The strangeness of this hour has crossed a line in recent days. It’s a line between some level of fealty to demonstrable reality, and none.
Over the last few years, we have repeatedly witnessed the media, and many politicians pushing a far-left agenda, twisting their speech into knots in order to not quite be lying when they present an untruthful picture of events.
In the last few days, they have liberated themselves from the constraint to not quite be lying. One of the most noticeable instances of this is Rep. Liz Cheney’s dramatic reading on 13 December of text messages that flew on 6 January 2021 during the Capitol riot. The text messages were turned over to the committee by Trump’s then-chief of staff, Mark Meadows. (*Update*: See new reporting from Wednesday, at the end of this section, on doctoring of a Jim Jordan text message by Adam Schiff.)
Now, it’s true, as numerous pundits have pointed out on Tuesday, that the effect of Cheney’s recital was to prove that there was no conspiracy against congressional process involving the Trump Oval Office. The text messages made it clear Trump’s closest advisors were startled and alarmed by the break-in at the Capitol, and wanted it to end as quickly as possible.
But Cheney’s purpose in reading the texts to the cameras wasn’t to prove that. It was to convey a particular point: that Trump’s advisors wanted him to get in front of a camera himself and tell any supporters from his rally that day to get away from the Capitol grounds and go home.
The effect of Cheney’s plaintive lament was to leave the impression that Trump’s advisors were pleading with him in vain. She referred to her culminating allegation as “President Trump’s supreme dereliction of duty.”
What she left out was the truth that not only did Trump find a camera and urge his supporters to leave and (four times) “go home,” he had also offered federal troops before 6 January to secure the Capitol compound in advance of the congressional vote there.
The troops were refused, apparently by the Sergeant at Arms of Congress, and presumably with Nancy Pelosi’s blessing. In theory, Trump could have forced them on the congressional leadership anyway. He, as POTUS, was responsible for the use of federal armed force in the National Capital Region, of which the U.S. Capitol is a part. He and 330 million Americans know he would have been called a Nazi and a tyrant for forcibly introducing troops, and he didn’t do so – which isn’t conclusive about anything, but is rather a decision that’s debatable.
Cheney’s whole argument, however, had nothing to do with a good-faith debate. It was an exercise in false depiction of reality, both by what she left out and what she gratuitously included. In the latter category is her insinuation that Trump had attempted to foment obstruction or insurrection “by action or inaction,” as if there were some evidence that inaction could have produced obstruction or insurrection in this case. (Such evidence would have to be pretty strong in any case, given the virtual impossibility of causing insurrection or obstructing a process of Congress by inaction. The weasel-wording effect of adding “or inaction” basically tells us Cheney is determined to find that Trump was behind an insurrection or an obstruction of Congress, even if the only way she can make the case is by not finding that Trump did anything. If she has to fabricate such a non-finding out of thin air, it seems we can expect her to do so.)
As noted by a number of journalists, Cheney also referred to the texts she was reading as publicly releasable, even though several of them were sent by news people at Fox News, and she did not have their consent for public release, or a warrant from a judge declaring them fair game under a probable-cause justification. It was outright false to lump the Fox hosts’ texts in with those of Trump’s advisors and other government officials, such as Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and congressmen who texted him.
Too many people have fully functioning memories of the events of 6 January for Cheney to get away with this. I don’t just remember knowing about Trump’s video message to his rally supporters; I watched it on 6 January, shortly after it was released and as the riot was still unfolding. It was very shortly after 6 January that we learned Trump had offered the federal troops to protect the Capitol. Numerous people, like the Fox News hosts, know exactly what they did or saw on that day and the days surrounding it. The House committee cannot “reveal” things on which it will get no pushback. Literally millions of people know too much for that.
Cheney, though, seems to think she can simply wave away reality and reframe 6 January to suit a fictional narrative about Trump’s complicity.
But she’s not the only one who wants to wave away reality and reframe. People on Twitter on Tuesday were astonished to see a tweet from ESPN expressing a wholly counterfactual sentiment about the garage-door rope pull discovered in a NASCAR garage bay by driver Bubba Wallace.
The FBI put dozens of agents on this non-event, which didn’t even rise to the level of a hoax because it wasn’t a case of anyone actually doing anything. There was a garage-door pull in Bubba Wallace’s garage bay because there was a garage door. That was it. That was the FBI’s determination: not only was there no “hate crime,” there wasn’t even any definable suspicious action.
But on 14 December 2021, ESPN, supposedly a sports news and coverage media outlet, dug out this non-event again and reminisced over it as if it had been an actionable event of some hate-crime-adjacent variety.
There are many other, less-high-profile examples of continued adherence to false narratives. One I observed on Twitter after the Jussie Smollett verdict, when some activists and social media pundits promptly dismissed it and resumed lamenting the terrible state of America in which Mr. Smollett manifestly has to fear being attacked by white Trump supporters shouting a “MAGA” slogan (implicitly to the extent that he hires black acquaintances to fake an attack on him so he can air such an allegation). Regrettably, I didn’t save the tweets communicating these sentiments.
The instances of bizarre, nutty falsehood – in the face of well-known facts – are mushrooming. During the first Trump impeachment trial, there was at least a dynamic of serial “revelations” about material unknown to the public. A lot of it was suspect, unlikely, didn’t parse, or was in fact disprovable, but it was at least a series of supposed revelations elicited by questioning.
That’s not what Liz Cheney was presenting on Monday. She was just creating a counterfactual narrative by using substance everyone was already aware of – i.e., the content of the texts she read, which reflected sentiments on the part of Trump advisors that were revealed more than 10 months ago – and giving it a misleading spin.
The media dusting off adjudicated allegations and simply repeating demonstrably false claims about them is a similar pattern. We’ve gone beyond the territory where such speakers in the public square were trying to persuade the people, respecting the people’s memories and established understandings. We’ve reached the point where the speakers are just lying, against established understandings and memory – and fully catalogued reality – and apparently trying to achieve the Orwellian goal of wearing down the resistance to lies in people’s minds.
We can confidently predict that a year from now, the media will resurrect the Kyle Rittenhouse story and proclaim that Rittenhouse was acquitted for “crossing state lines with a gun in order to commit white supremacist attacks on people of color” – even though not one syllable of that formulation is true.
A dangerous line has been crossed now. It’s not just media getting away with standing in front of raging arson fires telling us they’re covering mostly peaceful protests, because media are after all unaccountable and basically get to do that. It’s public officials perpetrating, and sitting still for, public lying that’s evident to the people – combined with the knowledge that the officials will just keep going down this unconscionable path, and nothing (certainly not the media) will serve to correct them or give them any compunction.
*Update*: Many have probably seen today’s revelation, reported by Sean Davis at The Federalist, that Adam Schiff (a member of the 1/6 committee) doctored the contents of a text from Jim Jordan to Mark Meadows, and compounded that by leaving out all the follow-on material from the same text series. It’s pretty clear Schiff meant to do this, as the truncated content was emphasized as if it had no follow-on or prior context.
The Federalist articles are here and here. These screen captures show the difference between what Schiff falsely depicted as the text from Jordan, and the full content that constituted the original text series.
One may certainly read the accurate rendering of Jordan’s text contents and still disagree with the proposition about Pence’s course of action. But the falsity of doctoring the only text message that is used, and is made the centerpiece of a political screed, is blatant.
Trump, Bibi, and the Big Eff
Journalist Barak Ravid just published a book (in Hebrew), and as a teaser, we’ve been told that he interviewed Trump for it, and during the course of the interview, Trump said of Bibi Netanyahu “F**k him.”
This was reportedly incident to a discussion of Netanyahu having congratulated Joe Biden on winning the 2020 election. As the Forward says, Netanyahu’s offense is given as being among the first foreign heads of government to congratulate Biden. I don’t remember precisely and it’s not important enough to look up; I remember that Bibi did congratulate Biden and it was reported in the media as a rather significant event.
The reason it seemed to be significant, regardless of whether Netanyahu was the first or not, would be the same reason Trump might (if he really did) say “F**k Bibi.” Let’s just assume he did. I have no particular cause to doubt it.
The reason was that in November 2020, days after Election Day when foreign leaders were finally starting their round of congratulations, the congrats had been delayed because of the disorderly and irregularity-filled vote-counting, especially in the handful of battleground states where audits and court cases still continue to grind on.
There’s nothing to be done about people whose minds are firmly closed to evidence on this matter. I’ve made my position clear several times now: I don’t claim, as Trump does, that Trump won, but I do acknowledge that there are so many discrepancies in the vote that we can’t actually say with confidence who won.
Hardly any courts have actually looked at the evidence of vote irregularities, and of the fewer than 10 that have dismissed cases after doing so, none have ruled that there’s no evidence of irregularities in the casting or counting of ballots. The rulings in those cases have been about whether procedural irregularities that contravened state law could be pursued in court as civil matters. They’re not about the substantive issue of whether particular votes or blocks of votes were faked, ignored, improperly allowed, tallied deceptively, or otherwise ill-administered. It’s false to claim that court rulings have proved such concerns to be unwarranted.
But closed minds are closed. The reason to go over this again is that, Trump bombast aside (and acknowledging that there has been some weird baggage riding along with some of the allegations about vote fraud), Trump did have justification for being very concerned about the irregularities in the 2020 election.
He was relentlessly attacked for that: accused beforehand of planning to both subvert the election with his own shenanigans and question its validity, and then excoriated for the latter. (See here for some of the pre-election maneuvering. Readers will no doubt remember the “war game” sponsored by the self-anointed “Transition Integrity Project,” in which Bill Kristol and David Frum played Donald Trump, and apparently had him madly violating laws and nuking “democracy” at every turn.)
The impeachment attempt in late 2019 was designed to frame Trump as trying to defame his likely electoral opponent, Joe Biden, over the Biden connections to Ukraine. It was then obvious throughout 2020 that congressional Democrats and the media were using a theme of adverse “intelligence” to continue that framing campaign. (And see here and here.)
Trump was bound to see the moves made by foreign leaders in the days following the election as “votes” on their part for or against the concerted campaign against him. He didn’t see a questionable loss in an election replete with irregularities as a minor event that everyone should just move on from. Rather, it was the biggest thing that had happened to the United States in decades.
A number of commentators have pointed out that Trump’s behavior is unaccountable and annoying only if he didn’t really believe the numerous discrepancies were part of a successful effort to steal the election. If he did (and does) believe it, his persistence makes sense. It would be what the current POTUS, Biden, would call a “big [effing] deal,” for an American presidential election to be railroaded through a pile-on of so many discrepancies that they can never be properly investigated and proven one way or the other.
That, to my mind, would explain why Trump would speak crudely and dismissively of a foreign leader in such a situation. As for Bibi, I don’t see what else he was supposed to do. It’s not for him to weigh in on the procedural issues of a U.S. election, and as the prime minister of Israel, his paramount concern has to be keeping relations at least on an even keel with Israel’s main ally.
Netanyahu did wait several days to congratulate Biden, as most foreign leaders did. He didn’t rush it, but delaying it unnaturally would have sent the wrong signal, especially since he could no doubt see the nature of a Biden administration coming from miles away. He knew far better than many American observers that the Biden team would be so obsessed with appeasing Iran that it would discount and even look to subvert Israeli interests.
There was no reason to help Team Biden along a hostile or feckless path by starting out with failures of protocol and goodwill on Israel’s part. The context of what each man had reason to think, and consider to be his priority, pretty much explains their actions: Netanyahu’s and Trump’s. What’s silly at this point is reporting that Trump said “F**k Bibi,” as if we’re now supposed to make something of that when we’ve been commanded for the last six years to regard Trump as a raving loon.
Military notes: Tankers for Israel
Readers will probably have seen the headlines trumpeting that the Biden administration won’t accelerate delivery of KC-46 airborne tankers to Israel, as Israel has recently requested.
Obviously this isn’t looked on with favor by supporters of Israel. Receipt or non-receipt of tankers more modern than Israel’s old fleet will affect the IAF’s ability to execute an air strike campaign against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
Israel conceivably has alternatives, such as buying the also-modernized Airbus A330 MRTT second-hand from a current user. Such a deal could be handled in multiple ways and might result in the tankers going back to the seller when they were no longer needed. Finding a willing seller would be the biggest hurdle, obviously.
But what makes this worth a Ready Room note, other than the weaselly excuses of the Biden administration (the tankers are “back-ordered” [as if that’s not the perpetual reality of all major military platforms]; there’s a supply chain! problem going on), is that it’s actually odd for there to be so much publicity about it, coming to us in a way that does not involve members of Congress discovering it and getting upset.
Why we’re being told this is the most interesting question. Maybe the Biden administration is trying to impress Iran. Maybe. It’s very unlikely Israel is trying to lodge an objection by spilling this to the media. To lodge an objection they could just call ranking Senate committee members like Jim Risch or Jim Inhofe, or high-profile well-wishers like Ted Cruz.
Even if no one from Israel initiated a leak (notably, the original report being cited was from Ynet), I do wonder if it serves a purpose of Israel’s to have Iran think the KC-46s are very important to plans in Jerusalem. There seems to be an unusual amount of deliberate noise around this rejected request.
Russia Russia Russia
The second note is about Russia’s recent statement that she may be “forced” to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles to Europe.
Presumably, Russia is referring to intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) or cruise missiles (ground-launched cruise missiles, or GLCMs). These are the missiles that were eliminated from Europe under the INF Treaty signed by Reagan and Gorbachev in 1987. Because of evidence that Russia was putting such missiles in play again in Europe, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the INF Treaty in 2019.
The signal, according to Russia, is about making the 1987 intermediate-range agreement a negotiating topic again. By implication, it’s the pretext for a set of demands, and as a predicate for that, for a set of declarations about Russian interests as the issues of Ukraine, NATO, the Black Sea, Russia’s Arctic claims, and Russia’s role in the Middle East and Far East roil around.
Make no mistake, as a previous POTUS-in-Chief used to say. This isn’t a paper drill. Russia means it to have a real effect. Russia has missiles she could station in western Russia or Belarus to threaten Europe with: RS-26 ICBMs that can be used at sub-ICBM ranges (less than 3,400 statute miles, or 5,500 km), and have been tested at IRBM range using heavier payloads. Deployment of such missiles would decrease travel and warning time to Europe, and mirror the threat posed by SS-20 ICBMs deployed in the same way in the 1970s.
The ground-launched version of the Kalibr cruise missile deployed in Russian navy ships – the GLCM being the 9M729 (SS-C-8) – is already in service in Russia, and can also be deployed to western Russia or Belarus. (As Reuters notes, NATO believes the GLCM is already deployed in the European area of western Russia.) The 9M729 has a range of up to 1,550 statute miles (2,500 km).
Both missile types are nuclear-capable. I don’t think the U.S. and NATO are the only audience for this performance. It’s increasingly obvious that there needs to be a strategic weapons negotiating path with China, and Moscow will want to be an established feature of the landscape for that development. The Russians will put down stakes early. That’s a big thing I see them doing with this move: setting the stage to their narrative before the other players have arrived to do a script reading.
They’d like to have a bargaining chip with the U.S. and NATO on European security issues. Those issues include how much latitude the “Atlantic” powers are to have in defending themselves against a threat from Iran. The Russians want to hold a veto over that, especially as it involves missile-defense picket ships in the Black Sea, and NATO missile defenses in Romania, Bulgaria, and Poland.
But they also need to establish facts on the ground — a sort of Russia Max position — before China starts having stated opinions and interests in a multi-party dynamic. It’s not advantageous to inaugurate the next phase of international relations with Russia any less beefed up than she has to be. The Russians would see that more clearly than we would, from further away, since they share a neighborhood with Beijing.
Feature image: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Felix Garza Jr. (Via Wikimedia Commons)