Episode

9/15 The Secret History of the War on Terror w/ Craig Whitlock

September 15, 2021

Sam and Emma host Craig Whitlock, investigative reporter at the Washington Post, to discuss his recent book The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War. Sam and Emma first touch upon the resounding victory for Gavin Newsom in the California recall election from last night, and discuss Newsom’s nationalizing of the recall/pinning the results to the “shadow president” for the Republicans (Trump) as a telegraph of the political strategy going forward into 2022.

Then Emma and Sam are joined by Craig, who starts out by discussing how him and the Washington Post obtained the Afghanistan Papers, the trove of documents the Post obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that serve as the basis for the book, and how the book timed up perfectly with Biden’s announcement of the withdrawal of troops in August, as well as the context behind the “Lessons Learned” project run through a little known federal agency called the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that was the source of the lion’s share of the notes and transcripts that comprised the papers. Craig goes deeper into describing the testimony from the interview transcripts of “Lessons Learned”, citing how many past, present, and current military officials considered the war in Afghanistan “much worse than you think”, and that “we didn’t know what we were doing” in terms of strategic goals in Afghanistan. Craig goes so far as to report that former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had no appreciable strategy for the war in Afghanistan beyond “chasing terrorists”. Sam and Emma dive deeper into the idea that these transcripts and notes were intentionally hidden by the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations, noting that the SIGAR reports that were publicly disclosed were significantly edited and sanitized. Craig then goes back to the early 2000’s, stating that there was a pretty clear game plan for the first 60 days of the war, but that there was no recognizable strategy or timetable for what the United States was doing occupying Afghanistan, especially when George W. Bush made it clear that this was not a “nation-building” project to begin with. The emphasis was also very clearly on Iraq over Afghanistan, to the point where Rumsfeld asked Bush to meet with the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan as well as the commander in Iraq. Bush only wanted to meet with the Iraq commander, and didn’t even know who the Afghanistan commander was, and didn’t want to meet with him anyways. Craig then pivots to the Obama years, where the Administration very clearly wanted to continue the war without calling it a war, so as to not step on the toes of their allies whose presence in Afghanistan would violate some of their own war-making laws and practices if it was called a war by their allies. Not wanting to call it a war, but not being accurate enough to call it a “peacekeeping mission”, the Obama administration landed on the clunky “non-conventional war effort” to split the difference. Afterwards, Craig discloses the combustible report that the Bush Administration furiously attempted to cover up, that former Vice President Dick Cheney was almost killed in a suicide bombing at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and how this pattern of attempting to spin every negative outcome into a positive one throughout the war persisted across every presidential administration in the 21st century. They end on the warped and strange arc of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s career, how he was a widely respected military official until his full throated embrace of Trump and QAnon stifled that perception, as well as Craig hoping that previous, current, and future administrations will learn from the mistakes of the past 20 years, but doesn’t have too much hope because, well, Bush and Rumsfeld didn’t learn from the mistakes of Vietnam outlined in, you guessed it, another trove of documents that made clear how badly we were losing a protracted war: The Pentagon Papers.

In the Fun Half, Sam gives a brief primer on the fight over taxation between the House and the Senate Dems in the reconciliation mockups going around the Hill, the crew checks in on the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings where in the House Ilhan Omar grills Secretary of State Blinken over the drone strike that may have killed a foreign aid worker instead of an ISIS-K operative, and in the Senate Idaho Senator Jim Risch gets to more pressing matters, namely: who the heck is pressing the button that controls when Biden talks? Then the crew check in on Ben Shapiro melting down over Cara Delevingne’s “Peg the Patriarchy” look at the Met Gala, to which Ben feels the great need to describe what pegging means to him. And FINALLY the crew has the honor of dissecting Tucker Carlson’s fascination with Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend’s balls after his COVID vaccination (Tucker corrected the record to reflect it was Nicki’s cousin’s friend, not cousin), Tucker’s quest to get him on the show, and we get a real time dispatch from the Trinidad and Tobago Health Minister over whether this dude’s balls actually swelled post-vax. Plus, your calls and IM’s!

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