Ukraine, the Latest, Podcast by The Telegraph (11/10/22) Notes
Televised briefings on the war against Ukraine are regular. They almost always include Putin telling the military something. After the decision to evacuate Kherson, however, the televised briefing between the Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu and Sergey Surovkin (overall commander of Russia’s war operations) announcing the withdrawal was conducted without Putin. The obvious message is that these two will be hung out to dry to take responsibility for the withdrawal. The withdrawal was presented as a sad, but necessary move to preserve the combat capability of the army.
Defense Minister Shoigu said to allow civilians who want to leave, passage.
This is a major development. The Russians have been in trouble in Kherson for a long time, but they haven’t made it easy for the Ukrainians. In the long term the Russian situation was untenable.
The two military men (Shoigu and Surovikin) will clearly being made the scapegoats for the withdrawal.
This is the third major withdrawal for the Russians. Kherson, Kyiv and Kharkiv.
Mercenary leaders Prigozhin and Kadyrov have been critical of the Defense Ministry’s conduct of the war, but have now evidently gotten on the same hymn sheet about the withdrawal. They as well are presenting it as regrettable but necessary.
It’s going to be a difficult withdrawal for the Russians and take weeks.
The Ukrainians don’t want to celebrate or build up the withdrawal as a turning point. There is operational secrecy in effect. There’s also a reluctance to believe the Russians about the withdrawal.
(Note: This morning there is video of Ukrainian troops retaking villages).
Months ago, there was a ceremony in Moscow with Putin posing for photos and shaking hands with the four men put in charge of the regions declared to be part of Russia. One of those men has apparently been assassinated.
On television, Russian commentators are comparing this withdrawal to the military abandoning Moscow when fighting against Napoleon. They are “selling it” because it is a “humiliation to the Russian state.”
The International community is watching. This is a crucial moment, not least because the US recently was pushing the Ukrainians to make a statement about peace for the benefit of countries whose commitment was weakening. The push was for the Ukrainians to admit that they would talk about peace. The Ukrainians announced they would talk peace with Russia but not with Putin.
There are reported to be some 30,000 troops in Kherson.
There is a possibility that this retreat is a deception. Zelensky said on Wednesday, the Russians don’t “give us gifts.”
The withdrawal probably is going to happen. The Russian position is “long term untenable.” They are trying to get ahead of the narrative and if they can spin it as a Dunkirk, they will.
Russians booby trap everything when they retreat. The Wagner group is famous for this (for example, in Tripoli). They tied grenades to children’s toys, beehives.
I am a cynical person. It takes a lot to amaze me. But, twice in the past couple of years I have been utterly and completely astounded by the blatant manipulative nature of the corporate media. I don’t know exactly why this should be so.
Years ago, I wrote a book about ideology, the media and the invasion of Panama. I started off the book relating a story of sitting in my study watching the coverage of the invasion. The invasion. That’s what it was called by the news media in the beginning because that was what it was. It only took a few hours, however, until otherwise respectable news people became cheerleaders for the clearly illegal invasion. And, also within a few hours they started referring to the invasion as “Operation Just Cause.”
I kid you not. Major news anchors would say: “We are covering Operation Just Cause” using the name given to the invasion by the military.
I wouldn’t at all be surprised (although I would be disgusted) if by Monday, the major corporate news outlets started referring to the Biden withdrawal from Afghanistan as “Operation Just Ending to a Forever War.”
Another reason none of this should surprise me is that I sat and watched the outrageous effort on the part of MSNBC news to destroy Bernie Sanders’s candidacy after he won the Arizona primary. I have photos on my cell phone of Joy Reid’s devastated face when she had to report Sanders’s win, a win that was multi-ethnic and that included union members who refused to obey their bosses and voted for Sanders.
After that primary, MSNBC anchors (especially Reid) went into overdrive to help the DNC prevent Sanders from being nominated and promoting Joe Biden. There was nothing subtle about it. Chris Matthews even said on his dreadful nightly show that Bernie Sanders would take people like him (Matthews) out in Central Park and execute them. (We can only wish).
Now, this time, corporate news, especially MSNBC, is busily trying to whitewash Biden’s ill-conceived and disastrously bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan. They are doing it for the same reason they worked to destroy Bernie Sanders – to promote and protect Joe Biden.
Since early last week I have been watching with growing alarm the Taliban take over Afghanistan. Every time I looked at an article with a map of who controlled territory in Afghanistan the Taliban’s control expanded. I had read with shame and disbelief about the decision to abandon Bagram air force base in the middle of the night without even consulting and informing the local governments.
I had read with disgust about the “negotiating” between the Trump administration and the Taliban. Who in their right mind would even think of “negotiating” with the Taliban? But, that was Trump and the dangerously ill religious zealot Pompeo. We had elected Biden to change things.
Then, I watched with utter horror and incomprehension as Joe Biden doggedly continued to pursue a policy of total withdrawal from Afghanistan by a specific date even in the face of mounting evidence that we could not even get all the Americans out much less all the Afghans who fought with us and for us.
I was 24 when the U.S. withdrew from Saigon. I had nightmares about those scenes well into my 40s and I had been an anti-war activist who worked with SDS. I opposed that war.
I opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But, even the most anti-war activist can make a distinction between going into a war and getting out of one. I opposed the war in Afghanistan but once we were there, had been there for 20 years, we owned it. We couldn’t just walk away as if we had never started any of this.
But that was evidently exactly what Joe Biden intended to do. I just could not wrap my mind around it. Who was this precipitous withdrawal intended to please? To what constituency was this supposed to appeal?
Added to this, the behavior of Biden and his administration was so Trumpian it made me sick to my stomach. Biden appeared on television doubling down on his decision to pursue this ill planned and ill conducted withdrawal. He would not even admit that there had been any mistakes. It was a “do you believe me or your lying eyes” strategy. I thought we voted for Biden to stop that kind of behavior. Ned Price (from whom I expected more) and Jake Sullivan spouted bureaucratic-speak nonsense from the podium trying to legitimate the policy. They were both utterly terrible at it. They lied and obfuscated with evasive eye movements and even hostility when they were asked to answer legitimate questions.
It reminded me of the “I’m the smartest person in every room” hubris of the Obama people who have always felt that criticizing or even questioning Obama’s policies or behavior was tantamount to treason and also a personal affront.
On the corporate news, in an attempt to protect Joe Biden, hosts minimized the chaos and the impact of the set of decisions Biden made with regard to this withdrawal from Afghanistan.
As Charlotte Rampell wrote, otherwise rational people seem to be having a great deal of trouble distinguishing between the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the way in which this particular withdrawal was carried out. They are having trouble and they are having trouble for a reason, they wish to protect Joe Biden.
As one former Republican, Matthew Dowd, hosted on several of the programs last week said, Democrats should circle the wagons around Joe Biden, support the president, because that’s what the Republicans would do. So, this guy is treated like an oracle because he is saying was that we should support the leader of our party whatever he does because he is the leader of the party.
As someone tweeted recently: You can unwaveringly support your ethics and morals or you can unwaveringly support the leader of your party, you can’t do both.
From an interview this morning with Leon Panetta, it seems likely that members of the corporate Democratic Party elite are advising Joe Biden to come out and take responsibility for the decision to precipitously withdraw from Afghanistan, and to admit that it was a mistake.
It has been reported that when Joe Biden was Vice President and Obama was thinking about withdrawing from Afghanistan, Biden went to Obama and counseled him not to listen to the generals, to withdraw. Obama didn’t follow Biden’s advice, but it looks as if Biden followed his own advice. He didn’t listen to the generals. That doesn’t appear to be working out very well for Biden and it has created a humanitarian disaster.
It is unlikely that Biden will accept responsibility. He may make some gratuitous statement that “the buck stops here.” But, I am willing to bet he also spends time outlining how the fault lies everywhere but with him and his administration.
Support for this comes from the reaction of the White House for the past week. Not only have they refused to take responsibility, they have issued a statement essentially blaming Donald Trump. They have as well blamed the Afghan government, corruption, the intelligence community, the Afghan “will to fight,” essentially everybody involved but themselves.
The amount of nonsense that has come out of the mouths of administration officials like Jake Sherman, Ned Price, Blinken and John Kirby is just breath taking. There is very little chance that Biden will do anything but dig himself deeper into this hole than he was a week ago.
I may be wrong. I hope I am wrong. But, I’m probably not.
During the past few weeks the corporate news media has been studiously ignoring the disastrous military and humanitarian crisis shaping up in Afghanistan. They have been doing so, I think, because the crisis makes Biden look feckless, ruthless, and incompetent.
For so long, there was almost nothing on the corporate news, but every day it was possible to read about astonishing advances by the Taliban. Every day estimates of how much of Afghanistan was controlled by the Taliban increased, and estimates of how long it would be until the Taliban took over Kabul decreased.
I am no foreign policy expert, but even I could see that the Biden withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan was accelerating a Taliban takeover of the country.
The negotiated “peace plan” was non-existent. I never understood what was being “negotiated” with the Taliban in the first place either by the Trump or the Biden administration. One reporter late this week said that the “negotiated” peace process was not only on hold, it was in the basement with the door locked.
And who had the bright idea that the Taliban could be negotiated with in the first place? The group is defined by a suicidal religious refusal to compromise or negotiate with the modern world.
Let me be clear, I did not support the invasion of Afghanistan or Iraq but even I acknowledge that once you have invaded and occupied a country you can’t just walk out and leave everyone who has fought with you at the mercy of the enemy. You cannot just withdraw without considering the implications for the population you are leaving behind.
But this is precisely what the Biden administration seems to have done. They either didn’t consider the implications for the population, or they didn’t care. I’m not sure which is worse.
Reports today (Friday) are that members of the Biden administration knew that this disaster was coming. The Joint Chiefs warned them. But the Biden administration decided that the disaster was inevitable (although they have denied this reality). One official was quoted by Peter Baker as saying: It’s a tragedy, but it’s not our tragedy. Who would say something this crass and unfeeling? There is not even much of a pretense of having any empathy with the abandoned population.
And in an effort to make the chaotic, precipitous, and disastrous withdrawal look better, the Biden administration has blamed everyone in sight – except themselves.
Evidently, the defense department that costs us trillions every fifteen minutes, just couldn’t manage to plan a withdrawal from a country they had occupied that didn’t create a humanitarian crisis. How can that be?
Gen. John Kirby, in a painful press conference today, said the Afghanis had every conceivable advantage in the war. A reporter asked Kirby how the Afghanis could have every conceivable advantage and still be losing. Kirby balked at the rudeness of the question, then evaded answering it. He went on to list all the advantages the Afghanis had (airplanes, an air force, more soldiers, etc.). So, according to Kirby, the Afghanis have all these advantages and it’s just a great fucking mystery why they are losing.
The people of this country are told repeatedly that we have the greatest military in the history of the world, but that military just can’t figure out how after twenty years of supplying and training and fighting, to get the Afghanis in a position to hold their own against the opposing force.
Earlier this week I listened to a podcast where the panel was pointing out that supply lines were a problem in Afghanistan. Supply lines? Twenty years and they haven’t figured out how to secure supply lines? Even my cat knows not to go further away from the door than he can safely run back should there be a threat. And they can’t figure out secure supply lines? I just find this preposterous. What the bleeding devil have they been doing for twenty years?
A lot of the feedback on Twitter consists of people arguing that the very fact that we have been in Afghanistan for twenty years legitimates the withdrawal. But, nobody is objecting to the withdrawal, it’s the way the withdrawal is carried out.
As Paul Riekhoff said on Nicolle Wallace’s show the other night, this was a “reckless” withdrawal. Riekhoff’s honesty about the situation made me wonder if the producers on MSNBC knew what he was going to say. (The next night I don’t think Wallace even talked about Afghanistan). Riekhoff lambasted the Biden administration’s withdrawal. And Riekhoff, like Kevin Baron from Defense One, stated flatly that the administration was not “leveling” with the American people.
The refusal to “level” was painfully obvious in the Pentagon presser this afternoon with Gen. John Kirby. Kirby couldn’t even bullshit with any talent the obfuscation was so blatant. Kirby stood at the podium and spewed nonsense. He looked like a man experiencing a severe attack of piles as he fielded questions from reporters.
He was fine with questions like that from MSNBC’s Pentagon correspondent. After a day when every conceivable TV pundit repeated like a parrot: “The administration was not surprised with what happened but at the speed with which it happened” she asked if the administration was surprised at the speed with which the take over had happened. Seriously?
Another reporter doggedly tried to get Kirby to say that Kabul was “isolated.” “Would you say Kabul was isolated?” He asked repeatedly. Kirby verbally danced all over the universe refusing to say that Kabul was “isolated.” We all fucking know that Kabul is “isolated.” What is the purpose of a journalist taking up valuable time trying to get Kirby to say the word? Kirby said everything under the sun else except that Kabul was “isolated.” What goddamn difference does it make if he uses the word?
I don’t think I have seen such a blatantly pathetic Pentagon press conference since Vietnam, and even then the brass talked the bullshit with some panache. Kirby just seemed to be desperate to finish, desperately uncomfortable, resentful of meaningful questions. John Kirby is a bad liar and bullshitter. If they are going to try to pass off this level of (do you believe me or your lying eyes) bullshit, they need to get another spokesperson.
And, it seems that we should have learned (with the best military in the history of the world) that the solution to a badly thought-out war is not (or should not be) a badly thought-out withdrawal. Evidently not.
But the thing that keeps sticking in my craw and going through my mind for the past few days is why? How could the Biden administration be so inept as to create this situation? Who was this precipitous withdrawal designed to please? I just can’t think of anybody placated or pleased with this hair-brained withdrawal. Why, after breezing through the deadline in May that the Trump administration had set, did Biden rush headlong into this withdrawal that seems so badly planned.
I will give just one example. On another podcast about Afghanistan the commentators were pointing out that the Taliban ratchets up fighting in the Spring and then makes a big push over the summer. Then, I suppose because of the weather, they retreat to bases in Pakistan in the fall and fighting dies down. The panel members were pointing out that if Biden had just waited over the summer and pulled out most of the troops in the fall, it would have helped immensely. So, what was the problem with that small change?
And there another thing that keeps going through my mind. This is in response to a comment made on the Majority Report (a great podcast). The guest was saying that there are many competing factions represented within the Biden administration – progressives (damn few), conservatives, moderates, hawks. When some policy or appointment comes up that sparks strong opposition among these groups, they fight it out vociferously. Fine. But when all this fighting and debate occurs, when positions are entrenched, Biden evidently does not step in and make a decision so everybody can go on. Biden refuses to take make a decision that might alienate somebody and so everybody retreats to their respective corners. The result is that nothing gets done. The example that was being talked about was an appointment that had remained vacant for months.
I can’t keep from wondering if something like that happened here. There was such strong disagreement about what to do, everybody was fighting and pushing and Biden just walked away (sort of like he’s doing in Afghanistan) and nothing got done. The withdrawal just ticked on without Biden taking control. It was easier to do nothing than to make a decision. Now, the administration is facing not only a humanitarian crisis, but a political disaster.
I have watched Fox News, OANN, and that other channel of Steve Bannon’s in the past two days. You can bet they are making hay over this situation. And, to my great discomfort and consternation, I agree with some of the commentary.
A final thing that makes me uncomfortable about this situation is how similar it is to the way Democrats are handling the serious threat Republicans pose to the continuation of democracy.
Democrats are so engorged with hubris, so convinced that the world is the way they want it to be, they are leading us into disaster at every turn.
I fear that they are going to do with Republicans exactly what they are doing with the Taliban – negotiate without reason, rely on the good intentions of murderous men determined to assume power at all costs and then when these men pull off a religious based authoritarian take over, wring their hands and say it was not the outcome they had anticipated.