by Richard Cameron
The News Media’s Lashing Of President Biden Part II – Foreign Policy
Has the so-called ‘mainstream media’ been taking President Biden to the woodshed with an inordinate and excessive degree of intensity that has not only added to the difficult tasks he’s been rolling up his sleeves to manage – the catastrophes left behind by the most radioactive president in modern history, but also the unenviable job of herding the cats on his side of the aisle in Congress?
Have they been fashioning right wing media talking points that such as Fox News consumes and regurgitates with eagerness and relish?
We began to delve into that question in our first in the series on the specter of hyper critical coverage of Biden and the Biden White House.
We’ve noticed that in addition to the daily bombast directed excessively at the president by tele-journalism, radio and print and probably also available in braille and closed captioning subtitles for the deaf or the hearing impaired, they collectively and gleefully dissected his responses in press briefings such as the one marking his first full year in office on the 19th of this month.
The complaint had been that Biden wasn’t personally attending the standard number of briefings – as if there was one to begin with. There is an imprecise calculation at play regarding this.
As we pointed out before, in Donald Trump, you had a marginal president who, in his first year of office, attended just one press conference. After that, he made up for lost time in between perpetual campaign rallies and utilized them for the purpose of indulging in one sided diatribes consisting of fact deficient assertions and deranged boasting that suited his lack of grasp of policy on the one hand and his instincts for malicious attacks on his many declared enemies on the other.
But there is an argument to be made with respect to the realism in play as to the expectation. In Trump, you had an occupant of the White House who had enormous amounts of time on his hands. Time to dawdle watching copious amounts of television, schmoozing on the telephone with sycophants and cronies and posting interminably, one minute to the next, illiterate rants on Twitter.
With Joe Biden, by contrast, you had an incoming POTUS who has arguably inherited one of the worst – if not the worst administrative equivalents of an EPA Superfund site in history. Trump likes to call everything and everyone he disdains, a “disaster”. Trump left Biden a disaster.
Biden does not have the surplus shits and giggles siestas – or what Trump’s communication apparatus termed “executive time” that Trump had. It’s superfluous to enumerate the burning piles of human waste Biden was confronted with upon his arrival at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Among those smoldering heaps created by Trump and gifted as a legacy to Joe Biden, was an unprecedented attack on the Capitol just two weeks prior.
An additional layer of swamp debris consisted of the results of Trump having politically weaponized a pandemic, where a sizable contingent of the population were pre-positioned to reject any sensible appeal to act responsibly and abide by the two main pillars of community mitigation – face coverings and the readily available COVID-19 vaccinations.
We discussed, in the previous commentary, the precursors of the inflation spiral that commenced under Donald Trump’s watch as evidenced by the below graph:
But there are other crisis’s that Biden is tasked with addressing that are directly linked to mismanagement and malfeasance on the part of his predecessor, namely Foreign Policy.
These are much too multifaceted and complex to cover comprehensively in the scope of this article, but we will briefly examine the outlines of them. President Biden is doing his utmost to respond to the international threats that metastasized during Trump’s term in office.
The Mass Media’s one sided version of the Afghanistan withdrawal
The first was the demonstrably necessary U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the mechanics of which, were dissected in surgical detail by network news. I sense that some readers might be asking, “why are you re-litigating the Afghanistan debacle at this point?”
Thank you for asking. The answer is because the mainstream media is once again regurgitating it, referring to it as a stain on the record of his first year in office that he must recover from or damage his party’s prospects in this year’s mid-terms.
Alex Shepherd with The New Republic describes stories with the elements of the Afghanistan withdrawal as “media catnip and the cats came running” – and indeed they did.
There was a lot of hyper-ventilated punditry, exemplified by the likes of “Meet The Press” host Chuck Todd, who at the time contended that, “The collapse of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban is likely to haunt Mr. Biden’s legacy.”
That was the intense and predominantly sole focus. The practical reasons behind the withdrawal? Not so much.
Why did the Biden administration conclude that it was time to stop chasing bad money with good money? Part of it was the money itself. In two decades, the operation in Afghanistan racked up an estimated price tag of over $2 trillion. In terms of lives lost, both those of our troops, those of our allies in the effort and those of civilians – 241,000 lives (including 2,448 U.S. troops and 71,000 civilians).
Adding to the definition of insanity, is the reality that centralized government, and particularly the one we attempted to foster, never worked in Afghanistan, had no prospect of working and neither does the concept of a unified national army.
Eric Levitz writing in The Intelligencer, recites some examples of the reaction to the withdrawal, from the default framework of neo-con oriented national security of many network analysts:
In recent days, much of the mainstream media has comported itself as the Pentagon’s Pravda. Reporters have indignantly asked the White House how it could say that America doesn’t have a vital national security interest in maintaining a military presence near Tajikistan.
NBC’s Richard Engel has devoted his Twitter feed to scolding Biden for suggesting that America’s nation-building project in Afghanistan was always hopeless, and that the Kabul government was “basically a failed state.”
CNN’s Jim Sciutto lamented on Twitter Wednesday, “Too many times, I’ve witnessed the US military attempt to dutifully carry out difficult & dangerous missions left to them by the miscalculations of civilian leaders.”
The problem with Engel’s assessment, and that of several others, is that the facts on the ground, when examined in any greater depth than facile and frothy bumper sticker fashion, demonstrate that Afghanistan was a failed state looking for a place to collapse and could never be permanently sustained with the ultimate objective of it resembling a Western democracy – even a poor imitation of one.
Biden himself, told reporters at the time, “I have never been of the view that we should be sacrificing American lives to try to establish a democratic government in Afghanistan – a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country and is made up … of different tribes who have never, ever, ever gotten along with one another.” That was and remains, an accurate assessment.
Worse yet, the duration of the failure, was in large part accountable to top military brass ignoring cold realities in favor of telling presidential administrations what they wanted to hear as opposed to what commanders in theatre were seeing with their own eyes.
The coup de grâce to the false premise of an eventual nation building success, was the Washington Post’s successful effort in gaining access to internal Pentagon reports that demonstrated the futility of America’s 20 year plus involvement. The Afghanistan Papers are a scandalous repudiation of the “just give it more time” argument that spanned three presidential administrations.
Shephard at TNR, summarizes the interventionist foreign policy pipelines that the criticism of Biden originate from:
Much of the problems with the press coverage lie in the coziness between foreign policy elites and reporters who rely on them for information. The biases of interventionists and hawks flow frictionlessly into news coverage, treating the exit from Afghanistan as a capitulation and outrage, rather than as one—and perhaps the best—of a number of bad options.
Was there a litany of miscalculations and poor execution on the front end of the withdrawal operation? Undeniably so. What largely was minimized in the coverage was the all hands effort to kick the mission into top gear and repair as best as possible what was broken.
Is it realistic to imagine, imply or even more absurdly, to claim that the problems and mishaps might have been absent under some other Commander in Chief? By no means. Operations of the nature of extracting personnel, civilians and assets from a country in turmoil and insurgency, are never devoid of contingencies that defy the proverbial best laid plans.
Has any U.S. president since Lincoln, been hands on micromanaging a military operation? No. Is it reasonable to believe or expect that Biden do so, as opposed to the customary role of receiving briefings from those whose proper role is to execute them? Again, no.
But can it be fairly said, that in this episode, Biden over promised that the endeavor would be orderly and with minimal mishaps and miscalculations? Yes, it can. And it can be said that he set the bar of expectations too high.
Biden may have taken at face value, the assurances from those advising him and tuned out some who warned that tactical mistakes and unforced errors could arise. He’s entitled to face sharp assessments on it.
Who actually set up the Afghanistan pullout to fail?
Again, we come back, however, to proportionality and context, especially historical context. Trump’s role in setting up the withdrawal for failure is glossed over by the mass media reporting. After all, let’s not forget that Trump’s handling of negotiations with the Taliban, had the effect of not only legitimizing them, but of demoralizing any remaining pockets of resistance within the country.
General Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command, testified before the House Armed Services Committee last August and explained that once the US troop presence was reduced to under 2,500 as per the terms of the blueprint fashioned by the Trump administration, the disintegration of the US-backed Afghan government increased dramatically in pace. McKenzie told the committee:
“The signing of the Doha agreement had a really pernicious effect on the government of Afghanistan and on its military – psychological more than anything else, but we set a date – certain for when we were going to leave and when they could expect all assistance to end.”
McKenzie was referencing the deal signed at the end of February, 2020, in Doha, Qatar, where Trump pledged to the Taliban a full U.S. troop withdrawal no later than May 2021 in return for the Taliban agreeing to several conditions, including stopping attacks on U.S. and coalition forces.
This is why regional warlords all over Afghanistan, sued for peace with them and consequently, goes a long way toward explaining why the takeover was so remarkably swift and the Afghan National Army collapsed like a house of cards.
Had they been met with resistance at any step, their approach to Kandahar and Kabul, would have been fraught with obstacles and the advance would be considerably more difficult.
Does this constitute an intelligence failure? That’s indisputable. But intelligence failures are a noxious ingredient with every major military operation and they plague all presidents, Republican and Democrat alike. The unqualified success of Seal Team Six in taking out Osama Bin Laden during Obama’s term in office, is more an outlier than the norm, in fact, remarkably so.
Russia, Russia, Russia
The bookend item on our short list of the media’s obsession with Joe Biden’s performance as head of state and Commander in Chief, is the more recent overwrought coverage of his 2 hour press conference last week, in which about 28 minutes into the briefing, he made the following comment:
“What you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades and it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do etc.”
To the extent that there is lack of clarity or specificity in that statement, it opens the door to speculation and not favorable speculation. It was poorly considered and poorly executed and provided ammunition for a lot of sensationalized reporting on the cable networks and elsewhere.
The White House communications apparatus, Anthony Blinken at State and Biden himself, went to work in short order to clean up that spill; all making it clear that there is no practical distinction between whatever could be defined as a “minor incursion” and any other degree of foray into Ukraine by Putin’s army.
The president, for his part, the next day, issued this much more unequivocal pronouncement:
“If any — any — assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion. Let there be no doubt at all that if [Russian President Vladimir] Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price.”
Biden added that there would be a “severe and coordinated economic response” that he has discussed with allies.
Would Donald Trump walk back such an ambiguous comment? The history of his term in office argues that to be a near impossibility.
It might be said that Trump tried to Trumpsplain away his hot messes re his legitimization of Vladimir Putin at Helsinki and his bizarre recommendations about alternative coronavirus cures and treatments, but the problem remains that he employed additional layers of lies and equivocations in his insincere attempt to do so.
So, President Biden’s recompense for his initial imprecise comment and his acknowledgement that it was so, is an extended, excessive harangue from the talking heads, every night on the alphabets and all day long on the cables.
The next installment in this series will examine the manner in which, the mass media holds Biden personally accountable for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and what are the implications of their slant on it. Stay tuned.