afghanistan" in the headline or lead paragraph of any article in the paper's A section on page 1 from January 1, 2001, through August 31, 2021.

Research contributions from Rob Savillo

While Bashing Biden, Beltway Media Ignored Assault On Abortion Rights

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Wednesday morning's Politico Playbook, the AM round-up of Beltway news, led offwith a "BREAKING NEWS" update: "The Supreme Court allowed a controversial Texas law banning abortion after six weeks to go into effect just months before it hears a more direct challenge to Roe v. Wade this fall."

"Controversial" is putting it mildly. The Texas law, passed in May, bans all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, which is well before most women even know they are pregnant. The Supreme Court on Tuesday night, without comment, refused to block the bill from becoming law, despite the fact it runs counter to Court precedents, which prohibit states from banning abortion prior to fetal viability, usually between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. If the Texas law remains, it would block the vast majority of abortion patients from obtaining services in the state.

In short, the law represents a legal and political earthquake, as Republicans march closer toward overturning Roe v. Wade. Yet loyal Politico readers were excused Wednesday morning if they were caught unaware, because in the weeks leading up to its midnight trigger, Politico didn't publish a single stand-alone article about the historic GOP attempt to deny women choice. That, according to a search of Politico's online archives. (The site then published three articles on the topic yesterday.)

Politico wasn't alone. Across the national media spectrum, outlets in the last 24 hours scrambled to play catch-up with the story, which could alter nearly fifty years of choice in America. The stunning lack of coverage plays into the hands of conservatives who likely don't want a loud debate about overturning Roe v. Wade, since a clear majority of Americans support the right to choose.

"I literally watch the news for a living, and I had little to no knowledge of this abortion ban in Texas until late last night," tweeted Media Matters' Lisa Power. "It's a huge indictment of cable news that something this important can occur with practically no cable news coverage until after it's too late."

During the week prior to the bill becoming law, "Texas" and "abortion" were not mentioned in any Fox News segments over that seven-day stretch, according to TVeyes.com. For all three news channels, "Texas" and "abortion" were referenced together less than 10 times. During that same stretch, "Afghanistan" was mentioned nearly 4,000 times.

It's impossible to miss the fact that the media's virtual Texas abortion blackout occurred while the press gorged itself on Afghanistan "optics" coverage for weeks. For most of August, the Beltway press presented nonstop, 24/7 "crisis" coverage, condemning President Joe Biden for a "disaster" and "debacle" — as he oversaw the successful evacuation of 120,000 people from the Kabul airport.

The U.S. troop withdrawal was obviously a big story and required lots of attention. And within that coverage, the Taliban's inhumane treatment of women represented a pressing news story, and the media were right to focus on the fears that surround Afghanistan's future. But the GOP's appalling treatment of women in the United States also represents an urgent news story that deserves constant attention. Instead, it's being ignored.

And it's not just cable news viewers largely left in the dark.

Prior to the bill being enacted, both the Washington Post and New York Times ran a couple of perfunctory news updates about the unfolding legal challenges. Readers had to visit the papers' opinion sections though, for in-depth analysis of what the Texas bill meant and how radical and dangerous it was. Meanwhile, CNN.com during the month of August published just one news article about the history-making bill.

Most of the thin national coverage glossed over stunning aspects of the Texas law. Aside from effectively banning choice, the law's enforcement is head spinning and dangerous. From the Texas Tribune, which has been excellent on the story [emphasis added]: "The state wouldn't enforce the law. SB 8 instead provides enforcement only by private citizens who would sue abortion providers and anyone involved in aiding or abetting an abortion after a "heartbeat" is detected."

Texas Republicans have basically created a taxpayer-funded system for snitching on abortions and anyone associated, where an Uber driver who takes a woman to a health clinic to get a procedure could be targeted under the law.

The media's lack of coverage is especially galling considering the one area of the abortion story over the years that the press normally focuses on are the various legal and legislative tracks, as Republicans ceaselessly try to overturn Roe v. Wade. In fact, the topic is usually treated as a political football, and not a pressing healthcare issue.

Media analysis from 2019 sponsored by the pro-choice group NARAL found "that more than 77 percent of articles about abortion were written by political, legal, breaking news or general assignment writers—rather than health reporters," Ms. magazine reported. "Just 13.5 percent of articles analyzed quoted a physician, and only 8 percent referenced the lived experience of someone who has had an abortion."

A separate media study from 2019 confirmed that, "The personal experiences of people who get abortions are present in only 4% of the sample, and language personifying the fetus appears more often than women's abortion stories. State abortion restrictions are newsworthy, yet basic facts on the commonality and safety of abortion are virtually absent."

In their radical attempts to outlaw choice, Republicans don't want a lot of attention lavished on their actions. This week they got their wish.

Facebook Permits Racist Attacks On Afghan Refugees

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

As Afghan refugees flee the country following the Taliban takeover, xenophobic narratives are spreading widely on Facebook. Despite the platforms' claim to "prohibit the use of harmful stereotypes" and to protect refugees from "the most severe attacks," racist rhetoric that seemingly violates Facebook's policy is rampant in both public and private groups.

These attacks on Afghan refugees come amid the American military's withdrawal from the country and the Taliban's rapid advance, which has resulted in a humanitarian crisis for more than half a million people displaced from their homes since January. With the United States' final withdrawal from the country completed on August 31, numbers show that "approximately 116,700 people have been airlifted out of Afghanistan" in recent weeks, many of whom allied with the United States over the previous two decades of war.

Now, as the U.S. occupation officially ends, users have taken to Facebook to promote xenophobic conspiracy theories and racist stereotypes about Afghan refugees as potential terrorists bent on harming the U.S. In reality, though much information has not been publicly released, government officials say they are conducting a thorough vetting process of refugees coming into the country from Afghanistan.

Some Facebook posts assert that terrorists will attempt to sneak in alongside Afghans seeking asylum. In "Back Boris," a public group with over 41,000 members, one user wrote, "The Taliban will definitely send some of their supporters to the West posing as refugees. They will fight us in our own country." (This post received over 1,000 reactions and more than 500 comments.) This narrative has also spread to right-wing media including Breitbart, where an article titled "Report: Up to 100 Afghans Seeking Resettlement in U.S. 'Flagged' by Terrorism Watch Lists" has received over 13,000 interactions on Facebook, according to the social media analytics tool CrowdTangle.

The Taliban will definitely send some of their supporters to the West posing as refugees. They will fight us in our own country.racist rhetoric about Afghan refugees

Other Facebook users claimed that Biden "surrendered Afghanistan to terrorists" and that only a small portion of people who were evacuated were U.S. citizens, claiming there was "NO VETTING. How many terrorists will Joe Biden bring to America?" Right-wing outlets like The Federalist have shared similar narratives which then spread on Facebook, with one such article accumulating over 1,700 interactions (reactions, comments, and shares) across both public and private posts on the platform.

Racist rhetoric against Afghan Refugees

Users are also leveraging xenophobic conspiracy theories to promote other misinformedright-wing narratives, especially those surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations and the U.S.- Mexico border policy. And some have even threatened violence, suggesting that users should arm themselves to "defend" their communities against Afghan refugees.

Racist rhetoric about Afghan refugeesArticle about Greece building a wall

Though the platform allows discussion of immigration policies, the consistent attacks in which a whole population of people are smeared with dangerous stereotypes seemingly violate Facebook's hate speech policy, which prohibits attacks based on national origin.

Disregarding its own policies on anti-immigrant rhetoric is not new for the platform, as a 2019 study in the European Journal of Communication found:

In short, commercial platforms such as Facebook provide spaces for xenophobic, racist and nationalistic discourse online, and they shape antagonistic (Farkas et al., 2018) attitudes towards immigrants. Moreover, through their large size, they affect mainstream discourses on immigration and refugees, and contribute to a normalization of previously marginalized types of utterances, attitudes and opinions. Anti-immigration groups and publics on commercial social networking services (SNSs) also seem to amplify xenophobic and racist attitudes among their participants.

Facebook is facing no accountability for the malicious content about Afghan refugees that is circulating on its platform, once again showing the company's failure to stem the spread of misinformation, even in times of crisis.

In Afghanistan Biden Did What Was Right, Not What Was Easy

If Joe Biden were a typical politician, his choice on Afghanistan would have been easy. Political wisdom says you should never accept consequences today that you can postpone until after the next election, if not longer. Deceptive gimmicks and clever evasions are always preferable to painful solutions that pay off only in the long run.

Biden could have persisted in prolonging the stalemate. He could have quietly expanded our troop presence to hold the Taliban at bay. He could have blithely accepted the deaths of more American troops — and more Afghan civilians — to maintain the status quo.

Most Americans wouldn't have noticed or cared about the cost of continuing the war. His own party's progressives would have groused, but their priorities lie mainly in domestic policy, where Biden has been fairly accommodating. Republicans would not have made much of the issue.

But the president whose political skills earned him 36 years in the Senate and eight in the vice presidency chose to act with statesmanlike foresight. When it came to our longest military conflict, he could not countenance the option embraced by his three immediate predecessors.

George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump failed to win the war and refused to end it. Instead, they dragged it out, each leaving the problem to the next occupant of the White House. They wimped out to avoid being accused of wimpiness. They put their political interests ahead of the lives and limbs of American service members.

Biden refused to avoid the inevitable any longer — in the full knowledge that the consequences would most likely be ugly and highly visible. He was the first president to act as though the buck really did stop with him.

His Tuesday address to the nation was a model of realism. He found two important lessons from our ill-starred effort. "First, we must set missions with clear achievable goals, not ones we'll never reach," he declared. "And second, we must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interests of the United States of America." Neither principle could justify staying in Afghanistan.

Critics accuse him of weakness, but there was nothing weak about his resolve to put a stop to a hopeless war. In the face of furious denunciations by people whose terrible judgment helped lead us into the deadly quagmires that have bogged us down for so long, he was bracingly immovable.

Biden understands better than his critics what the options were: Get out and accept the defeat of the Kabul regime or expand our military role to push back against an enemy that had been steadily gaining ground.

As he noted in his Tuesday address, the Trump administration had signed an agreement committing us to leave by May 1, in exchange for the Taliban's agreement not to attack our forces. Biden extended the deadline by four months, and the Taliban chose not to renege on its obligation. But any further postponement — or renunciation of the deal — would have meant a renewed and wider war.

It is understandable that critics would find fault with the chaotic, deadly, and heartbreaking endgame. But the possibility that Biden might have managed our departure better doesn't mean the departure was a mistake.

The shockingly rapid collapse of the government only proved how completely we failed in Afghanistan. You might say that the structure we created turned out to be a Potemkin village, but that would be too generous. A Potemkin village doesn't disintegrate overnight.

The Afghan military got vast amounts of money, training and equipment from the U.S., not for one year or five years but for 20. It could call on American bombers, helicopter gunships and drones to incinerate its foes. It enjoyed an embarrassment of riches. In resources, the Taliban were grossly outmatched.

But they had the most vital asset any fighting force can have: motivation. It was something our Afghan partners lacked. In the end, they didn't really lose to the Taliban; they forfeited.

The late William Safire once recalled that as a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, one of his tasks was to say, "Mr. President — Do the popular thing! Take the easy way!" Nixon could then tell the public, "Some of my aides have suggested that I do the popular thing, that I should take the easy way. But I have rejected such counsel."

For a long time, we've had politicians who happily accepted such counsel. Biden is a different kind of leader.

Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Still Lying: Trump Claims Afghan Departure Left '$85 Billion' In Weapons

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

On Monday, August 30, former President Donald Trump claimed that the Taliban — now in control of Afghanistan — has seized $83 billion worth of U.S. weapons. But that claim has been fact-checked and refuted by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.

In his August 30 statement, Trump said, "Never in history has a withdrawal from war been handled so badly or incompetently as the Biden Administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan. In addition to the obvious, ALL EQUIPMENT should be demanded to be immediately returned to the United States and that includes every penny of the $85 billion dollars in cost. If it is not handed back, we should either go in w/unequivocal Military force and get it, or at least bomb the hell out of it."

Trump failed to mention, of course, that the Biden Administration was following the Trump/Mike Pompeo plan for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, although at a slower pace. Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wanted the U.S. out of Afghanistan even sooner than President Joe Biden. While Biden wanted to withdraw troops before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Trump planned to remove them during the spring of 2021.

Kessler, discussing Trump's claims that the Taliban has seized $83 million worth of U.S. weapons, explains, "We don't normally pay much attention to claims made by the former president, as he mostly just riffs golden oldies. But this is a new claim. A version of this claim also circulates widely on right-leaning social media — that somehow, the Taliban has ended up with $83 billion in U.S. weaponry. Trump, as usual, rounds the number up."

Kessler adds, "The $83 billion number is not invented out of whole cloth. But it reflects all the money spent to train, equip and house the Afghan military and police — so weapons are just a part of that. At this point, no one really knows the value of the equipment that was seized by the Taliban."

The Post journalist notes that the $83 million figure "comes from an estimate in the July 30 quarterly report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) for all spending on the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund since the U.S. invasion in 2001."

According to Kessler, "The $83 billion spent on the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) goes back two decades, including almost $19 billion spent between 2002 and 2009."

Applying the Washington Post's "Pinocchio Test" to Trump, Kessler breaks down that $83 million some more.

Kessler notes, "U.S. military equipment was given to Afghan security forces over two decades. Tanks, vehicles, helicopters and other gear fell into the hands of the Taliban when the U.S.-trained force quickly collapsed…. But the value of the equipment is not more than $80 billion. That's the figure for all of the money spent on training and sustaining the Afghan military over 20 years. The equipment portion of that total is about $24 billion — certainly not small change — but the actual value of the equipment in the Taliban's hands is probably much less than even that amount."

New York Times Puffs DeSantis — And Blisters Biden

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Within the span of 24 hours, the New York Times provided more evidence that the paper treats the two political parties differently, especially when it comes to Democratic and Republican leaders facing crisis. In this case, it's President Joe Biden grappling with the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, versus Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose state became a global epicenter for Covid this summer.

The Times showed how it's willing to normalize atrocious behavior by Republicans while holding Democrats to unfair standards.

On Sunday, the paper published a striking whitewash of DeSantis' nearly criminal actions regarding Covid this year. Eying a White House run in 2024, and hoping to tap into the GOP's anti-science base, DeSantis has played politics with public health. He's tried to bar schools from mandating masks, stood in the way of hospital vaccine mandates, and demanded cruise lines allow unvaccinated passengers to set sail. He even placed one million orders of hydroxychloroquine in tribute to Trump. And now the state is paying a steep price for his cavalier governance.

"The viral load in Florida is so high right now, there are only two places on the planet where it's higher," Dr. Jonathan Reiner recently told CNN. "It's so high in Florida that I think that if Florida were another country, we would have to consider banning travel from Florida to the United States."

Yet reading the Times' Sunday article you'd think DeSantis, who is referenced just four times in the lengthy piece, was a bit player in this man-made drama. You'd think the Sunshine State's descent into mass Covid death was some kind of unavoidable, twist of fate. "Exactly why the state has been so hard-hit remains an elusive question," the Times reported, naively throwing up its hands.

The daily also engaged in misinformation when it claimed Florida under DeSantis "emphasized vaccinations" and "made a strong push" to innoculate people. "Florida State Representative, here. This is ridiculous," tweeted Democrat Omarji Hardy, responding to the Times. "There was not anything resembling a "strong push" for vaccinations in Florida."

The Times piece didn't bother quoting a single DeSantis critic, even though just days earlier Miami Mayor Dan Gelber had announced unequivocally that DeSantis' policies "are literally killing people."

Compare that brand of kid-glove analysis to the Times page-one piece by White House correspondent Peter Baker on Saturday, who suggested the Afghanistan troop withdrawal was entirely Biden's doing, the president used questionable judgement, and Biden's responsible for U.S. loss of life.

Unlike the DeSantis piece, the Time's Biden article was overflowing with quotes from his critics, eager to second guess. In fact, the first person Baker quoted was someone who worked on President George W. Bush's Iraq War team; the war that doomed U.S. to failure in Afghanistan. One week earlier, Baker had been on the front page with another Afghanistan piece, implying Biden was incompetent and lacked empathy, two descriptions the paper won't apply to DeSantis.

Over this weekend, the Times also published a nasty opinion piece, which called the evacuation of 120,000 people from the Kabul airport "incompetent," and suggested Biden, whose late son served in the Iraq War, does not "value" men and women who serve our country.

The Times POV couldn't be clearer: DeSantis is trying his best, Biden's in over his head.

The Times' Sunday DeSantis whitewash, which was widely criticized online, represents a larger pattern by the newspaper to run interference for the Republican governor this year. Three weeks ago, the Times again tried to normalize DeSantis' dangerous behavior, suggesting that outlawing mask mandates and threatening to withhold pay from teachers during a pandemic might be the new normal [emphasis added]:

If, however, Florida comes through another virus peak with both its hospital system and economy intact, Mr. DeSantis's game of chicken with the deadly pandemic could become a model for how to coexist with a virus that is unlikely to ever fully vanish.

Amazing — if DeSantis' policies don't obliterate Florida's healthcare system and its economy, then maybe he's creating a new model. That Times article also failed to quote a single DeSantis critic, in a look at how the controversial Republican was managing the pandemic.

The newspaper actually began covering for DeSantis back in April when the Times published a front-page valentine, typing up his press office spin about how Florida was "booming" and he had somehow figured out how to carve out a Covid-free region for the Sunshine State. "In a country just coming out of the morose grip of coronavirus lockdowns, Florida feels unmistakably hot," the Times gushed.

All three DeSantis stories were written by the paper's Miami bureau chief Patricia Mazzei. Why would she seemingly go out of her way to provide cover for DeSantis as he eyes a likely presidential run? My guess is it has to do with access and maintaining cordial relations with DeSantis' communications team, which I guarantee was thrilled with the latest Times dispatch from Florida.

If and when DeSantis runs for president, journalists who are covering him now likely want to be assigned to his campaign, which would then serve as their ticket out of Florida. That's how the Beltway media game is played — scores of reporters who covered George W. Bush in Texas were rewarded with campaign assignments and then re-assigned to cover him in Washington, D.C.

Fact: It's not too late for the Times to fix its Florida coverage.