For the past week, Fox News has been trying to fault President Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal for the hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, while dismissing the fact that this conflict has been building for nearly a decade.
In 2014, as a result of Ukraine’s “Revolution of Dignity” ousting a leader friendly with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Russian military invaded, occupied, and annexed the Crimean Peninsula and led a series of invasions into Russian-speaking portions of eastern Ukraine, where it backed separatist militias seeking to break away from their legitimate government in Kyiv. For the past eight years, Russian and Ukrainian forces, aligned militias, and paramilitary groups have fought one another in this disputed region, with thousands of casualties on both sides of a simmering conflict.
After years of fighting, the recently elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky began making overtures that would more closely align his government in Kyiv with Western Europe, and in particular with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In response to Zelensky’s recent pro-NATO comments, the Russian military began to amass troops at Ukraine’s border in March 2021, including along its border with Belarus and Moldova, which has triggered months of fear and speculation about the possibility of Putin ordering an even more violent ground war.
Fox News’ attempts to blame the Afghanistan withdrawal and Biden for the tensions between Russia and Ukraine are baseless accusations that fail to explain Putin’s decision to invade and seize Crimea in 2014, and Fox's suggestions of American “weakness” during Democratic presidencies ignore earlier Russian aggression during Republican administrations.
Putin began troop build-up in early March 2021, a whole month prior to Biden’s announcement of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was not completed until August. Furthermore, Russia engaged in an aggressive war with Georgia in 2008, during the final months of the George W. Bush administration and around the time when then-Democratic Party presidential nominee Barack Obama named U.S. combat in Afghanistan as a priority over Iraq. The Russian invasion and occupation of breakaway regions of Georgia bear striking similarities to its actions in Ukraine.
Despite the facts, and the obvious inconsistency in the timeline, Fox News hosts and guests are committed to ludicrously scapegoating the Afghanistan withdrawal for the newly commenced Russian invasion of Ukraine:
- On February 22, Fox & Friends co-host Ainsley Earhardt said Putin “knows how Biden handled Afghanistan. That was a disaster. He also lost two embassies. He has lost the Afghanistan embassy and now the Ukrainian embassy has moved to Poland. When he was vice president, Benghazi happened.” She added that Biden “looks very weak, and Russia is taking advantage of it.”
- Later that morning on America’s Newsroom, Fox News contributor and former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Each time we fail to demonstrate American resolve, whether it is the debacle that was Afghanistan that caused 13 Americans to perish as we exited, those are the kinds of things that convince people like Vladimir Putin that his dream – his dream of recreating the Soviet Union – is something he may well be able to do under this leadership's watch here in the United States.”
- Discussing Russia’s threat to Ukraine on February 18, Fox Business anchor David Asman said, “Putin feels like he has even more of a free hand now after seeing how this administration behaved in Afghanistan than he did back in the spring of 2021.”
- On Fox’s The Story that afternoon, Fox contributor Joe Concha cited “that horrific withdrawal” from Afghanistan to explain why Russia is “so emboldened all of a sudden to go ahead and do such a thing” as invade Ukraine.
- On the February 18 edition of Your World, Fox senior strategic analyst Jack Keane said, “This is taking place largely because [Putin] perceives an opportunity here based on U.S. and European weakness,” citing in part the Afghanistan withdrawal, which Keane said “became an accelerant.” Keane added: “This was U.S. and NATO failure. We turned the country over to our adversary. Putin looked at that and saw … poor judgment and also weakness.”
- On February 17, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) said on America Reports that “President Obama blinked, he blinked in Syria, he blinked when Russia took Crimea. Vice President Biden was there the whole time. President Biden blinked with respect to Afghanistan. And that’s what this is all about.”
- Later on the same Fox program, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said Putin “saw the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan when we left many of our NATO allies high and dry, not to mention Americans left behind,” and that “he senses weakness.”
- Republican Senate candidate Donald Bolduc said on the February 16 edition of Fox & Friends that one reason Russia is moving to invade Ukraine is that the U.S. has “ineffective leadership” and “we have no credibility. And we back that lack of credibility up with our withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
- Later in the day on America Reports, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) claimed Putin “views President Biden as weak, and ineffective, and indecisive, especially after Afghanistan and the catastrophic loss of life there in the way that we exited Afghanistan.”
- And on February 15, Trump’s final national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, claimed Putin is targeting Ukraine because he “sensed weakness” in Biden: “He watched what happened in Afghanistan. So he figured this is his opportunity over the next two to three years maybe to fulfill his dream, which has always been to reconstitute large swaths of the Soviet Union.”