The Washington Post is upset that cable news channels invited former high-level defense and national security officials to discuss the Afghanistan debacle. Among those whom the Post questions whether we should have heard from are two former National Security Advisors (H.R. McMaster and John Bolton), a former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and architect of the successful surge in Iraq, (David Petraeus), a former Secretary of Defense (Leon Panetta), a former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq among other nations (Ryan Crocker), and a former Vice Chief of Staff of the United States Army (Jack Keane).
The Post claims that the multiple appearances of these experts have drawn “an outcry” because most of them played a role in formulating U.S. policy in Afghanistan and have been wrong in some of their assessments. At a minimum, the Post suggests, these individuals should be called to account on air for their alleged errors before being permitted to opine.
But Anthony Fauci has been wrong on occasion about the coronavirus pandemic and has been the lead health expert in two administrations during which the pandemic raged (U.S. deaths per day from the pandemic at present are slightly higher than they were at this time last year). By the Post’s reasoning, Anthony Fauci should be barred for life from appearing on cable news to discuss covid issues (or anything else) unless he first confesses during the interview to his errors and failures.
To be fair to Fauci, the coronavirus pandemic is novel. Any official would have made erroneous calls.
But the war on terror is also novel. So there is no shame in having a less than perfect record in matters relating to its prosecution.
I’m willing to stipulate that each of the officials whose appearances on cable news upset the Post has been wrong about something. But the Post’s article, by Jeremy Barr, is so weak that it doesn’t even show most of these officials to have erred.
For example, Jack Keane stands accused of saying in 2012 that the U.S. had “begun the turn of momentum in the eastern part of Afghanistan.” Barr doesn’t show that no such turn occurred back then.
John Bolton’s appearances have “enraged” critics (including Barr, who hides behind them). They complain that Bolton opposed Donald Trump’s 2020 peace deal with the Taliban. Now, Barr moans, he appears on MSNBC and CNN to criticize the withdrawal.
There is no disconnect here. In 2020, Bolton expected that a withdrawal would go badly. In 2021, it did. Accordingly, Bolton seems like just the kind of expert whose views a reasonable network would want to present.
As for McMaster, Barr notes that the withdrawal he criticizes on television “was set in motion during Donald Trump’s administration — which he served in as national security adviser.” Barr fails to inform his readers that McMaster served only until 2018 and therefore had no role in the 2020 deal with the Taliban.
But even if McMaster had negotiated the withdrawal deal, this would not estop him from criticizing the way the withdrawal was carried out. I doubt McMaster would have recommended withdrawing our troops and abandoning Bagram air base before evacuating Americans and Afghans who assisted us in fighting the Taliban.
Barr’s real beef is with giving air time to critics of Biden administration foreign and national security policy, or at least those who criticize it from the right. This is consistent with the Post’s broader desire to silence conservatives on television. The Post’s Margaret Sullivan wants to destroy Fox News.
The Post isn’t alone. Nicholas Kristof and Tom Friedman of the New York Times are also on board.
But what made last week especially galling for the Post was the appearance of harsh Biden critics on CNN and MSNBC to discuss matters that go to the heart of Joe Biden’s fitness as commander-in-chief. That level of heresy by second-rate gatekeepers is unacceptable to their more august counterparts at the Post.
Now that the Post has communicated its displeasure, we’ll see whether this sort of thing happens again.