Far-right Newsmax accidentally lets viewers know that war can't make us proud
11-minute Yes Men prank on Tom Basile show emphasizes what $2.4 trillion could have been spent on instead
Listen to Douglas Rushkoff and the Yes Men’s Andy Bichlbaum discuss Saturday’s prank on the Team Human podcast.
Late last week, NewsmaxTV's Tom Basile wanted to book his old friend Paul Wolfowitz for a show called “America Right Now,” to talk about Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan.
He ended up with the Yes Men instead (here's how). Andy's plan was to switch “Wolfowitz” with a “colleague” from the American Enterprise Institute at the last minute — and that would be Andy under an assumed name, wearing big silly glasses like all of the guests on Basile's show seem to do.
But when, two minutes before the 12:04pm EST Saturday slot, Andy logged on and told producers that Wolfowitz was having trouble with wifi and wanted him to do it instead, the producers refused, and suggested just patching Wolfowitz through on the phone — which is how this became the very first time the Yes Men impersonated an actual person, rather than simply inventing one.
In the 11-minute live broadcast (video here, full transcript there and below), Andy as Wolfowitz offered Basile's viewers a brand-new "conservative angle" for criticizing Biden's withdrawal: that without a war — even a doomed and failing 20-year war — Americans have nothing to be proud of, since we lag so far behind other rich nations on health care, infrastructure, education, elder care, food options, income, social mobility, and so on.
"A sitting president, in the office of president, unnecessarily ended a war — leaving Americans with nothing else to be proud of," said Andy. "That's the real crime, Tom."
Basile lapped it up without batting an eye — for 11 full minutes.
Near the end, Andy offered Basile's viewers a suggestion: next time we think of spending $2.4 trillion on a war, let's spend it instead on something we can be proud of — infrastructure, health care, social mobility, education, etc.
Throughout the interview, Basile kept trying to steer his “old friend” back from domestic policy to the question of what to do now in Afghanistan. Andy admitted that we should certainly evacuate "every single Afghan man, woman, and child" from Afghanistan, but that it would be impossible to make things right after a 20-year failure of a war. Andy then pivoted back to the ways we could have spent $2.4 trillion.
One weird thing: Tom Basile actually knows Wolfowitz, as he mentioned during the broadcast. Andy hadn't planned to impersonate him, of course, so he didn't bother listening to his voice — and we're pretty sure he sounds nothing like him. Yet Basile never noticed. Could Basile's complete lack of observational ability have anything to do with his horrible politics?
Here’s the complete transcript of the broadcast.
Tom Basile: Welcome back to America Right Now.
It has been a week since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, and still tens of thousands of Americans and Afghanis are still trapped in the country facing an uncertain future.
To get his views on how we got here, and how we move forward, former Deputy Secretary of Defense under President George W Bush, someone who is an architect of our national response after 9/11, Paul Wolfowitz, he joins us on the phone.
Mr. Secretary, good to have you with us
Andy Bichlbaum (as "Paul Wolfowitz"): Great to have you. Thank you.
TB: So we are nearing the 20th anniversary of 9/11. You were there at the beginning. Successive administrations have openly questioned our engagement in Afghanistan and even dismissed it, but maintaining the status quo was an important operational objective that we were achieving.
Did you believe that the the mission in some form should have continued?
AB: Oh absolutely, Tom, that goes without saying.
You know there's been a lot of talk about how President Biden ended this war in Afghanistan, and on what we have to do now.
But there's very little about the fact that Biden did end this war.
And of course we do have to rescue our allies — I wrote recently about this in the Washington Post [sic]. And every single Afghan who needs to get out of there should be able to do so.
But Tom, what the piece in the Wall Street Journal is truly about is that a sitting president, right, in the office of president, unnecessarily ended a war for no reason at all.
Because let's be honest, Tom — there just aren't a lot of things that ordinary Americans can be proud of these days.
We know that other prosperous countries have it better in health care, infrastructure, education, elder care, food options, and income.
And if you take away our global dominance, we're left with a whole lot of nothing.
Biden should have waited till he at least got something passed in terms of health care and education, for example, or even just transport and infrastructure.
But with nothing to show Americans why America's great, dominance in a place like Afghanistan is all we've got to keep us away from that ledge.
Now of course two trillion dollars could have been spent building stuff that people want, instead of going to big defense contractors and shareholders.
But that's all milk under the table, Tom.
And the point is, ending a war with nothing at all to replace it is the pinnacle of irresponsibility.
When you've got crumbling infrastructure, rising addiction and death rates, poor food options, substandard education, expensive health care and so on — Americans just can't be proud of that.
But they can be proud of a war, even if it's unwinnable, even if it lasts 20 years, even if it's been a failure from day one, in my administration.
That's what we've lost and that is truly tragic, Tom.
TB: Mr. Secretary, you want to talk about that op-ed that you wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week offering the administration five steps that they should take to protect our citizens and Afghans? It was it was a very adult thing to do. You said, let's talk about all the stuff that happened before later, let's talk about what the operational needs are now.
That and those folks need to get out of the country.
Walk us through some of those and whether you believe the administration is taking those actions at this point.
AB: Well, it's really hard to tell. I'm not the administration of course, so all I can do is observe from a distance.
I was in the administration that began the war, and I have to say that in retrospect it's very clear that two trillion dollars could have gone to a lot of things that Americans could now be proud of, instead of a 20-year unwinnable war and the dismal failure that we have seen.
There's a lot of factors in this dismal failure you know — it's not fair to put it all on the footstool of president Biden.
But it is a failure and that is the key thing here.
Americans cannot be proud of a failure, they cannot be proud of this war, this 20-year war.
They could have been proud of many things that two trillion dollars would pay for, such as superior education, or free education, and health care, and so on and so forth, all the things that Americans want, including everything that's in this infrastructure bill and beyond.
But it's gone to the Lockheed Martins of the world instead.
TB: Mr Secretary, I want to, I want to stick on foreign policy.
You're on the board of No One, of an organization called No One Left Behind.
So talk to us about that organization and what they are doing, uh, in the here and now, to help those who are stranded under Taliban rule.
AB: Of course. Well, we are doing everything in our logistical capacity, which is frankly, Tom, not that much.
I mean we're talking about a large country with millions of people.
If every single Afghan man, woman, and child who deserves to get out of there — which is every single Afghan man, woman, and child — let's be frank, every single one of them deserves to get out of there — then there is no way that an organization which is at the end of the day a small organization can possibly help with that.
The entire US military could not possibly help with that either.
The fact is that there are a lot of people who will remain and it's not going to be a pleasant situation.
It could have been a better situation, certainly for people in Afghanistan. For Americans though, 300 million Americans, what this means is that there is one less thing left to be proud of, and without the sorts of things that we should have here at home that leaves pretty much nothing at all to keep us away from that cultural ledge, let's call it.
TB: Okay, now, now, um, so, so that organization is not, is not assisting, you're saying that their, what, their efforts is not, they're, they're not actually helping?
AB: Well, we're certainly assisting. That organization is doing absolutely the best it can. But that's kind of nothing compared to a 20-year war that cost two trillion dollars that could have been spent on things that Americans would need.
We have rising death rates from addiction, rising addiction rates, less and less access to education, lower incomes, etc.
And none of that is what that two trillion dollars went to over 20 years, so from day one it was a little bit of a….
TB: Well, I mean, and just, just to be fair, I mean, we've spent trillions of dollars on loads of of public assistance and welfare programming and other things over the course of the 20 years here domestically. Um. I, but i want again, i want to, I want to stick with the foreign policy, and, and this and the war on terrorism and, and you and i stood together after the bombing of the Al Rashid hotel in Baghdad as the casualties were being brought out there. You have comforted the families of the fallen, you have stood behind that podium at the Pentagon that we all watched earlier, you've seen firsthand.
Many Americans feel that the war on terrorism, Islamic terrorism is real.
Now the Obama administration tried to scrub the global war on terrorism from our lexicon and foreign policy.
And i want to play for you a clip from President Biden's interview the other day — just take a listen to this.
INTERVIEWER: "Are you committed to making sure that the troops stay until every american who wants to be out is out?"
INTERVIEWER: "How about our Afghan allies, does the commitment hold for them as well?"
Biden: "The commitment holds to get everyone out, that in fact we can get out and everyone should come out, and that's the objective. That's what we're doing now, that's the path we're on, and i think we'll get some…." [fades]
TB: Uh, that was the wrong clip. But what i really wanted to play for you, Mr. Secretary, was that the president seems to continue to talk about Afghanistan within sort of the context just about Al-Qaeda. Um, why don't people in Washington understand that, that our, our dealings with, and our national security concerns with respect to terror groups, uh, and those of our allies, uh, is not just about Al Qaeda or Bin Laden, it's broader than that?
AB: Well, look, Tom, there have been a lot of mistakes here. There have been a lot of mistakes from day one.
Talking about the Taliban as being the same as Al Qaeda or what have you — I haven't heard that clip but I'll take your word for it — is a mistake.
And pulling out of Afghanistan without anything to show for it, without anything to show here or there, is a mistake.
But there have been mistakes made from the get-go, from the administration that i was a part of, enormous mistakes.
The last administration also, when President Trump met with the Taliban and conceded an enormous amount of things to them in advance — that was a mistake.
There have been certainly Obama, President Obama's, uh, you know, whitewashing or whatever you want to call it, of the record — was a mistake.
Um, the whole, I would say the whole 20-year war has been one colossal mistake that was fairly easy to predict.
TB: But what do we do now, Mr Secretary, and especially since you were you were there at the beginning, you were one of the architects of of the global war on terrorism which I was a part of, and I was a part of, and I also believe you know did actually, uh, did actually achieve certain things, and we can always weigh the cost benefit analysis but, uh, but where do we go from here given the, the reality of today?
AB: Yes, no, point taken, Tom.
The question is where now, and after a 20-year error and two trillion dollars going to defense contractors and so on, I think one thing we can do from here, besides evacuate everybody that's possible to evacuate, is learn from our errors.
And in the future when we have two trillion dollars lying around we give it to causes and rebuilding here at home that is deserving, that will create the kind of conditions that Americans can be proud of well into the future. This has happened before in America, it can happen again.
We don't need to repeat mistakes.
Afghanistan itself was of course from the beginning a repeated mistake, you know — there was the British foray, the Russian foray, and then our foray.
We had had other forays that had ended up terribly tragic, I don't even need to remind you what those are.
AB: I think what we can do today is simply learn from our mistakes and the next time we have two trillion dollars lying around we do something useful with it instead.
TB: Yeah, and again I am, Mr. Secretary, i'm not entirely sure how spending trillions on, on, on, on roads, which may be necessary here from a domestic policy standpoint, actually, uh, improves or, or protects this country from a national security standpoint.
Uh, but we do appreciate you spending some time with us and, and appreciate your service to the country, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Thank you so much for your time sir.
AB: Thank you so much, Tom.
TB: Still to come, we are tracking Hurricane Henri as he is making his way up the Northeast. That story is next.
Listen to Douglas Rushkoff and the Yes Men’s Andy Bichlbaum discuss Saturday’s prank on the Team Human podcast.
Also, do not confuse Basile’s “America Right Now” with Chris Morris's "The Day Today," though it’s every bit as ridiculous.