This is a shrewder critique of Democratic leadership than claiming Putin would have been too scared of Trump to invade after Trump spent years telegraphing his sympathies for Putin and his M.O.
But that’s not to say that it’s perfect. Listen closely to McConnell and you’ll see that he’s not blaming the botched withdrawal for inspiring Putin to act. He’s blaming the fact that Biden withdrew at all.
Should the United States have occupied Afghanistan in perpetuity to discourage bad actors from questioning our willingness to project power, Mitch? Because that doesn’t sound like a good deal for U.S. soldiers or taxpayers.
Even so, this is typical smart politics:
MCCONNELL: President Biden’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan was a message to adversaries like Putin that America was rethinking our forward-leaning position in the world. If we had not cut and run in Afghanistan, I do not think Putin would have tried to invade Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/myCMP8XBqx
— Senate Republican Communications Center (@SRCC) March 2, 2022
He had two goals in that soundbite. One: Distance the party from the small but noisy nationalist fringe that’s forever looking for excuses to make on Putin’s behalf. It’s no coincidence that McConnell gave this interview to Tucker Carlson’s network, I’m sure. Two: Tie widespread American outrage over Ukraine to one of Biden’s biggest political liabilities, the pullout fiasco from Kabul. It was last summer after the Taliban overran the Afghan army that Biden’s approval rating first began to tank, the public’s faith in his competence terribly shaken in the aftermath. And permanently shaken, as his numbers have never recovered. I heard one political hand say recently that Afghanistan still comes up during focus groups when people are asked what they dislike about Biden’s presidency.
McConnell’s offering those voters a theory of the case as to why Biden bears partial responsibility for the brutality in Ukraine. Something they already held against him may become a bigger albatross going forward.
That certainly beats Trump’s assertion that none of this would have happened if he were still in charge. An interviewer asked him a few days ago to explain why, specifically. What would Trump, a more dovish politician than Biden, have done to deter Putin? The U.S. has already gone to historic lengths to sanction Russia and hardly anyone thinks putting U.S. boots on the ground in Ukraine would be a good idea. So what would Trump’s alternate plan have been?
It’s a secret, he told the interviewer. Maybe he’ll reveal it someday, along with the results of his “investigation” into Obama’s birth certificate.
Trump is asked tonight specifically what he would do different in Ukraine than Biden: “Well, I tell you what, I would do things, but the last thing I would want to do is say it right now.” pic.twitter.com/5TkzuzXL48
— Ron Filipkowski (@RonFilipkowski) February 27, 2022
Trump could try to borrow McConnell’s argument and claim that he wouldn’t have showed weakness by withdrawing from Afghanistan to begin with. But that would be tricky given that he signed a memo after the 2020 election ordering withdrawal on two months’ notice, an even more precipitous retreat than Biden orchestrated. And the head of Centcom blamed Trump’s withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in February 2020 for having crushed morale within the Afghan government and army, weakening their willingness to resist the Taliban’s offensive last summer.
But perception is everything, right? Trump obsesses over being perceived as strong while Biden can only sporadically disguise his senescence and so we get poll results like this. Never mind what happened in Helsinki a few years ago.
Whatever inspired Putin to finally pull the trigger on Ukraine, the worst estimates currently circulating paint it as a catastrophe for Russia:
— Josh Lederman (@JoshNBCNews) March 2, 2022
Six thousand KIA in a week would be a staggering number, so much so that one has to assume it’s an exaggeration. But if you’re looking for reasons to believe, read this analysis of Russia’s tank offensive against the Ukrainians. More than 200 tanks and 500 armored personnel carriers have been destroyed, some by Javelin missiles but many from the air by the Bayraktar drone: “The Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 unmanned aerial vehicle is proving itself by taking out Russian tanks. The Bayraktar can fly as high as 25,000 feet with a loiter time of 27 hours. This video shows about a dozen dismounted Russian soldiers grouped around a tank. The tank is then destroyed mightily by a missile from a Bayraktar drone. These unmanned attacks are encouraging but Ukraine only has 20 Bayraktars in service.”
Correction: They *had* 20 drones in service. They just got a new shipment, with more supposedly on the way. They’re no joke:
— NON BIASED NEWS NETWORK V2. (@NONBIASEDNEWS2) March 2, 2022
Experts believe it’s a matter of time before the Russian air force establishes dominance over Ukraine’s skies, which should quickly render the drones obsolete. But many of the same experts also believed that dominance would be established within a day or two of the invasion and here we are a week later, with the Ukrainians conducting a turkey shoot of Russian ground forces from the air. Presumably Russia has enough tanks that they can continue to feed a meaningful number into the meat grinder while still eventually taking Kiev. But as the body count rises and more Russian parents get terrible news, the risk to Putin of a domestic uprising rises too.
Unless, of course, Russia simply stops informing parents of their sons’ deaths. I wonder how many dead Russian soldiers will be falsely listed as POWs to give their families hope of their eventual return.
I’ll leave you with this, another window into Ukrainian morale. They’re literally writing songs about the Bayraktars.
Ukrainian Ground Forces shared a song written for #BayraktarTB2 on its official social media account with a note of “Punishment of #Bayraktar in the name of #Ukrainian children, Georgians, Syrians, Chechens, and Crimean Tatars.” #UkraineRussiaWar #TB2infield pic.twitter.com/QuRfbTU1Mn
— Bayraktar TB-2 (@TB2infield) March 1, 2022