A tale of two Afghanistan withdrawals

17 April 2021

6:12 AM

17 April 2021

6:12 AM

President Joe Biden announced this week that he was pulling all remaining American troops out of Afghanistan by September 11 — and the media rushed to frame the decision positively. They are technically correct — it makes zero sense to continue to put American lives at risk and spend taxpayer dollars on a decades-long ‘war’ with no foreseeable end nor desire to ‘win’. But as you can guess, when former president Donald Trump announced he would withdraw troops from Afghanistan just last year, the media hysterically warned that he was emboldening the Taliban and making America less safe.

‘Trump administration to cut troop levels in Afghanistan despite Pentagon warnings,’ the Washington Post reported.

‘The Trump administration says it will pull thousands of troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan by Jan. 15 and aims to have the remaining forces out by Spring 2021 — a drawdown that has military leaders worried,’ NPR wrote.

‘Pres. Trump said “it is time” for all US service members to exit Afghanistan, undermining his administration’s agreement with the Taliban,’ ABC News said.

The public affairs consultant Drew Holden has compiled a full Twitter thread of headlines like these, alongside the current much friendlier headlines about Biden’s announcement.

It’s never surprising to see the media’s hypocrisy on full display. But there is an added element to the Afghanistan story that makes it extra sickening.

In the summer of 2020, the New York Times reported that Trump knew for months that Russia had offered bounties to Taliban fighters who killed American troops stationed in Afghanistan and did nothing in response. The White House immediately shot down the report, but then-candidate Joe Biden used it to attack Trump for his alleged fealty to Russia.

‘President Trump, the commander-in-chief of American troops serving in a dangerous theater of war, has known about this for months according to the Times and done worse than nothing,’ Biden said. ‘Not only has he failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin.’

Media outlets later referenced the story as another reason to avoid pulling troops out of Afghanistan. Never mind that the story had more holes than a sieve. The top US commander in Afghanistan said he had not seen evidence to corroborate the claim that there were Russian bounties on American troops, as did defense secretary Mark Esper. The information allegedly came from captured militants, who are not exactly known to be reliable. And as Arthur Bloom pointed out in the New York Post, if Russia wanted the US to withdraw from Afghanistan, why would they implement a program sure to have the opposite effect?

Conveniently enough, the Biden administration is walking back the story in conjunction with Biden’s announcement he will support troop withdrawal.

‘Intel officials have “low to moderate” confidence in reports of Russian bounties on US troops,’ Axios wrote.

‘Intelligence Was Limited That Russia Offered Bounties on US Troops, White House Says,’ the Wall Street Journal reported.

‘Remember those Russian bounties for dead US troops? Biden admin says the CIA intel is not conclusive,’ NBC News said.

Yes, I remember.

Could it be possible that the story about ‘those Russian bounties’ was a deliberate fake news attempt to harm the Trump administration? Then, when the central allegation could potentially prove to be a thorn in the Biden administration’s side, it was pulled back just in time?

The media frequently throws out baseless, poorly sourced allegations to harm their political opponents. When the story no longer serves its purpose, they quietly clarify, correct, or even retract. There will be no accountability for the people who got the story wrong — because ‘good’ reporting is not about truth, but hurting the right target. In this case, job well done!

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