Foreign policy seems a depressing mess these days.
China has again blockaded Taiwan in a military exercise designed to intimidate not just the democratic country but western powers as well. The supposed cause was Kevin McCarthy meeting with the Taiwanese president. And while the U.S. has pledged to defend Taiwan, it’s hard not to wonder what would happen if American troops were sent to a group of islands just off China’s coast.
The Biden team tried to bury a report before Easter weekend that said it should have begun the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan much sooner. Administration officials, inexplicably, denied that the exit was chaotic, but one thing we know is that it was deadly, with 13 U.S. service members killed by a deadly bomb.
And now the secret American intelligence floating around social media raises a series of alarms – including how it got there – that we’re just beginning to grasp.
President Biden and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visit Saint Michael’s cathedral, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv, Ukraine February 20, 2023. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)
The intel paints a much darker picture of Ukraine’s ability to fight off the Russians. This directly contradicts the president’s reassurances that the war is going well.
Which brings to mind the phrase “credibility gap,” popularized during the Vietnam War. With LBJ, Robert McNamara and Gen. William Westmoreland reassuring the press and public that the war was going well, it was all the more shocking to learn that the jungle war was a disaster. Their light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel rhetoric was a pack of lies, as was clear not just from the Pentagon papers but from the desperate U.S. evacuation from Saigon in 1975.
The leaked intel documents reveal, as the Washington Post put it, “Ukraine’s challenges in massing troops, ammunition and equipment could cause its military to fall ‘well short’ of Kyiv’s original goals for an anticipated counteroffensive aimed at retaking Russian-occupied areas this spring.” This shines a light on “Washington’s misgivings about the state of the war.”
Even more worrisome, Volodymyr Zelensky could soon run out of ammunition for their anti-missile systems, which date to the Soviet era. How is this possible, with all the weaponry the U.S. and NATO countries have provided? Or is it just too hard to keep up with the Russian military machine?
Ukraine wants to cut off the Kremlin’s access to Crimea, which was illegally annexed in 2014, but its deficiencies in training and weapons “probably will strain progress and exacerbate casualties during the offensive.”
Fortunately, the leaked intel also says that Russia suffers from bad morale and poorly equipped soldiers.
What’s grabbing headlines now is the revelation that the U.S. spied on Ukraine, South Korea and Israel, as well as adversaries. This should come as a shock to no one, as word has dribbled out over the years that even friendly countries spy on each other. A source close to Zelenskyy told CNN that Ukraine has changed some of its military plans because of the documents becoming public.
As for the origins of the leak, the New York Times reports “a surprisingly large number of people potentially had access to the Pentagon intelligence documents.” We’re talking about hundreds of people. That sounds like an abject failure, since these are among the nation’s most sensitive military secrets.
Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council John Kirby speaks during the daily briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on April 10, 2022. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)
“We don’t know who is behind this, we don’t know what the motive is,” national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
Kirby also said the leaked material “has no business, if you don’t mind me saying, on the front pages of newspapers, or on television. It is not intended for public consumption, and it should not be out there.”
That horse is already out of the barn, with major news outlets carrying a series of stories about the documents.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 21, 2022. (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
They first popped up last month on the social media site Discord, and went unnoticed for awhile. Discord says it is cooperating with a DOJ leak investigation.
In the old days – a few short years ago – leakers would give secret material to one or more news organizations. Those outlets would have to weigh whether some of the material would jeopardize American soldiers or operatives, and often there would be conversations with the White House.
What’s more, people could hold the news outlet responsible for its decisions.
But now, “top secret” information just oozes on to social media. No one is responsible and everyone is responsible. That’s the unsettling world we live in.