The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the end of the fake news Afghanistan bountygate story driven by the deep state NYT and WaPo, and how the entire hoax was less about Trump and Russia, and more to do with keeping the US in Afghanistan for the endless war machine profits and global drug trade.
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On June 26, the New York Times reported that Russian intelligence operatives in the GRU were providing Taliban militants with money as an incentive to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan. The fact that the Taliban were fighting U.S. troops long before the Russians swooped in with hundreds of thousands of dollars (or that Pakistan and Iran were sending weapons and cash to Taliban fighters long before the Russians were) was overlooked. To lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the Russian bounty program was yet one more example of Russian President Vladimir Putin throwing sand in Washington’s eyes and using his experience in the dark arts of spycraft to kill some Americans along the way.
The Russia angle, however, was only a part of the story. Act 2 concerned President Trump and whether U.S. intelligence officials briefed him about the reports and (if so) why the White House hasn’t done anything about it. “Congress and the country need answers now,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a statement after #BountyGate broke. “Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee wants answers and has requested Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s presence at a hearing about the issue this week. The Beltway loves a scandal, particularly in an election year. Howard Baker’s famous Watergate-era quote, “What did the president know and when did he know it?”, is now on everybody’s lips.
Don’t get me wrong: #BountyGate is a serious story. That Trump was apparently unaware of the Intelligence Community’s assessment (that what the president claims, anyway) indicates something terribly wrong occurred. Even if the assessment over time proves to be less damaging than initially believed (different intelligence agencies have reportedly disagreed about the conclusions), it’s inexcusable that the president wasn’t informed. Fully corroborated or not, the commander in chief should always be flagged if there is a credible threat to the lives of U.S. troops.
Yet, it would be nice if lawmakers took as much of an interest about the war itself as they do about the minutiae of intelligence distribution. With the notable exceptions of Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Ro Khanna, both of whom have been trying for years to terminate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan’s endless conflict, members of Congress appear more content with keeping quiet on the subject in the hopes that the public will forget about it.
A good barometer of congressional interest is the hearing schedule. So, I took a quick look at the Congressional Record to see if the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan was ever a top priority for the relevant committees.
The results could be disqualifying.
While the oversight committees in both the House and Senate scheduled several closed-door sessions with Trump administration officials and U.S. military officers involved in Afghanistan War policy, open hearings were a totally different matter. For instance, the last time the Senate Armed Services Committee held an open hearing on the war was on Oct. 3, 2017, when the late Sen. John McCain was still the chairman. Now with Sen. James Inhofe holding the gavel, the committee has been dormant on Afghanistan-related matters. The committee’s Feb. 11 hearing on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan can hardly count as oversight. After all, none of the witnesses on that day were actually working in the administration at the time. As qualified as the witnesses may have been to give testimony on the war, they don’t run the policy.
Oct. 3, 2017, was the last time the House Armed Services Committee held an open hearing on Afghanistan with senior officials as participants. But because the hearing covered the entire South Asia region, Afghanistan was only a part. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch has organized several briefings with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on the status of U.S.-Taliban peace negotiations since 2019, but the senior Republican senator has yet to hold an open hearing on the war since he inherited the chairman’s gavel.
And the House Foreign Affairs Committee? Well, this body has been slightly better than the others. John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, sat down with the committee this past January to discuss his latest quarterly report. But you have to go back 10 months to find Trump administration officials working on the Afghanistan portfolio being grilled about what the White House hoped to achieve, how the Afghan government was performing, and how much longer the Afghan national security forces could hold out.
One can’t help but take away an unavoidable conclusion from the hearing schedule: On Afghanistan policy, the men and women responsible for overseeing U.S. foreign policy have been phoning it in. They either couldn’t care less about the war, don’t view it as a priority, or are covering up for the fact that the entire Afghanistan misadventure has been one long, expensive, and tragic chapter in U.S. history. Or perhaps they don’t want to do their jobs.
Whatever the reason, it would be nice (commendable, even) if lawmakers spent even half as much time trying to get U.S. troops out the longest war in the country’s history as they continue to spend on the #BountyGate controversy.
Daniel DePetris (@DanDePetris) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. His opinions are his own.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.