A Blog on Politics, Principles, and Uncovering the Narrative

Category: Foreign Policy

Right-Wing Love for Putin and Russia Pre-Dated Trump


Why do republicans love Putin?

Even now, as the world and the rest of America gets behind Zelenskyy and Ukraine, republicans steadfastly admire and support Putin, though often more quietly so after Putin’s recent atrocities.

But how did they come to love Putin and Russian in the first place? The Republican Party’s identity for decades was practically defined by their searing hatred for Russia. Even in 2012, Mitt Romney identified Russia as being America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”

Most people assume that Donald Trump brought Putin Love to the right wing, but that’s not accurate. Trump’s association with Putin developed at about the same time as the republican admiration of Putin, but Trump was not openly pro-Russian until after Putin was already a right-wing hero. 

So, how did it happen? Why did republicans go Coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs over this aggressive dictator?

The answer is Obama. He was an effective, popular, charismatic president who was being a better Republican president than any of their own candidates could hope to be. This drove right-wingers crazy. They needed a foil for Obama, someone arguably better and more powerful than him, but no one in their own ranks measured up.

And then Syria happened. In August of 2012, Obama was asked what would provoke a U.S. military action in Syria, and Obama replied that Syria’s use of chemical weapons would constitute a “red line” that would bring America into the fray. However, a year later, Assad crossed that red line, using sarin gas to kill more than a thousand of his own people. Suddenly, Obama was boxed in: he had promised action, but almost any action he took would end badly, not to mention that the American people did not want to add a third land war in Asia to our plate.

Obama responded by passing the buck on to Congress, asking for their approval to use military force. Conservatives saw this as a sign of weakness and began to pile on.

It was then that Vladimir Putin came to the rescue, suggesting a plan to get Syria to surrender its chemical weapons stockpiles so as to avoid military action against them. Obama grabbed the opportunity as a best possible solution, and Damascus agreed to the terms.

That was when republicans suddenly took a liking to Putin: he had stolen Obama’s thunder, outplayed him in Syria, and took the limelight in center stage. The idea that Putin had shown up Obama and pulled the rug out from under him in the region became the story of the month. Matt Drudge, of the Drudge Report, hailed Putin’s involvement in Syria, tweeting that “Putin is leader of the free world.” He began to constantly run headlines praising Putin and trashing Obama, branding Putin as the strong, charismatic world leader, and Obama as a spineless coward who couldn’t begin to match his Russian counterpart. This was a drumbeat starting in 2013 onward, often echoed elsewhere in the conservative sphere. And then, in early 2014, just six months after the Syria deal, Putin just rolled into Crimea and annexed it, and Obama could not do much of anything about it. Putin again came out on top.

Republicans loved this. They discovered a newfound hero in Putin. He was rugged, masculine, in control. He was a right-wing, nationalistic, militaristic shirtless man riding a horse in the countryside. His policies were fiscally conservative, anti-tax, pro-Christian, and a near-perfect fit for the religious right. Most of all, Putin was aggressively, even virulently hostile to gay people. And he invaded and occupied nearby countries.

And Obama was more or less powerless to stop him.

That’s what truly made Putin a right-wing hero, besting Obama in the geopolitical arena, not just once, but twice. Showing power to Obama’s powerlessness. Comments like this started appearing in right-wing areas in 2014:

“Putin is a former KGB colonel. 0bama is a former community organizer. Of course Putin is going to have a far better grasp of international affairs. That is obvious to anyone outside of the liberal echo chamber.”

“Putin right? Why is anyone on earth surprised? President Putin is highly intelligent and by far the best leader in the world. The best leader I have seen in my life time. A man’s man who makes his own decisions and loves his country and its citizens.”

“He is a world leader. He sees the world, not the next party, photo op, selfie…. Putin=Leader Obama=Loser in every category for a leader as well as human being.”

“arguably, Putin would be a better Commander in Chief than our dear leader.”

“Putin at least isn’t a blind Marxism/Leninism fool, unlike Obama and his fellow New Bolshevik Criminals. Their pathetic attempts to focus solely on domestic control, while ignoring rest of world will end up destroying this country.”

All of this was more than a year before Trump showed any sign of being relevant at all. Trump did not bring Putin to the party, republicans were already very much on board. Right-wing talking heads started speaking reverently of Putin, gleeful to have someone who showed up their hated foremost enemy, their own president. More and more, they found elements of Russian culture and Putin’s political positions of which they approved, like Putin’s laws against “homosexual propaganda,” i.e. any favorable mention of LGBTQ people or issues.

While Trump spoke favorably of Putin once or twice after the Syria deal, even slightly before his fateful trip to Russia for the Miss Universe contest (the one where the “pee tape” was allegedly recorded), no possible argument could be made that Trump was in any way responsible for making Putin popular in right-wing circles. In fact, this early admiration for Putin likely helped republicans accept Trump better; he was already a Putin-lover, and fit right in with the crowd.

The problem for republicans is that Putin is, both to their discomfort and delight, a murderous power-crazed dictator willing to commit atrocities. The atrocities part may tamper down their enthusiasm temporarily, but they love the aggressive strongman part, and even as Russia becomes a pariah in most of the world, conservatives still prefer him to anything liberal. Thus we saw signs, t-shirts, and other conservative gear since maybe 2018 reading, “I’d rather be a Russian than a Democrat.”

But Trump didn’t bring that. It was there before he stopped being a joke.


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.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén