The scene from the press room was like something out of a disaster movie. The stream of words coming from the two military men, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, fell flat as they stood before the press and reiterated they were in control of the situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Rest assured, they completely expected and prepared for just this situation.
Milley insisted that now is not the time for recriminations and performance reviews but rather to allow for the contingency plan to be carried out. If it seemed like a performance straight out of Hollywood, it’s because that’s the way their tenures have been so far.
Since Kabul fell on August 15, neither Austin nor Milley appeared publicly for three days to explain how the situation had deteriorated so rapidly or why the United States appeared so obviously ill-prepared to extract its citizens. In fact, neither of the two, nor Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Vice Chairman John Hyten, had given a press conference during the previous week. Instead, the response to the crisis was given by Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.
During last Wednesday’s Pentagon press conference, the top brass had to contend with questions concerning the fates of the Americans still stranded in Afghanistan. The problem? Nobody can say for certain exactly how many Americans are in the country. According to the Daily Mail, it could be as many as 40,000, though a congressional staffer told the New York Times the number is more likely closer to 10,000. In any event, Austin told a reporter, “We don’t have the capability to go out and collect large numbers of people.”
This was supposed to be the team that returned competence to Washington, the “experts” that Joe Biden said he would trust. But instead, Americans got something all too familiar: a crop of “the best and the brightest” that isn’t very bright and is far from the best.
Milley’s face is by now familiar to millions of American conservatives for his absurd defense of the military’s teaching of critical race theory at institutions like West Point. “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white,” Milley said in response to Representative Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) before pivoting to a broadside against the January 6 melee at the Capitol. MSNBC’s Brian Williams took issue with Waltz’s colleague, Rep. Matt Gaetz’s (R-Fla.) tweet commenting that “with Generals like this it’s no wonder we’ve fought considerably more wars than we’ve won.”
Flash forward to less than two months later, and his network’s intelligence correspondent Ken Dilanian was asking why did the United States “get it so wrong” when the CIA predicted a rapid Afghan collapse.
And what about Austin who was the former commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which includes Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria? The day after Biden’s inauguration in January when Austin’s confirmation was assured, PBS hailed the occasion of him breaking the “brass ceiling” to become the first black secretary of defense. They still bemoaned “racial disparities” at the highest ranks of command. They continued to maintain the fiction that black soldiers cannot make it to the top ranks due to the lack of “black mentorship.” It followed the tired trope of blacks lacking role models that looked like them to guide them into desirable careers. Never mind that Colin Powell (mentioned in the article) had no “black mentor” to steer him to become the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and first black secretary of state.
But aside from the usual hailing of his skin color, media outlets did very little inquiry into Austin’s background, including his connection to a little-known private equity group Pine Island Capital Partners. In February, I covered Austin’s connections, along with those of his colleague, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, to Pine Island Capital.
Since heading the Pentagon, Austin has become one of the chief enforcers of Biden’s intersectional agenda. Some units reportedly have to read Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, which focuses on showing how all actions and behaviors of white people, conscious or otherwise, are motivated out of racist fear of minorities. One of Austin’s first actions was to order a total stand-down of the military in order to tackle “extremism.” He also extended the deployment of National Guard troops to D.C. throughout the spring under appalling conditions that reportedly included being fed meals with metal shavings and dangerously undercooked meat.
Boardroom Massacre Ahead?
In his press conference with Milley, Austin demonstrated he lacked the initiative to correct the precarious situation in Kabul. He would not allow U.S. forces to leave the Kabul airport to locate and extract stranded American citizens. Even reporters on the ground remarked that this did not solve the most pressing problem, which is that those people could not reach the airfield. Austin stuttered about his inability to extend operations into Kabul.
According to the Air Force Times, British and French forces are not holding back and have their own special forces actively scouring Kabul for their citizens. The response from Congress has been rage, with even Representative Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) denouncing the lack of planning and Republicans calling for the resignation of the top defense and military brass.
But on August 18 a new revelation showed that this might not be enough. According to the National Pulse and Washington Free Beacon, the State Department had a workable plan for safe evacuation leftover from the Trump Administration, but it was scrapped by Antony Blinken as soon as he took office.
On August 20, Biden appeared for his pre-weekend press conference before shoving off to Delaware. Flanking him near the dais were Kamala Harris, Austin, Blinken, and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Biden’s most concrete statement was that he would meet with the leaders of other nations like Germany and France to coordinate their efforts in Afghanistan.
Even though he chose from a prepared list of reporters to ask questions, Biden sounded ill-prepared. To the first reporter from the Associated Press, he denied allegations that U.S. allies were critical of his conduct of the Afghan withdrawal. Not quite. The Guardian reported French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that evacuating Afghan allies from Kabul was a “moral responsibility” during a call with Biden—a statement that curiously was omitted from the White House transcript of the call. Biden also referred to Austin as “the general” before correcting himself and calling him the secretary of defense.
Biden could not explain why civilian evacuations were not executed prior to the draw-down of forces and the abandonment of Bagram airfield. And he repeated the fiction stated by Milley, Austin, and Kirby that the administration had not anticipated the rapid collapse of the Afghan government. Even the New York Times has reported that contrary to these statements, the CIA did warn of just such a scenario and continued to update its assessments throughout July.
It is because of this massive contradiction between what Americans are seeing in Kabul on their TV screens and what their government officials are saying that public approval of the Biden Administration is disintegrating. Many voters, including neoconservatives such as Meghan McCain and Colin Powell, overlooked or outright ignored Biden’s obvious cognitive decline during the election in the hopes that the competent technocrats that he would appoint could pick up the slack. Yet he deserves the full blame for selecting Sullivan, Austin, and the various other think-tank class cabinet members who have ruined America’s standing not only in Afghanistan but also on the Southern U.S. border and in major urban areas.
A final word about General Milley. He was appointed by Trump, in no small part as a spiteful gesture toward former Defense Secretary James Mattis. But Milley was as bad as Mattis, undermining his commander-in-chief privately and publicly. Milley has embraced every corrupting ideological trend that has cannibalized corporate America.
In this new era of revealed darkness, Americans will have to learn to reject the marketing of these military fig leaves and recognize that they are just as susceptible to regime groupthink as any other Washington functionary. Biden has the chance, if he has a momentary spell of lucidity, to do some good by sacking Milley and Austin, as well as the rest of the mediocrities running his national security policy. If everyone from Tony Blair to Rand Paul is trashing this performance, we might as well start from scratch.