President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 18, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)
On the menu today: New revelations reveal how many things President Biden said in recent days that were the precise opposite of the truth; Biden returns to his Delaware home today; the Columbia Journalism Review realizes that conservative media were the only ones who didn’t buy into the Andrew Cuomo hype; and a note of thanks.
Almost Everything Biden Said about Afghanistan Was False
President Joe Biden, August 10, 2021: “I’ll insist we continue to keep the commitments we made of providing close air support, making sure that their air force functions and is operable, re- — resupplying their forces with food and equipment, and paying all their salaries. But they’ve got to want to fight. They have outnumbered the Taliban. And I’m getting daily briefings. I think there’s still a possibility — you have a significant new Secretary of Defense — our equivalent of a Secretary of Defense in Afghanistan, Bismillah Khan, who is a serious fighter (emphasis added).”
The Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2021: “In the wake of President Biden’s withdrawal decision, the U.S. pulled its air support, intelligence and contractors servicing Afghanistan’s planes and helicopters. That meant the Afghan military simply couldn’t operate anymore.”
President Biden, in his interview with George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday: “The idea that the Taliban would take over was premised on the notion that the — that somehow, the 300,000 troops we had trained and equipped was gonna just collapse, they were gonna give up. I don’t think anybody anticipated that (emphasis added).”
An internal State Department memo last month warned top agency officials of the potential collapse of Kabul soon after the U.S.’s Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official and a person familiar with the document.
The classified cable represents the clearest evidence yet that the administration had been warned by its own officials on the ground that the Taliban’s advance was imminent, and Afghanistan’s military may be unable to stop it. The cable, sent via the State Department’s confidential dissent channel, warned of rapid territorial gains by the Taliban and the subsequent collapse of Afghan security forces, and offered recommendations on ways to mitigate the crisis and speed up an evacuation, the two people said. [Emphasis added.]
Biden to Stephanopoulos on Wednesday: “One of the things we didn’t know is what the Taliban would do in terms of trying to keep people from getting out, what they would do. What are they doing now? They’re cooperating, letting American citizens get out, American personnel get out, embassies get out, et cetera (emphasis added).”
So far, there are no reports of the Taliban killing an American citizen or impeding an American from getting to the airport. (They are attacking Australians.) But they have accosted and threatened American journalists, fired off shots, attacked crowds, and have made getting to the airport impossible to do safely.
Taliban fighters have erected checkpoints outside Kabul airport and prevented — sometimes violently — thousands of Afghans with travel documents from boarding flights out of the war-torn country.
Eyewitnesses say Taliban fighters, some carrying sticks and whips, are letting foreigners enter the airport but refusing many Afghans, even those with foreign passports.
With foreign governments unable to secure safe passage for passengers, some flights have left Kabul mostly empty. A plane from Germany, able to carry around 150 passengers, left with only seven people on board this week, sparking widespread criticism.
The warning the Taliban were targeting “collaborators” came in a confidential document by the RHIPTO Norwegian Center for Global Analyses, which provides intelligence to the UN.
“There are a high number of individuals that are currently being targeted by the Taliban and the threat is crystal clear,” Christian Nellemann, who heads the group behind the report, told the BBC.
“It is in writing that, unless they give themselves in, the Taliban will arrest and prosecute, interrogate and punish family members on behalf of those individuals.”
He warned that anyone on the Taliban’s blacklist was in severe danger, and that there could be mass executions.
On-the-ground researchers spoke to eyewitnesses who gave harrowing accounts of the killings, which took place between July 4-6 in the village of Mundarakht, Malistan district. Six of the men were shot and three were tortured to death, including one man who was strangled with his own scarf and had his arm muscles sliced off.
The brutal killings likely represent a tiny fraction of the total death toll inflicted by the Taliban to date, as the group have cut mobile phone service in many of the areas they have recently captured, controlling which photographs and videos are then shared from these regions.
“The cold-blooded brutality of these killings is a reminder of the Taliban’s past record, and a horrifying indicator of what Taliban rule may bring,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“These targeted killings are proof that ethnic and religious minorities remain at particular risk under Taliban rule in Afghanistan.”
The president assures us that the guys who slice the muscles off their prisoners are “cooperating.” That assessment goes well with his declaration that the guys who beat a woman to death for refusing to cook for them are in an “existential crisis.”
Working Hard, or Hardly Working?
During arguably the biggest foreign-policy crisis in the past decade, Joe Biden did not appear in public at all Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. He is scheduled to address the country about Afghanistan today at 1 p.m. Eastern. He is still scheduled to spend Friday into Sunday at one of his homes in Delaware.
Chris Cillizza thinks that pointing this out “is the sort of gross, lowest-common-denominator politics that drive people away from public life.”
Remember Who Didn’t Fall for the Cuomo Hype?
I am glad that Ross Barkan of the Columbia Journalism Review is calling out most of the national media for enabling Andrew Cuomo’s worst impulses:
The media, at every turn, fueled the Cuomo myth.
It must be made clear what is meant here by media: almost all of it, including cable TV and prestige newspapers and magazines. The New York Times, CNN, and MSNBC all helped inflate Cuomo’s reputation, along with other mainstream publications. CNN, most notoriously, allowed Chris Cuomo, the governor’s brother, to interview him repeatedly in prime-time. Since Cuomo is a Democrat, conservative media, by virtue of political polarization, didn’t play along. The New York Post would’ve probably done less accountability journalism and scathing headlines if Donald Trump Jr. governed New York.
You can attribute conservative-media skepticism of Andrew Cuomo to knee-jerk “political polarization.” No doubt, that was at least a contributing factor in a lot of places. But you don’t see conservative media tearing into New Jersey governor Phil Murphy nearly as much (and maybe we should), or Connecticut governor Ned Lamont, and they’re both in the New York media market. You might throw in former Rhode Island governor Gina Raimondo (and maybe she deserved tougher scrutiny from everyone, too).
Maybe the tough coverage of Cuomo was a demonstration of reflexive partisanship, or maybe it’s because those of us in conservative media have eyes. It’s not like Cuomo’s egomania, narcissism, and habitual bullying were hard to spot in public contexts. Unlike some institutions, we’re not inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to a Democratic governor because we see him as part of “our team.” And while we at National Review are naturally more aligned with Republican governors than Democratic ones, we’re willing to call out the GOP ones we think are lousy — think of the cover story calling Bruce Rauner “the worst Republican governor in America” and another cover story on Chris Christie’s “fondness for expensive big-business tax subsidies that smack of corporate cronyism.”
It’s almost like conservative media might be right sometimes, even if you can’t stand us.
ADDENDUM: Thanks to Seth Mandel for the recent kind words, and everyone who concurred.
It means a lot to me that so many readers write in or tell me that every weekday morning — and then throughout the day — I help them make sense of a crazy world, whether it’s exposing the Chinese government’s lies about COVID-19 and the evidence pointing to a lab leak in Wuhan, refuting erroneous conventional wisdom about what events are likely to be super-spreaders, clearing up simplistic narratives about the unvaccinated, tracking a sudden shift in what it is now socially acceptable to say, or unpacking this week’s nightmarish turn of events in Afghanistan.
One of the upsides of a role such as this, where I spend a lot of time reading and researching and gathering information, sorting through it, and trying to lay it out in a way that makes the world seem a little clearer is that a lot of the time, I feel like I’m ahead of the curve.
I will not lie, though; there are some days when I can’t make sense of the world. There are times — and this week is one of them — when what is going on is so maddening, outraging, depressing, and horrible to watch that I’m at a loss, that it feels as if the world has spun off its axis, and that something about how the world is supposed to work has become fundamentally broken. We’re not supposed to see mothers throwing their babies over barbed-wire fences, desperately begging foreign soldiers to take their infants away to safety. We’re not supposed to see women getting executed for not wearing burqas by men who are promising the world they will respect women’s rights. We’re not supposed to see a terrorist network affiliated with al-Qaeda suddenly placed in charge of Kabul’s security.
What we’re witnessing this week is a spectacular triumph of evil. And I suspect a lot of Americans feel pretty damn powerless right now.
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