None of This Adds Up To Anything Good

Susan Rice is a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and National Security Advisor to the president. She wrote this for The New York Times:

Since at least February, and [according to a new report] possibly as early as March 2019, the United States has had compelling intelligence that a committed adversary, Russia, paid bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to kill American troops in Afghanistan. American service members were reportedly killed as a result.

To this day, the president of the United States has done nothing about it.

Instead, President Txxxx dismissed the intelligence as not “credible” and “possibly another fabricated Russia hoax, maybe by the Fake News” that is “wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!”

Mr. Txxxx also claimed that neither he nor Vice President Mike Pence was ever told about this critical intelligence before it was first reported in The New York Times. Setting aside for a moment the credulity of that claim, whenever the president learned of this deeply troubling intelligence, why did he not publicly condemn any Russian efforts to kill American soldiers and explore options for a swift and significant U.S. response?

None of this adds up.

As a former national security adviser, I find it exceedingly difficult to believe that no one told Mr. Txxxx about this intelligence.

It was reportedly contained in the president’s daily briefing, which is provided to all top-level national security officials. Even if Mr. Txxxx does not bother regularly to read the daily briefing, we must assume others do. If the president’s senior advisers — Robert O’Brien, the national security adviser; Richard Grenell, who stepped down in May as acting director of national intelligence; and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, among others — thought it was unnecessary to inform the commander in chief of this life-or- death matter, then they are not worthy of service.

White House officials claim that it would be improper to inform the president of such information until it is fully verified and options for the U.S. response had been prepared. Yet, the administration reportedly informed the British government, and the National Security Council convened an interagency meeting in March to discuss the intelligence and its implications.

Here’s what should have happened. Had I, as national security adviser, received even “raw” reporting that Russia was paying to kill U.S. service members, I would have walked straight into the Oval Office to brief the president.

Contrary to the spin-masters in the White House today, I would not have waited until we had absolute certainty. I would have said, “Mr. President, I want to make sure you are aware that we have troubling reporting that Russia is paying the Taliban to kill our forces in Afghanistan. I will work with the intelligence community to ensure the information is solid. In the meantime, I will convene the national security team to get you some options for how to respond to this apparent major escalation in Russia’s hostile actions.”

If later the president decided, as Mr. Txxxx did, that he wanted to talk with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at least six times over the next several weeks and invite him to join the Group of 7 summit over the objections of our allies, I would have thrown a red flag: “Mr. President, I want to remind you that we believe the Russians are killing American soldiers. This is not the time to hand Putin an olive branch. It’s the time to punish him.”

This is what would have happened in any prior administration of either political party.

That it apparently did not is deeply troubling and raises myriad questions. If Mr. Txxxx was told about Russian actions, why did he not respond? If he was not told, why not? Are his top advisers utterly incompetent? Are they too scared to deliver bad news to Mr. Txxxx, particularly about Russia? Is Mr. Txxxx running a rogue foreign policy utterly divorced from U.S. national interests? If so, why?

A perilous pattern persists that underscores Mr. Txxxx’s strange propensity to serve Russian interests above America’s. Recall that, during his 2016 campaign, Mr. Txxxx publicly urged Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails and praised WikiLeaks for publishing stolen documents.

He denied and dismissed Russian interference in the 2016 election, then took Mr. Putin at his word at a Helsinki meeting while undercutting the U.S. intelligence community, and obstructed the Mueller investigation and distorted its findings. Mr. Txxxx recklessly removed U.S. troops from northern Syria and allowed Russian forces to take over American bases.

Next, Mr. Txxxx unilaterally invited Mr. Putin to attend the Group of 7 meeting, a move that apparently upended the organization’s annual summit. Subsequently, without any consultation, Mr. Txxxx announced his decision to remove nearly a third of U.S. troops from Germany — a sudden and inexplicable withdrawal that weakens the U.S.-German relationship and harms NATO, while benefiting Russia.

Most recently, we have learned that even Russian efforts to slaughter American troops in cold blood do not faze this president. Mr. Txxxx brushes off the information, evades responsibility and fails to take action — not even lodging a diplomatic protest. Now Mr. Putin knows he can kill Americans with impunity.

What must we conclude from all this? At best, our commander in chief is utterly derelict in his duties, presiding over a dangerously dysfunctional national security process that is putting our country and those who wear its uniform at great risk. At worst, the White House is being run by liars and wimps catering to a tyrannical president who is actively advancing our arch adversary’s nefarious interests.

Unquote.

The Times explains some of the evidence:

American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account, evidence that supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, according to three officials familiar with the intelligence.

Charles Pierce of Esquire asks [with some assistance/interference from me]:

How many more shoes have to drop? Every time the administration* comes up with a new bogus alibi for the Russian bounty case, information appears almost immediately that utterly undermines it. What do they have to do? Find a picture of him dancing … in a furry hat while tossing hundred-dollar bills to a cheering crowd [in Red Square]?

Finally, mothers of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan are demanding answers. So is this veteran:

He Didn’t Care or Was Clueless

On Friday night, The New York Times reported that, according to intelligence reports, Russia offered bounties to Afghan opposition forces to kill U.S. and allied troops. Furthermore, the Txxxx administration has been deliberating for months about what to do in response:

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Txxxx, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

Today, The Times added details:

United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, according to officials briefed on the matter….

Armed with this information, military and intelligence officials have been reviewing American and other coalition combat casualties since early last year to determine whether any were victims of the plot. Four Americans were killed in combat in early 2020, but the Taliban have not attacked American positions since a February agreement to end the long-running war in Afghanistan.

The details … emerged as the White House confronted a growing chorus of criticism on Sunday over its apparent failure to authorize a response to Russia….

Though the White House press secretary … claimed on Saturday that [Txxxx] had not been briefed about the intelligence report, one American official had told The Times that the report was briefed to the highest levels of the White House. Another said it was included in the President’s Daily Brief, a compendium of foreign policy and national security intelligence compiled for [Txxxx] to read.

In addition to saying he was never “briefed or told” about the intelligence report — a formulation that went beyond the White House denial of any formal briefing — [the president] also cast doubt on the assessment’s credibility, which statements from his subordinates had not.

Specifically, he described the intelligence report as being about “so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians”; the report described bounties paid to Taliban militants by Russian military intelligence officers, not direct attacks. [He] also suggested that the developments could be a “hoax” and questioned whether The Times’s sources — government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity — existed….

Two officials said the information about the bounty hunting was “well known” among the intelligence community in Afghanistan, including the C.I.A.’s chief of station and other top officials there, like the military commandos hunting the Taliban. The information was distributed in intelligence reports and highlighted in some of them.

The assessment was compiled and sent up the chain of command to senior military and intelligence officials, eventually landing at the highest levels of the White House. The Security Council meeting in March came at a delicate time, as the coronavirus pandemic was becoming a crisis and prompting shutdowns around the country….

[Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi] said that if the president had not, in fact, been briefed, then the country should be concerned that his administration was afraid to share with him information regarding Russia.

Ms. Pelosi said that the episode underscored Mr. Txxxx’s accommodating stance toward Russia and that with him, “all roads lead to Putin.”

“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,” she said. “Whether he is or not, his administration knows, and some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan have been briefed and accept this report.”

John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, said … that he was not aware of the intelligence assessment, but he questioned Mr. Txxxx’s response….

“What would motivate the president to do that, because it looks bad if Russians are paying to kill Americans and we’re not doing anything about it?” Mr. Bolton said. “The presidential reaction is to say: ‘It’s not my responsibility. Nobody told me about it.’ And therefore to duck any complaints that he hasn’t acted effectively.”

Mr. Bolton said this summed up Mr. Txxxx’s decision-making on national security issues. “It’s just unconnected to the reality he’s dealing with.”

Unquote.

So, officials say the matter was discussed for months at the highest levels of the Administration, but the press secretary and another official or two, whose job regularly requires that they lie to protect the president, claim that neither the president nor Vice President Pence were informed. John Bolton, the National Security Adviser in 2019, also says that he knew nothing about it, but he’s not surprised that the president is divorced from reality. Of course, nothing any of these people say should be trusted.

Tonight The Washington Post reports:

Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.

Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program. U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed this year.

Unquote.

Two papers devoted to military news, Stars and Stripes and Military Times, are headlining this story. Some of the president’s most ardent supporters are in the military. Will hearing about this cause any of them to reconsider their support for a Commander-in-Chief who greatly admires Vladimir Putin and did nothing in response to Russia targeting their fellow service members? Either because he didn’t care or was clueless?

They should. We can hope.

Will Republicans Dump Him Now?

Resignation would be good. Impeachment would take too long.

From The New York Times:

Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says

The Txxxx administration has been deliberating for months about what to do about a stunning intelligence assessment.

Deliberating or hoping nobody would find out? Wow.

The Passing Parade

The year is almost over and so is the decade that’s strangely ending with a “19” instead of a nice, round “20”. There is lots of news and commentary out there. An extremely truncated summary:

It didn’t make a splash, because this is 2019, not 1971, but The Washington Post reported:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable…

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking … Who will say this was in vain?”

The Afghanistan Papers won’t get as much publicity as the Pentagon Papers. They should have called them the “Afghan Papers”, more concise language now being the custom.

The Post also explained the history of the “It was Ukraine, not Russia” myth that has taken up permanent residence in what’s left of the Toddler’s brain and is so popular among right-wing politicians and propagandists everywhere. In a few words, the Russian government created the myth in order to cast blame on somebody else:

The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity [of course]. . .One former senior White House official said [the president] even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.”

The Popular Information political newsletter summarized new analysis of the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors:

An extraordinary analysis by top legal experts, published by Just Security, clearly explains how the impeachment inquiry [implied] that [the pres] committed at least three (and probably more) federal crimes. All of these crimes involved him abusing his presidential powers, making them particularly relevant to impeachment….

  • Federal campaign finance law
  • Bribery
  • Honest services fraud

[This last one] occurs “when a public official breaches his duty to act in the best interests of his constituents by performing an official act in exchange for personal gain”, such as “withholding funding that had been allocated by Congress —  money intended to advance U.S. national security by helping Ukraine combat Russian aggression — to advance his personal political interests”.

Cool.

By the way, Congressional Democrats and Rep. Justin Amash (an independent who was kicked out of the Republican Party when he exercised his conscience) finally got around to impeaching the monster. Paul Krugman reacted:

What we saw Wednesday was a parade of sycophants comparing their leader to Jesus Christ while spouting discredited conspiracy theories straight from the Kremlin. And as they were doing so, the object of their adoration was giving an endless, rambling, third-world-dictator-style speech, full of lies, that veered between grandiosity and self-pity…

Republicans, in other words, are beyond redemption; they’ve become just another authoritarian party devoted to the leader principle. And like similar parties in other countries, the G.O.P. is trying to rig future elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression, creating a permanent lock on power

But if Trump’s supporters look just like their counterparts in failed democracies abroad, his opponents don’t.

One of the depressing aspects of the rise of authoritarian parties like Hungary’s Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice has been the fecklessness of their opposition — disunited, disorganized, unable to make an effective challenge even to unpopular autocrats as they consolidated their power.

Trumpism, however, faced determined, united, effective opposition from the beginning, which has been reflected both in mass marches and in Democratic electoral victories. In 2017 there were only 15 Democratic governors, compared with 35 Republicans; today the score is 24 to 26. And last year, of course, Democrats won a landslide victory in House elections, which is what made the impeachment hearing and vote possible.

Many of the new Democratic members of Congress are in Republican-leaning districts, and some observers expected a significant number to defect on Wednesday. Instead, the party held together almost completely. True, so did its opponents; but while Republicans sounded, well, deranged in their defense of Trump, Democrats came across as sober and serious, determined to do their constitutional duty even if it involved political risks.

Now, none of this necessarily means that democracy will survive….

What we learned Wednesday, however, was that those who define America by its ideals, not the dominance of a particular ethnic group, won’t give up easily. The bad news is that our bad people are as bad as everyone else’s. The good news is that our good people seem unusually determined to do the right thing.

Finally, speaking of good people, the widely-read evangelical magazine Christianity Today called for the Toddler’s removal from office. The editorial got so much attention, their website crashed:

His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused…. .Whether [he] should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments….

To the many evangelicals who continue to support [him] in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of [the president] influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off [his] immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

You have to wonder how many of the president’s supporters understand that, if the Senate did its duty in the new year, our convicted president would be replaced by super-Christian Mike Pence, not the dreaded mainline Protestant who failed to carry Wisconsin.

In conclusion, it seems to me that we face two major issues:  climate change and bringing majority rule to America.

Majority rule would mean dealing with the courts, the Electoral College, a skewed Senate, gerrymandering, election security, campaign finance reform and voter suppression. It’s quite an agenda. But, as Senator Warren [subject of the latest Rolling Stone interview] keeps saying, we need big, structural change in our political system if we’re going to make progress on issues like climate change, inequality and much more.

Oh, and you might check out “The Historical Case for Abolishing Billionaires” in The Guardian. It begins by quoting another well-known proponent of regulated capitalism, Adam Smith.

Talk Radio in Afghanistan Has Pessimists and Critics Too

I’ve been assisting someone with a little bit of editing work, which has involved reading English transcripts of Afghan talk radio shows. From what I’ve seen so far, their talk radio is more monologue than dialogue and relatively polite. Below is a brief selection: 

Caller: I do not think that anyone will listen to our words on this program, except us. Therefore it is useless to talk. Nobody will solve these problems. Thank you. Bye.

Presenter: Thank you. We have the next caller.

Caller: Based on what the previous caller said, I want to say that no one can tell the truth. There was a program on this radio station and the announcer was threatened many times. Then that program was cancelled. Nowadays all the sources of information, the media, the government and non-government institutions, are puppets of the foreigners who are supporting them. There are major problems in our society, more serious than the subjects you select for this program. I hope you do not mind my words, but I am telling the truth. Thank you. Bye.

Presenter: Thank you. We have the next caller.