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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: afghanistan withdrawal

The 'Catastrophic' Order That Proves Trump Knew He Lost In 2020

Details, details, details and even more details. That’s what we got from the House Select Committee’s final hearing yesterday. Members of the committee were called on, one by one, to give opening statements essentially summing up what we have learned so far. Each member explored a different aspect of the committee’s long investigation, at times adding new information developed since its last hearing.

All the stuff committee members reminded us about today was based on testimony by witnesses and other evidence the committee had been able to gather. They really drilled down on testimony given by White House and campaign aides who had told Trump repeatedly that he lost the election way back in November of 2020; some aides even testified that Trump appeared to acknowledge that fact, although none were able to present documentary evidence because of Trump’s life-long allergy to saying anything in texts, emails, or in writing that could later get him in trouble.

This was part of the committee’s effort to show that throughout the months of November and December of 2020, right up until January 6 itself, Trump had known he was lying about the election having been stolen from him -- thus all his attempts to overturn the results of the election were nothing but a naked grab at power. He knew he lost, but he wanted to remain as president anyway. But as before, the committee lacked a so-called smoking gun proving it.

They’ve got one now, however. It turns out there is a document proving that Trump knew he lost the election.

It is in the form of a memo Trump signed on November 11, just eight days after the election, ordering the withdrawal of all American forces from Afghanistan and Somalia by January 15, six days before Joe Biden would take the oath as the next president of the United States.

Axios reported last year that two Trump loyalists who had nothing to do with the Department of Defense and were nowhere near being in the military chain of command drafted the memo: John McEntee, Trump’s so-called “body man;” and Douglas Macgregor, a retired lieutenant colonel once described by Washington Post columnist Max Boot as "a racist crackpot who is pro-Russia, anti-Merkel, anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican." Macgregor was nominated by Trump to be ambassador to Germany in July, 2020, but the outrage was so loud, the nomination was quickly withdrawn.

Back to the memo: Trump had promised as long ago as the primary campaign in 2016 that he would end the war in Afghanistan and withdraw all our troops engaged in conflicts overseas. He had been steadily dissuaded from doing so throughout his presidency, but not this time. Trump had been claiming he was the winner since the night of the election on November 3 and would continue his utterly unsupported claim that he had won by a landslide for the next two months.

But on November 11, 2020, exactly four days after the networks called the election for Joe Biden, obviously realizing that he had lost, Trump threw a temper tantrum and called on two untested aides to draw up his order ending our military engagements in Somalia and Afghanistan. McEntee and Macgregor were so unfamiliar with such orders, they had to consult the National Security Council to get the wording right. “Memorandum for the Acting Secretary of Defense: Withdrawal from Somalia and Afghanistan,” the memo began. “I hereby direct you to withdraw all US forces from the Federal Republic of Somalia no later than 31 December 2020 and from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan no later than 15 January 2021. Inform all allied and partner forces of the directives. Please confirm receipt of this order.”

Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, who uncovered the existence of the memo while researching their book Peril, reported that when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley and the newly appointed acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller saw the memo, Milley blew a gasket. “This is really fucked up and I’m going to see the President. I’m heading over. You guys can come or not,” Peril quotes Milley as telling Miller and Kash Patel, who had just been appointed chief of staff to the defense secretary. The two joined Milley at the White House, where they confronted National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and showed him the president’s order. “How did this happen?” Milley asked O’Brien, according to Peril. “Was there any process here at all? How does a president do this?”

“I have no idea,” O’Brien replied.

After Milley and Miller expressed more outrage and even discussed whether the order could be a forgery, O’Brien took the memo to the Oval Office and told Trump he had to involve “the principals” and speak to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the secretary of defense, at which point, Trump withdrew the order.

The committee today played testimony by Milley calling the order “odd…it is nonstandard. It is potentially dangerous. I personally thought it was militarily not feasible nor wise.” The former national security adviser to Vice President Pence, General Keith Kellogg, told the committee the memo was “catastrophic…a debacle,” referring to the consequences of Trump’s order if it had been carried out.

About 8,000 U.S. troops were still serving in a combat capacity in Afghanistan, and about 1,000 were engaged in sporadic contact with rebel forces in Somalia at the time Trump “wrote” his memo ordering all U.S. forces out of both countries. We shouldn’t be surprised that Trump would risk the lives of American soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women by ordering them to abruptly quit their stations overseas in service of his own dreams of glory, and it may be true as many military experts have observed that there is no good way to end a war you have failed to win, but still…

Woodward and Costa reproduced the memo in their book, Peril, so we know Trump’s order to pull completely out of Afghanistan and Somalia exists on paper. It’s real. It happened. At the hearing today, they even showed a witness they asked if Trump had really signed it, or had it been signed by an auto-pen. The witness had been in the Oval Office and watched Trump sign it himself.

Trump had told aides he wanted to go down in history as the president who ended the war in Afghanistan and got us out of overseas conflicts. On November 11, 2020, he knew he had a little over two months left as president, so he stomped his feet and he waved his hands and he called into the Oval Office a couple of nincompoop amateurs who had never seen a memo to the secretary of defense in their lives, and he did it. He ordered the withdrawal from Afghanistan Joe Biden would later accomplish – and for which he would be excoriated by Trump and the entire Republican Party to this day.

Although the 1/6 Committee didn’t show the memo today at its final hearing, it’s right there in black and white, all the evidence we need that Trump knew he had lost the election as early as November 11, 2020, when he threw his tantrum and signed his order.

Then he proceeded with his lies about the election, the most recent of which he bellowed at an adoring crowd of MAGA loons in Nevada four days ago. Now we can wait to see if Trump will agree to testify before the committee, where he would be under oath and doubtlessly be asked about his legion of lies, that an election was stolen from him he knew he had lost almost two years ago.

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. He has covered Watergate, the Stonewall riots, and wars in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels. You can subscribe to his daily columns at luciantruscott.substack.com and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

Reprinted with permission from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Is Joe Biden’s Approval Rating In ‘Free Fall’? Nope

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Amid breathless reports of a political "free fall" and reeling from the White House's "summer from hell," the Beltway press has leaned into the idea that Joe Biden's presidency is unraveling — that his approval rating is in a state of collapse.

Except it's not true. Instead, it's the media falling in love with their favorite Dems In Disarray storyline. The same media that shrugged at Trump's chronically awful approval rating.

In a typical, overheated dispatch, a CNBC report recently announced, "Biden's Approval Ratings Have Plummeted, and That Could Spell trouble for Democrats in Congress." First off, the idea that Biden's approval rating in September 2021, is going to impact the outcome of November 2022 midterms makes no sense. Secondly, Biden's approval rating has fallen a grand total of four points in the past month, according to the polling average tabulated at FiveThirtyEight. So much for the "plummet."

Is Biden's' approval rating down this summer? It is, to 46 percent. Is he in some sort of manic freefall as the press suggests, fueled by the troop pullout from Afghanistan and the Delta surge? He is not.

A true ratings collapse would be like when President Ronald Reagan's approval dropped nine points in five days when the Iran Contra scandal broke. Or when George W. Bush's cratered 16 points in three months following the launch of the disastrous Iraq War.

Here are the Biden approval ratings from last 15 polls posted at FiveThirtyEight, minus the Rasmussen surveys, which are notoriously pro-Republican: 46, 44, 47, 47, 49, 47, 48, 42, 48, 49, 47, 44, 47, 50, 48.

If you take out the high (50) and the low (42) data points, the results have been markedly consistent this month. Where's the plummet?

When a recent Quinnipiac poll showed Biden's approval at 42 percent, Newsweek announced, "Joe Biden's Approval Rating Continues to Sink, Shows No Signs of Improving." Newsweek then ignored the fact that the next seven polls released after Quinnipiac all showed him improving.

The cherry picking seems intentional. When a NPR/PBS voter survey in early September showed Biden's approval at 43 percent, CNN's Chris Cillizza pounced: "This Poll Number Will Send Democrats Into a Panic." A week later though, Cillizza was silent when CNN's own poll found Biden's approval climbing to 52 percent.

CNN seemed to struggle with how to cover its good-news-for-Biden poll when the Beltway's preferred narrative was his "summer from hell." This was CNN's online headline for a story that showed Biden with a strong approval rating: "Americans Turn Pessimistic Amid Concerns Over Economy and Coronavirus." Later in a news segment, when a CNN anchor suggested the network's latest showing had Biden's rating at 43 percent, she had to be corrected by a guest who pointed out CNN's survey showed a 52 percent mark.

Biden's summertime slide has been fueled by Afghanistan and Covid, two unique and pressing challenges. But it also represents a natural progression for first term presidents as the so-called "honeymoon" with voters slowly wears off. Between being sworn in January 2009, and September 1 of that year, President Barack Obama, a successful two-term president, lost seven points on his approval rating, which is exactly how many points Biden has dipped since his inauguration.

Note that as with Biden, the press often obsessed over minor downward movements in Obama's approval in order to concoct a narrative about a president "sinking" and "plunging." At one point, a New York Times editorial was so anxious to push a narrative about Obama's supposedly broken presidency, it fabricated his approval rating, claiming it was 40 percent in a new poll, when it was actually 50 percent in that new survey.

The contrast with how the press has treated the popularity of the last two Democratic presidents with how they treated Trump's unpopularity couldn't be more startling.

When Biden's approval rating first fell below 50 percent this summer, it was considered newsworthy, as pundits weigh in on the approval "slide" and wondered if the Afghanistan story was going to doom his presidency. Rarely included in that heavy-handed analysis was the fact that at the same point in his presidency, Trump was sitting at a woeful 37 percent approval rating.

While Trump wallowed in abysmal ratings for most of his presidency (he never cracked 50 percent), the press mostly looked away, treating his poor standing as being usual. It was normalized.

Here's a quick example. In October, 2018 Politico published a piece about Trump's fire hose, "new media strategy," where he appeared on TV without pause and constantly answered reporters' shouted questions at the White House. In the eyes of Politico, it was a novel and winning strategy — it "worked" for Trump. And Politico even singled out Trump's top aide who was responsible for the approach.

Of course, what Politico never mentioned, and what the D.C. press didn't really think mattered in October 2018, was that Trump's approval stood at a lowly 41 percent.

Can you imagine today if Biden's approval fell five more points, to 41 percent, and the Beltway press started writing stories about how smart his communications strategy was? It's inconceivable because Democrats are held to a tougher media standard.

Trump Scrubs Boasting About Afghan Agreement From Website

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Donald Trump, the former president, published several statements about Afghanistan on his personal website, including one bragging about his efforts to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. As recently as April Trump wrote that pulling all U.S. troops "out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw [from Afghanistan] on May 1, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible."

That post, as well as others that mention Afghanistan, have been scrubbed from Trump's website in the past few days.

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Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

How To Exit The Forever War

The courage of President Biden's decision to bring our troops home from Afghanistan should not be underestimated. But neither should that withdrawal be mistaken for the end of the "forever war" that the United States and its NATO allies have endured there for so long. We will leave, but the Afghans aren't going anywhere — and our responsibility for what happens there won't disappear either.

Biden surely knows there will be bad prospects for the government in Kabul when our troops go, even though we will continue to finance its army and air force. Most Americans, who devote little attention to what happens in Afghanistan, probably don't know how limited the reach of that regime is today (which is why our veterans sometimes call it #Forgotistan). After two decades, $2 trillion and the loss of more than 2,000 of our troops, it scarcely rules over more than the capital itself. The Taliban and other hostile forces control the rest.

That obviously doesn't bode too well for the future, and as Biden also knows, his Republican critics will blame him should the Kabul regime fall. They will conveniently forget that his predecessor not only insisted on an Afghan withdrawal but also set a departure date too abrupt to be met.

No doubt Donald Trump will join that chorus, turning around and shamelessly attacking Biden for "abandoning" Afghanistan, because that's what he does. So will figures like Sen. Lindsey Graham, a military strategist whose insights lured us into Iraq, a far worse disaster than Afghanistan. Graham now predicts that pulling out will result in terror attacks — but the biggest threat to America is from white supremacists within our own borders, a menace he denies. We don't have to occupy another nation to fight extremist enemies here or abroad.

Biden's critics will also forget the most salient fact about the Afghan war, which is how it began. I will confess to supporting the initial invasion following the 9/11 attacks, because I regarded the destruction of al-Qaida and the punishment of the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden as essential to American and world security. Like many others who endorsed the war in its earliest stages, I have long believed that the administration of former President George W. Bush — obsessed with overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq — ensured failure at the start.

Yet honesty compels me to say that those few who opposed the U.S. action back then may have been right all along. After such a long and costly misadventure, it isn't certain that what once seemed imperative was ever prudent, or just. What could have been done and what should have been done are no longer relevant — except to the Afghan people, who have suffered gravely without any end in sight. More than 150,000 of them have died in the war, with almost a third of the dead civilians.

Those Afghans were innocent of the terrorist violence that struck our cities on Sept. 11, 2001, and that level of death and destruction seems like a high price compared with what happened on 9/11, a day I remember too well. While most of the Afghan dead were killed by the Taliban, that doesn't absolve our responsibility. We also owe a deep and permanent debt to the veterans who served — the great majority of whom want us to bring their brothers and sisters home.

Discharging that debt will oblige us to rescue as many Afghans as we can from the vengeance of the Taliban, especially but not only those who served alongside our troops. For years now, Taliban assassins have murdered Afghan interpreters and others who assisted allied forces. They ought to have gained asylum here, but the Islamophobic prejudices of the Trump administration put obstacles in their way.

Now that must end. The United States should grant "immediate refugee status to all Afghan nationals that have helped us in the last 20 years," says Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat. "We can't let them be targets." Gallego, a Marine veteran of Iraq, is painfully aware of how Iraqis who worked with U.S. troops there were later hunted down by Islamic State group killers. He is right to demand that we start protecting the Afghans left behind.

We can hope that Afghanistan fares better than expected, but hope won't save any lives. Already the Taliban, which has not improved with age, is assassinating those who might dissent from its medieval ideology. If and when its mullahs regain state power, they may well kill many thousands more — unless we welcome them to this country.

There is no other honorable exit from the forever war.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Biden Will Withdraw From Afghanistan By 9/11 Anniversary

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The United States has been at war in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, intervening militarily in that country following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and fighting al-Qaeda's presence there. But President Joe Biden, according to the Wall Street Journal, is planning to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan before 9/11's 20th anniversary.

Wall Street Journal reporters Nancy A. Youssef and Gordon Lubold explain, "Mr. Biden is expected to formally announce the decision Wednesday, officials said, revising a Trump Administration plan for a withdrawal by May 1. The U.S. is coordinating the withdrawal with North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, which now contribute the bulk of forces to the conflict, officials said."

This withdrawal, according to the Journal''s sources, is a firm deadline rather than one that is subject to change depending on conditions.

A senior Biden Administration official, quoted anonymously, told WSJ, "The president has judged that a conditions-based approach that has been the approach of the last two decades is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever."