A Blog on Politics, Principles, and Uncovering the Narrative

Month: August 2021

Finger-Pointing and Ass-Covering: No, the CIA Did Not Give Biden Ample Warning

I have seen this article (“CIA warned of rapid Afghanistan collapse. So why did U.S. get it so wrong?“) used repeatedly to claim that Biden had ample early warning that the Afghan forces would collapse and the U.S. would not have time to withdraw adequately.

As far as I can tell, that conclusion is pure BS.

People nowadays seem to read no further than the headlines, and the headlines are written to be sensational; the more specific and meaningful content is in the article. This headline gives the incorrect impression that the Biden administration was fully and adequately warned in time to do things right.

But that’s not what the article actually says. In the first graf:

“As the Taliban began seizing provinces across Afghanistan in recent weeks, the CIA’s intelligence assessments began to warn in increasingly stark terms about the potential for a rapid, total collapse of the Afghan military and government, current and former U.S. officials told NBC News.”

Now break that down in terms of timing. “In recent weeks.” Not months; at most, 4-5 weeks ago. Then, “began to warn.” That says that the initial warnings were lesser than the later ones. Well, which ones? How many? How did they express it?

Not to mention: this was happening at a time when the Taliban had already started their move. Not before.

Then we have to ask, who was doing this? We are only told of “intelligence assessments,” which could mean anything from some lone analyst all the way up to the whole agency concurring. But that is not made clear.

So, at some point soon after the Taliban began their surprising blitz, someone at the CIA wrote a report warning of the advance that was already happening. As the Taliban advanced, the warnings became stronger.

How the hell does that make Biden derelict?

Seriously, as far as I can see, these warnings told Biden nothing that he could not already see, and there is zero—I repeat, zero—indication that Biden did or did not react to it immediately. However, with just a few weeks of knowledge that a blitz—one that surprised everyone, even the Taliban themselves—in the middle of an already-rushed massive withdrawal with a myriad of interdependent moving parts, you cannot expect the military to pivot on a dime and suddenly do in days what it was projected would take months. That is entirely unrealistic.

Now, if, as the headline suggests, the CIA had been pressing Biden with strong warnings at least a month before the advance began and Biden ignored it, that would be something.

But that’s not what this is. This appears to be little more than inter-agency ass-covering, using the media to create a narrative that the agency had it right all along.

An additional point of ire is that Biden’s State Department dragged their feet on getting the translators and other Afghanis who helped us out of the country. Again, angry parties highlighted that they were pressing to get this started early… but if you read the details again, these were only a few weeks before the collapse started, and the article gives a rather powerful reason why it did not happen faster:

“At the State Department, officials are pointing the finger at Congress, which created an onerous 14-step process for the special visa program that diplomats by law must complete before they can issue the visas. No diplomat wants to be the one who cuts a corner and ends up admitting into the U.S. someone who could pose a risk, one diplomat said. Congress ultimately passed legislation streamlining and expanding the program, but not until the end of July.”

In other words, republicans in Congress with hot heads on immigration didn’t want the Afghan helpers to come… the very same republicans who are now throwing scathing attacks at Biden for leaving them behind.

The lowdown is this: everybody screwed up. Bush 43 screwed up getting this started. Trump screwed up by gifting the Taliban with everything they wanted and screwing over the Afghan government and military, as well as our own. From there, you start with a distant third. Biden is somewhere in there, to be sure, but he has a lot of company.

If you see this same headline, or what it seems to convey, cited anywhere—challenge it. It’s incendiary fuel for Biden-haters on the left and the right… but it has practically zero substance.

What you’re seeing is a major disaster, and most of the people who want to avoid responsibility are pointing fingers; this article is an excellent example of this.

In the end, however, Biden is president, and as he said, the buck stops with him. And as such, he is opening the door for all the finger-pointers to point directly at him.

You have to at least respect the fact that the man can take the heat.

Trump would never have done this. In fact, instead of saying “The Buck Stops Here,” he’s pointing his stubby little fingers at Biden, claiming that he, unlike Biden, would have been masterful at the pull-out.

Right. Just like Syria.

Afghanistan, 9/11, Neoconservatism, and Bush: Why We Are Where We Are

There is a mass of criticism against President Biden over the pullout from Afghanistan, but there is one thing I have not heard or read: any evidence that it was possible for him to do better, given the context and starting circumstances. No one has given the slightest indication that Biden did not do everything he could. Maybe he didn’t—but no one has presented evidence that he didn’t.

I am not saying that Biden didn’t fumble to whatever extent; all I am saying is that I have heard no evidence at all that he did, and most seem to ignore the run-up to the withdrawal that caused the worst of the disaster. Trump hosted the Taliban last year, giving them extremely favorable terms, releasing 5000 of their people being held prisoner, delegitimizing the Afghan government we had helped build while giving the Taliban a much stronger position, and promising to pull out American forces by May 2021. Then he removed too many troops too quickly, strengthening the Taliban position even more without giving the U.S. time to draw down safely. This put Biden in a very difficult position; he delayed the pullout because there was not enough time under Trump’s plan to pull out properly, and before the job could be reliably done, the country collapsed.

It is quite possible that, despite the fact that the pullout was a huge disaster, Biden may have done the best job possible.

This is why quagmires are quagmires: they are messy to extract yourself from them, and you always get massive criticism for leaving when a victory is not possible. It does not help when the previous office-holder totally destabilized the situation and made an organized and proper action impossible to achieve.

However, the real blame lies not with Biden, and not even fully with Trump, but with George W. Bush. And the error was not just Afghanistan, but with 9/11 itself. I am amazed at how people immediately forgot how this whole thing began in the first place.

In May of 2001, Bush got his first big policy pushed through: a massive tax cut for rich people. The second item on his agenda came up next. Can you remember what it was? I doubt it. Few people do.

It was a push for Missile Defense, commonly referred to as “Star Wars”—a tremendously, even ruinously expensive cash cow for private industry.

So, why is that relevant?

The reason is because the Bush administration’s chief justification for the program hinged on the idea that hostile states like North Korea would soon perfect missiles that could eventually reach American territories, and pepper us with nuclear weapons. This assertion, however, was ludicrous on it’s face: not even North Korea would be stupid enough to leave a clearly readable missile path going from them to an American target, as there would be an immediate and devastating nuclear response that could effectively wipe out the entire nation.

The greater and rather obvious criticism that emerged immediately after Bush made his case was that hostile states like North Korea and Iraq would simply use terrorism instead of costly and difficult ICBMs. Pack a nuke into a shipping crate, sail into an American harbor like New York, and set it off there. This would cheaply and easily evade any defense, and would not leave a clear, readable path back to the responsible party. Even if identified as, say, North Korean nuclear material, they could simply claim that it had been stolen and used by terrorists and they had nothing to do with it.

Remember when we learned that, a month before 9/11, Bush resisted being presented with a PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) from a CIA analyst, one which warned that bin Laden was planning to attack the United States soon, and after reluctantly receiving it, Bush snapped back, annoyed, saying “All right, you’ve covered your ass now”?

That seemed to make no sense; why would a president be so annoyed, even pissed off, at being given a warning of an imminent terrorist threat?

However, it does make sense once you remember that Bush was in the middle of a big push for missile defense, for which the primary criticism was that terrorism made the missile defense system irrelevant.

Indeed, the Bush administration had shown outright hostility towards the counter-terrorism mechanism that the Clinton administration had built up, dismantling much of it, and generally disregarding terrorism as a lesser threat than hostile nations using missiles. Indeed, after 9/11, the justification for missile defense simply crumbled and disappeared.

In fact, on the day of 9/11 itself, Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s National Security Advisor, was scheduled to give a speech at Johns Hopkins University in which she would have played up the missile threat as she downplayed the threat of terrorism.

In that context, the Bush administration ignoring the threats of bin Laden’s attacks makes sense: had they taken positive action against a terrorist threat, they would be admitting to the nation that terrorism was indeed a pressing threat, which would cut the legs out from under their missile defense initiative.

And so bin Laden’s plan slipped by the willfully unprepared Bush administration, and 9/11 happened.

However, even that was not Bush’s greatest blunder, nor was it the only willful one.

When 9/11 hit, Bush—who, you also may not recall, was plummeting in the polls and regularly mocked as Cheney’s idiot puppet—suddenly was seen as a courageous hero, standing a hundred feet tall, bravely leading the war that threatened us all.

It was ratings gold—and was a dream come true for republicans, giving them a free pass to vote in every last piece of policy legislation they could dream of. Everything was suddenly cast as being elemental to the War on Terror—even consumer shopping was touted as a weapon against evil. Ironically, missile defense was shelved, but that was okay, because bloated defense industry contractors suddenly had more government money pouring into their coffers than they knew what to do with.

Bush, of course, immediately set out to invade Afghanistan, but it is important to note that Afghanistan was not his preferred target, and that he was not really interested in that war, nor in capturing bin Laden.

This became evident in December of 2001, when we had bin Laden boxed in at Tora Bora—but Bush had already shifted his focus from Afghanistan to Iraq, secretly planning to begin a military offensive in a country completely unrelated to the terrorism threat (Saddam Hussein was antagonist towards, not in cahoots with, terrorist groups).

A slip-up by bin Laden allowed the U.S. military to pinpoint his position within 10 meters—but Bush and his officers had completely understaffed the special forces necessary for the mission, creating a delay that allowed bin Laden and more than a thousand of his men to slip away into Pakistan.

If the U.S. had captured or killed bin Laden at that time, we could have declared victory, pulled out with anti-Taliban forces in charge, and stopped the whole Middle East war right then.

But that’s not what Bush and Cheney wanted. They wanted to invade Iraq and control the supply of oil, so bin Laden getting away was actually a plus for them.

They allowed Afghanistan to fester, ignored bin Laden, and invested heavily in prosecuting a war in Iraq, thus allowing not one, but two simultaneous quagmire wars in the Middle East.

When Obama came into office, he could not withdraw from Afghanistan while bin Laden was still there, and he focused on the hunt. Within two and a half years, he actually finished the job Bush failed to do in more than seven years, but still Obama did not withdraw from Afghanistan. He considered it, but stepped away from the idea when he realized that the Taliban would take over again.

But that’s the whole problem of a quagmire: the bad guys will always take over. What Bush and then Obama both did was to kick the can to the next administration.

One thing to know about Afghanistan: it has never been a winnable fight. The British learned this lesson in the past, and the Soviet Union paid a heavy price to learn the same lesson. Even from the beginning, there was no real strategy that realistically allowed for the U.S. to stabilize the country. It was bound to fail from the start.

Meanwhile, the United States spent two trillion dollars paying military contractors to wage and maintain the war—as presidents wavered, knowing the political price they would pay for ending it.

Trump, surprisingly, actually made the decision to pull out; not being a neoconservative, he was never a fan of overseas wars or controlling the flow of oil. So he made a deal with the Taliban.

The problem was that he was a gigantic idiot, and did everything the wrong way. He backstabbed the Afghan government we had built, gave the Taliban everything they wanted in exchange for an empty promise not to support terrorism, drew down troops to such a low level that control of the country was slipping away even before Biden took office, and promised a pullout in May 2021, not nearly enough time to do the job properly. Trump obviously didn’t care—he pulled out of Syria too quickly as well, and had no problem with the chaos it created.

Even republicans called the plan a mess and a mistake, unusually agreeing with the head of NATO.

The sad fact is, Trump was so engrossed in first campaigning to win the 2020 election, and then fighting his battle to delegitimize the election results, that he pretty much let the Afghanistan situation crumble unattended.

When Biden came into office, despite facing an unprecedented health crisis and a republican Congress bent on overthrowing Democracy itself, he got on to the Afghanistan problem immediately. He concluded that a May withdrawal would not be possible, and extended the stay as long as he could to allow for the withdrawal to be carried out effectively—but the Taliban, strengthened by Trump’s irrational promises and botched negotiations, were already closing in, and the Afghan military folded and fell apart just as quickly as Iraq’s had some years back. Trump more or less assured the collapse would be catastrophic.

This was an unwinnable war from the start, one begun by an inept bumbler who did not care, allowed to fester by a president who did not want to sully his reputation, followed by an idiotic narcissist who gave away the farm… only to fall on Joe Biden, who had long wanted to end the war, but was handed such a mess that no one would have been able to withdraw cleanly.

Do you really think that Trump would have handled it better? Of course not; it would have ben ten times worse. At least.

So I leave you with this proposition: if you want to argue that Biden failed, that he screwed up and made the mess worse than it had to be, be prepared to have evidence to back that up. Because I haven’t seen a damn shred of proof to support that proposition.

Believe the Lie: A Look behind the Curtain

Mike Lindell, the “Pillow Guy,” has been saying for weeks that he has hard data to prove that China hacked the election, and would prove it at a “symposium” on the subject.

It should, therefore, come as no surprise at all that, after his complete fraud of a presentation, his own “cyber experts” admit that they have no proof whatsoever that the election was hacked.

I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

Lindell is not just your ordinary hack. He’s an extraordinarily stupid one. 

In the above video, the fraud is comically transparent. At 55 seconds, the reporter asks Lindell why he doesn’t just produce the evidence—or starts to, but Lindell overtalks, and loudly asks, “No! Wait, just forget about the evidence! If I’m right that China took our country, right now, do you care? Would that bother you?” The reporter persists that he would have to see the proof first, but Lindell pushes the “Would that bother you?” line.

This is an amateurish and ham-handed attempt to employ a classic Newt Gingrich technique: It doesn’t matter what’s true, what matters is what I can frighten you into believing.”

Gingrich, usually far more subtle himself, tipped his hand in an interview with a CNN reporter in 2016, when he claimed that crime was on the rise, blaming Obama for making things worse. The reporter responded with fact: the FBI itself, an unassailable source in this regard, has reported that crime rates are falling, not rising.

Gingrich responded that the facts don’t matter, it’s what people believe that matters.

“The average American, I will bet you this morning, does not think that crime is down, does not think that we are safer…. People feel more threatened. As a political candidate, I’ll go with what people feel.”

What he admitted to was that he knew that what he was saying was a lie; he told the lie to make people believe it, to feel more threatened; then he said that because people believed it, to him it was more important than the truth. In short, forget evidence or proof; as a politician, I will lie and make people afraid.

Lindell handled the same technique far less adroitly. Just after 2:30 in the video above, you will see the reporter say that if Lindell’s data is legit, he should make it available to any and all experts. Lindell used another staple BS claim:

“You know what? I’ll give you the answer. Because I’ve been told that they can go out there and corrupt it, and make fake stuff and put fake news out. … We’re showing it right on screen right now, so you can’t sit here and do a hit piece when it’s on screen right now.”

So, to summarize: I have data that proves the election was hacked, I will show a few screens of meaningless data which proves nothing to create the impression that I have something, but I will not let anyone analyze or inspect the data because Fake News.”

It’s a flimsy facade that even street hucksters would look at and cringe.

But the real giveaway comes at about 3:30 in the video, when one of Lindell’s speakers summarizes the con concisely:

“[B]ut the CNN’s of the world, you guys need to start reporting this, and stop fact-checking it.”

Convicted felon Steve Bannon, from a luxury box on the mezzanine, applauds.

You got that? “Don’t fact check; just report our bullshit without evidence.”

That’s the fraud, in a nutshell.

How Trump Killed 400,000 Americans

Trump’s supporters claim that he did everything he could to fight COVID, but can only name two things: a travel ban from China, and Operation Warp Speed.

The problem is that any competent president should have done a hundred things right. Instead, Trump only did two things partially right (the travel ban was full of holes, and Warp Speed was an obvious move that Trump waited too long to institute), he failed to do the other 98 things at all, and he did another 50 things horribly wrong.

Here is a look at just the first few months of the pandemic and how miserably Trump failed, repeatedly and inexcusably, to respond correctly to the pandemic. It is estimated that as many as 400,000 Americans died needlessly because of Trump’s utter failure.

From before the virus was first noticed, Trump dismantled much of our ability to detect and study such viruses as part of his blind hostility to anything Obama did (Obama beefed up our pandemic prevention measures after the Ebola outbreak). Trump slashed CDC staff in China by 2/3rds and shuttered an international program to detect emerging pandemics just months before COVID was recognized.

When initial indicators of the Ebola outbreak started reaching Obama, he acted well before the WHO moved on the outbreak. In contrast, Trump received information on COVID in mid-January, but did nothing. At this point in time, he should have mobilized teams to begin investigating the virus, and appointed staff members to begin working on contingency plans on how to stem entry of the virus into the US and how to prepare businesses for a potential crisis. Trump, instead, ignored the warnings, and repeatedly told reporters that the virus was unimportant and was “totally under control.” On Jan. 21, the virus was identified in a U.S. patient who had traveled to China. Trump should have limited travel from anyone having visited Wuhan or even anyone traveling from China. He failed to do so for ten days.

In late January, when Trump should have had an emergency response team making extensive plans for dealing with the virus (like Obama did for Ebola, or like South Korea was doing at that time), Trump failed to act. At least three times from Jan. 27-30, Trump was warned of the extreme consequences of failing to act by his own people, and Trump did nothing. The WHO declared a global emergency. Trump fails to react, instead repeatedly praising China for doing such a great job.

Trump takes his only action for months that his supporters can claim as a victory: his travel ban from China. Except it came 10 days after we knew that the infection was spreading from there, and Trump’s ban was only partial, allowing more than 40,000 travelers from China to come to the U.S. after the “ban” was instituted. In January, before the partial ban, more than 4000 travelers were allowed to enter the U.S. directly from Wuhan as Trump dawdled on his response.

February was later called “the lost month” as Trump continued to deny there was a problem and failed utterly to act.

On February 7, in a call to Bob Woodward, Trump privately reveals that he understands perfectly how deadly the virus is and how easily it is spread. At the same time, he continues to claim to the public that the virus is no danger.

While countries like South Korea mobilized their industries to produce tests and other essential supplies, Trump instead worried that he might look bad and the economy might be hurt if he paid attention to the crisis. Trump waits until the end of February—a month to a month and a half after he should have acted—for a small amount of funding from Congress to respond to the pandemic. Had he done this in late January, it could have made a huge difference; Trump failed.

Instead, as community spread of the virus was confirmed in the U.S. and the first deaths were reported, Trump lied and said there was no problem: “[W]hen you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” As the virus spreads nationwide mostly undetected because of lack of testing (in contrast, South Korea had been testing and contact tracing since mid-February, and was conducting 15,000 tests a day by the time Trump said the pandemic would end magically on its own).

At the end of February, amongst consistent denials that there was any problem, Trump called COVID the Democrats’ “new hoax.” He probably was not saying that the virus was a hoax, but that the insistence by Democratic leaders that it was a great threat was the hoax. Either way, Trump was disastrously wrong.

In March, the virus truly begins to spread, mostly because Trump has failed to do a single thing correctly in response. Even as Trump begins to take credit for the China travel “ban,” tens of thousands of people are still entering America directly from China. At the same time, although the virus has now been known to be killing people in Europe, Trump fails to react with any travel restrictions from anywhere else.

As Trump falsely claims in early March that “anybody that wants a test can get a test” (a virtual clone of Obama’s statement about keeping your doctor, which prompted months of furious outrage by republicans), he actually tried to keep Americans on a cruise ship in Japan from being released, even though they were in increasing danger from the spread of COVID on the vessel—purely because if they returned to America under quarantine, the infected among them would be counted amongst the United States’ numbers, and Trump wanted to keep those numbers down. He literally endangered and probably killed Americans purely for his own political image.

It is not until mid-March—a month and a half after the WHO announced a state of emergency—that Trump, just two days after delivering an awkward speech packed with errors and lies, finally announces a state of emergency in the United States. He announces a travel ban from most of Europe, but already the flood gates caused massive spread of the virus into places like New York.

It is far too little and far too late. People begin dying in larger and larger numbers. Trump by this time has missed many dozens of opportunities to take actions that would have stemmed the spread of the virus in the U.S., and continues to resist taking many critical actions even after calling the state of emergency.

It was at this time when Jared Kushner—totally unqualified for the job—led a “task force” to decide how to handle the virus. We later learned that his decision was to abandon any meaningful plan because the virus was mostly hitting blue states, and the Trump administration could lay blame on the governors. Essentially, Kushner decided to let the virus spread and kill hundreds of thousands of Americans because it was politically convenient to do so.

This signaled the beginning of a long-running campaign by Trump to avoid taking action, and instead claim everything was up to the states to take action, blaming them for all the failures of the Trump White House. At around the same time, Trump starts pushing hydroxychloroquine and other hack treatments, and continues to act like the virus is no big deal.

It was not until late March—long after Korea was doing massive testing—that the Trump administration received a large number of COVID tests from China… which were found to be useless. Trump starts blaming everything on the “China virus” at about this time.

Lockdowns had begun with no central coordinating leadership from Trump, but because the stock market is faltering, Trump already begins demanding that lockdowns be lifted—in APRIL 2020!

But it’s still March, and Trump is now saying that if “only” 100,000 to 200,000 people die of the virus, then he can be credited with doing a “good job.” Ironically, he is correct.

It goes on from there in very much the same way: Trump does little or nothing of substance to react, and when he does, it is far too little and far too late. Trump instead spends most of his time lying and denying, while at the same time constantly claiming that he’s done the best job possible.

Instead, by mid-Aril, Trump begins the tragically costly move of politicizing the virus. After already having called the spread a Democratic “hoax” and started blaming China for its spread, Trump now seizes on state lockdowns as oppressive tyranny by Democrats, and issues a command to his followers to “liberate” Michigan, Minnesota, and Virginia from their Democratic governors (one militia takes Trump very seriously and prepares for a terror attack in which they planned to kidnap and probably execute the governor of Michigan).

Although an emergency vaccine development plan should have been started in February, Trump does not institute Operation Warp Speed until mid-May. While largely credited for making the right move, this action (a) would have been taken by any president, and (b) almost certainly would have been taken much earlier. So yes, Trump did the right thing… but once again, too little and too late.

In the meantime, Trump continued to politicize the pandemic, demanding states end their lockdowns—a political move that inspires a movement which, to this day, continues to kill countless Americans.

So many other mistakes follow—Trump refusing to use the Defense Authorization Act to its fullest extent, refusing to supply states with PPE and other vital supplies, and even infamously stealing these supplies from states who were desperately and expensively able to order precious few from overseas. When finally, with little help from “Operation Warp Speed,” vaccines are finally created, Trump fails miserably to distribute them properly, again blaming the states for everything.

Reviewing so much of what Trump failed at brings home the very real terror: as president, Trump—in a very real and literal way—killed as many as 400,000 Americans under his watch. And worse, his influence continues to create greater and greater disasters, as vaccine denial continues to rage because of Trump’s actions.

So to any Trump supporters who claim Trump did a fantastic job, all you can do is say the truth—and fully expect them to completely deny it.

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