World

BlackRock, ESG, and China — an Interesting Combination

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(PhonlamaiPhoto/Getty Images)

We’ve all become rather too used to hearing sermons from BlackRock’s Larry Fink on the importance of including ESG as part of every responsible investor’s toolkit.

ESG?

The idea that portfolio companies or potential portfolio companies should be analyzed to see how well they do when measured against various environmental, social, and governance guidelines.

It has always been entertaining to speculate just how BlackRock reconciles its enthusiasm for ESG with its excitement over investment in China:

The Financial Times (August 17):

BlackRock’s research unit [BII] has said China should no longer be considered an emerging market and recommended investors boost their exposure to the country by as much as three times.

And, in an unrelated development:

[BII’s] recommendations come as BlackRock and other big asset managers are seeking to build businesses in the sprawling country. BlackRock earlier this year received the first approval for a foreign asset manager to launch a wholly owned mutual fund business in China.

China is not, perhaps, a country with the greenest of credentials, not least when it comes to “climate,” a particular preoccupation of Fink, BlackRock’s chairman and CEO. Nor, thinking of that “S” (social), is China known for the good treatment of workers there even when they are paid. And it is difficult to regard Chinese companies as models of good governance (the “G”). Even if we overlook the fraud and all the rest, they are, under China’s essentially corporatist model, ultimately subordinated to the state.

George Soros, writing in the FT (my emphasis added):

Pension fund managers allocate their assets in ways that are closely aligned with the benchmarks against which their performance is measured. Almost all of them claim that they factor environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) standards into their investment decisions.

The MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI) is the benchmark most widely followed by global equity asset allocators. An estimated $5tn is passively managed, which means that it replicates the index. A multiple of this amount is actively managed, but it also closely tracks the MSCI index.

In MSCI’s ACWI ESG Leaders Index, Alibaba and Tencent are two of the top 10 constituents. In BlackRock’s ESG Aware emerging market exchange-traded fund, Chinese companies represent a third of total investments. These indices have effectively forced hundreds of billions of dollars belonging to US investors into Chinese companies whose corporate governance does not meet the required standard — power and accountability is now exercised by one man [Xi] who is not accountable to any international authority . . .

This is all worth remembering the next time that Fink is up on his pulpit.

National Security & Defense

Sasse: ‘Dishonor Was the President’s Choice’

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Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse issued an unsparing statement Monday night on President Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan:

“This national disgrace is the direct result of President Biden’s cowardice and incompetence. The President made the decision to trust the Taliban. The President made the decision to set an arbitrary August 31st deadline. The President made the decision to abandon Bagram Air Base. The President made the decision not to expand the perimeter around Karzai International Airport. The President made the decision to undermine our NATO allies. The President made the decision to break our word to our Afghan partners. The President made the decision to tell one lie after another as the crisis unfolded. The President made the morally indefensible decision to leave Americans behind. Dishonor was the President’s choice. May history never forget this cowardice.”

National Security & Defense

Biden Breaks His Promise to Leave No American Behind in Afghanistan

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On August 19, President Biden vowed U.S. forces would stay in Afghanistan beyond his August 31 deadline to withdraw if any American citizens were still trapped in the country:

On August 30, the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, but at least hundreds of U.S. citizens were left behind in the country: 

PC Culture

CDC Goes All In on Woke Speech

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta, Ga. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

The CDC is the supposed gold standard when it comes to science and public health. But what are we to make of the agency’s going all in on woke terminology in the name of promoting “health equity”? From its newly issued, “Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication”:

To build a healthier America for all, we must confront the systems and policies that have resulted in the generational injustice that has given rise to health inequities. We at CDC want to lead in this effort—both in the work we do on behalf of the nation’s health and the work we do internally as an organization.

Achieving health equity requires focused and ongoing societal efforts to address historical and contemporary injustices; overcome economic, social, and other obstacles to health and healthcare; and eliminate preventable health disparities.

CDC’s Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication emphasize the importance of addressing all people inclusively and respectfully. These principles are intended to help public health professionals, particularly health communicators, within and outside of CDC ensure their communication products and strategies adapt to the specific cultural, linguistic, environmental, and historical situation of each population or audience of focus.

The idea is to prevent stigma:

Language in communication products should reflect and speak to the needs of people in the audience of focus. The following provides some preferred terms for select population groups; the terms to try to use represent an ongoing shift toward non-stigmatizing language.

I’m all for respectful communication, but come on! The worry about stigma can actually keep people from self-destructive actions. But never mind. People must be made to feel comfortable even in their most dysfunctional (can I say that?) circumstances. Thus, when it comes to abusing drugs:

Instead of this . . .

  • Drug-users/addicts/drug abusers
  • Alcoholics/abusers
  • Persons taking/prescribed medication assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Persons who relapsed
  • Smokers

Try this . . .

  • Persons who use drugs/people who inject drugs
  • Persons with substance use disorder
  • Persons with alcohol use disorder
  • Persons in recovery from substance use/alcohol disorder
  • Persons taking/prescribed medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD)
  • Persons who returned to use
  • People who smoke

“People who smoke”?

Instead of the word, “homeless,” the CDC wants us to use the term, “Persons experiencing unstable housing/housing insecurity/persons who are not securely housed.” Instead of “poor,” say, “People with self-reported income in the lowest income bracket (if income brackets are defined).” Instead of “illegal immigrants,” instead use the term, “People with undocumented status.” What word salads!

And then there are the LGBTQ etc. issues. Instead of “gay” or “biologically male or female,” say:

  • LGBTQ (or LGBTQIA or LGBTQ+ or LGBTQIA2) . . .

  • Using MSM (men who have sex with men) to mean people who report being male at birth and having had sex with a person who was male at birth, regardless of self-identified sexual orientation

  • Queer

  • Pansexual

  • Asexual

  • Transgender

  • Assigned male/female at birth

  • Designated male/female at birth

  • Gender non-conforming

  • Two-spirit

  • Non-binary

  • Genderqueer

  • Gender diverse

  • People/person with intersex traits

  • Pronouns: Singular they or their, He/she/they

I can’t keep up. Read the whole thing. It is a wonder to behold.

This exercise in verbal correctness will do more harm than good. Rather than improve communication with most Americans, the CDC will instead undermine its remaining credibility with the half of the country that is not on the port side of politics, and indeed, could well turn off many of the very people the agency claims to be trying to reach — for example, those whom they are trying to vaccinate.

And the CDC wonders why so many Americans have turned their backs on “the experts.”

Health Care

End the Travel Bans Between Europe and the U.S.

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A traveler walks with a suitcase past an information board at the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras International, as EU countries impose a travel ban from the U.K. following the coronavirus outbreak in London, Britain, December 21, 2020. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

News from Bloomberg:

European Union countries voted to subject the U.S. to fresh restrictions on nonessential travel amid a surge in new coronavirus cases, dealing a fresh blow to the tourism industry.

A qualified majority of ambassadors voted to reintroduce the curbs, which had been lifted in June, according to an EU statement on Monday. The change appears most likely to affect unvaccinated Americans.

It’s not clear how much this is a real pandemic-related measure or how much this is a smoke signal to the White House and State Department that the United States’ continuing travel ban against European passport holders is untenable and stupid. It is hammering the tourism, airline, and hospitality industries in Europe — and hurting them in the United States, too.

It’s also hurting families who live their lives with the Atlantic Ocean between their members. This is a relatively small number of people — but it includes many in the National Review extended family of employees and contributors. To show my father the last 18 months of growth in his grandchildren, I had to fly all of them over to him and back in August. He cannot come here to visit them for a holiday break right now. The level of scrutiny that health documents got on our trip over there was not very serious — not really any different from someone who would present themselves for vaccination in the United States with an attestation about their eligibility. It seems like “just enough” for this time when the pandemic is still serious, but much more in hand than it was 18 months ago.

And recall, this is at a time when many European countries are beginning to declare an end to their emergency, to say they’ve achieved a sufficient level of vaccination that ongoing risk-assessment and management is being shifted back onto individuals, families, doctors, and private institutions.

National Security & Defense

Dealing with Afghanistan after the ‘Endless War’

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A member of Taliban forces stands guard as Afghan men take pictures of a vehicle from which rockets were fired, in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 30, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

I appreciate the kind words in my friend Kevin D. Williamson’s characteristically insightful column on Sunday about Afghanistan. I’m in complete agreement with Kevin regarding how we got to this awful point and how the consequences transcend Afghanistan itself.

He is also right that we are headed back to the pre-9/11 law-enforcement model of counterterrorism. Putting Afghanistan to the side for a moment, that is a significant blow to national security overall.

The post-9/11 model did not supplant law-enforcement measures against terrorist organizations and their state sponsors (sovereign states cannot be prosecuted in our courts, but their operatives usually may). Rather, it shifted law-enforcement to a subordinate position — no longer “the point of the spear” as it was in the Clinton years.

This was a good arrangement. Alien enemies, even if their hostile acts happen to be crimes under the penal code (e.g., international-terrorism conspiracies, weapons-of-mass-destruction offenses), are effectively insulated from criminal prosecution because our agencies do not police, and the writ of our courts does not run, in the foreign strongholds where they plot against America. Nevertheless, if the laws of war are in effect, they can be reached by military and intelligence operations. Consequently, the post-9/11 model enabled us both to neutralize the enemy overseas before the enemy could strike our homeland and interests around the world, and to continue prosecuting in our courts any hostile operative who could be arrested. In the main, the Justice Department targeted material supporters of terrorism, as well as terrorists and would-be terrorists in the U.S. who are “inspired by,” but not operationally affiliated with, jihadist organizations.

Yet another consequence of abruptly ending “forever wars” that does not seem to have been thought through is that if there is no war, then the law of war no longer applies. We would no longer have legal authority to use combat force against enemy combatants, to detain them without trial, to question them without counsel, and so on. We are back to courtroom due process, and its presumptions of privacy and innocence, even if our enemies continue to wage war.

This does not just convey provocative weakness (the old mismatch of responding to bombs with subpoenas); it will have a pronounced, deleterious effect on intelligence-gathering. Obviously, terrorist organizations do not function like nation-states: they attack in stealth, they don’t wear uniforms, they target and hide among civilians, you can’t conquer them by capturing territory, etc. Ergo, the degree to which they imperil us is directly related to our capacity to collect the intelligence that enables us to map their membership, conduct surveillance, thwart plots at an early stage, and dry up their funding and recruitment. Intel operations are significantly better on a war-footing, in which it is easier to capture and interrogate operatives.

Kevin is right that the Taliban resembles a crime syndicate. I’ve long thought the same thing about Putin’s regime in Russia — it ain’t your father’s Soviet Union. But the crimes of a regime, which has sovereign privileges in international law, are harder to deal with than those of a mafia family. The Taliban’s crimes will help it consolidate power, which will enable its allied jihadists to enjoy safe haven and project power.

On the other hand, maybe we can dust off the Noriega model. In the late Eighties, a grand jury in Florida indicted Panama’s strongman, General Manuel Antonio Noriega, and some of his henchmen on narcotics and racketeering charges. Our government then essentially kidnapped him and brought him to the U.S. for trial. He was found guilty, the convictions were upheld on appeal over his sovereign-immunity claims, and he served a long sentence (a 40-year term was imposed, and he served nearly half of it).

I always worry that, because our country is so active on the world stage and so despised by the world’s rogues, the United States has the most to lose in an arrangement in which governments are encouraged to start capturing and trying each other’s officials. Clearly, our officials would not receive the quality of due process that was afforded to Noriega. I cannot say, though, that the Taliban’s narcotics trafficking and other rackets won’t present prosecution opportunities. I can only say that President Biden, in exhibiting the poor judgment and impulsiveness that we’ve come to know over the last century, has — as Kevin relates — emboldened our enemies and unnerved our friends.

Media

On Liberating Your Family

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Matt Feeney:

Whether to get your little kid an iPad, or get your middle-schooler an iPhone, or let your high schooler be an Instragrammer or sleep with her phone under her pillow, might seem like it’s technology’s question to answer. It might seem like another bland dictate from the governing power you have to go along with, but it isn’t. You don’t. You can answer that question yourself.

And grasping that you have this power, you might find the reasons for exercising it more persuasive. You don’t have to wait for Science’s final dredging of the statistics on whether social media is the true cause of the unhealthy outcomes. That people have designed the popular social media apps to circumvent your children’s human intelligence and induce repetitive rodent behavior in them to make money for themselves is bad enough. You don’t need to wait for Science to tell you this causes depression in them. It should cause depression in you.

Science & Tech

Big Tech Is Doing the Right Thing on Cybersecurity

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Hacker breaking into corporate data (gorodenkoff/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden recently met with Big Tech executives to discuss how to improve cybersecurity after recent cyberattacks in which government software contractor Solarwinds and oil pipeline Colonial Pipeline were targeted. Leading tech corporations, including IBM, Google, and Amazon, will all try to improve cybersecurity by investing in the training of personnel in this field and upgrading their respective encryption and security systems. Microsoft has also committed to investing $150 million in upgrades for cybersecurity systems of government agencies. Big Tech may not always do the right thing, but these plans to enhance cybersecurity are certainly something that we can all stand behind.

In recent years, as the Internet has become increasingly influential and indispensable, cybersecurity has, correspondingly, become an increasingly prominent threat to not only citizens’ privacy but also to national security. Former national-security adviser John Bolton explained the significance of cybersecurity to national defense in a recent National Review article, in which he characterized threats from cyberspace as “a multiplicity of hidden, ever-changing threats.” A recent report by the Heritage Foundation raised concern over espionage, trading of secrets, and the disruption of military commands and communication potentially being conducted in the cyber domain.

The effective regulation of cyberspace, a relatively new front for modern warfare characterized by its elusiveness and lack of boundaries, is sometimes challenging. Laxness in cybersecurity, however, has often led to catastrophic consequences. For instance, the WannaCry Ransomware Cyber Attack in 2017, in which files in affected computer systems were locked until ransom was paid for their decryption, affected approximately 200,000 computers in 150 countries and led to enormous financial costs. Victims of the cyber-extortion scheme included entities from government agencies such as the English National Health Service to major international corporates such as Boeing.

It is well established that both the state and leading tech corporations have a legitimate interest in enhancing cybersecurity. The government is responsible for engaging in national defense in the cyber domain and tech corporations are obligated to protect the privacy of their users, whose personal information is often entrusted to them.

Big Tech’s plans to cooperate with the government to improve cybersecurity through financial investments appears to be promising. While it may be difficult to predict the effectiveness of such investments, the fact that Big Tech and the government are placing the enhancement of cybersecurity close to the top of their agenda and are committing to coordinated efforts is good news. Big Tech, with its financial prowess derived from the sheer size of the industry, and a unique relationship with the use of cyberspace, is uniquely positioned to materially contribute to state-led efforts to secure cyberspace. Furthermore, investing in education on cybersecurity of employees may also be useful in raising awareness and amplifying the industry’s collective concern over capacity to combat cyberattacks in the long run.

Health Care

‘Teleheath’ Abortions Pose Significant Health Risks

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Pro-choice activists in downtown Memphis during a “Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action” rally hosted by the Tennessee chapter of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee, U.S., May 21, 2019. (Karen Pulfer Focht /Reuters)

Earlier this month, more than 70 Democrats in the House introduced a resolution asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to permanently lift in-person requirements for chemical-abortion drugs.

Over the past year and a half, supporters of legal abortion have used the COVID-19 pandemic to expand access to chemical abortion. In 2020, pro-abortion groups litigated against existing FDA rules, which had required that chemical abortions take place under medical supervision. While those abortion proponents received a favorable ruling from a U.S. district court judge in July of last year, the Supreme Court ruled this past January that the FDA’s protective rules could remain in place.

But in April, under the direction of the Biden administration, the FDA lifted existing restrictions on telemedicine abortions for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In their reporting on this resolution, legacy media outlets such as The Hill and and NBC News promoted the pro-abortion spin that chemical abortions are safe. A number of outlets and pundits cited studies claiming that telehealth abortions do not pose health risks to women. Gizmodo and Ms. Magazine, for instance, covered a new study from JAMA Network Open, which purports to show that a small percentage of women who obtained a telehealth abortions from a virtual clinic in California required additional medical care. Writing for the New York Times, Emily Bazelon highlighted a February study in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology that analyzed data from British women and found that telehealth abortions had low complication rates.

However, both of these studies have methodological shortcomings. The JAMA Network Open study analyzed only 141 women who obtained telehealth abortions, a smaller sample size than is typical for this type of study. Furthermore, of the 141 patients who obtained telehealth abortions, 13 patients did not respond to a follow-up survey, and the researchers were unable to obtain information about outcomes from another 18 patients. As a result, the researchers have no information about outcomes from more than 20 percent of the women who obtained chemical abortions, raising concerns about the reliability of the study’s findings.

The February International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology study, meanwhile, compares outcomes from two groups of women in Great Britain who obtained chemical abortions. The first group obtained chemical abortions under medical supervision, while in the second group, some women obtained telehealth abortions and others obtained chemical abortions under medical supervision. As a result, the outcomes of women who obtained telehealth abortions were not considered separately from women who obtained abortions under medical supervision, so the study provides little insight into the safety of telehealth abortions.

A closer look at the United Kingdom raises some very serious concerns about the safety of telehealth abortions. In early 2020, the U.K. began allowing women to obtain chemical abortions via telemedicine. In the first six months of 2020, the overall number of abortions in the U.K. increased by about 4 percent.

Researcher Kevin Duffy found that between 2019 and 2020, emergency calls for  follow-up care after a chemical abortion increased by 54 percent when extrapolated across England and Wales, and ambulance responses rose by 19 percent. Furthermore, Britain’s Care Quality Commission identified eleven cases in which women went the hospital after taking chemical-abortion pills via telemedicine beyond the gestational-age limit.

A significant body of research suggests that chemical abortions pose health risks. For instance, two studies have found that chemical abortions have approximately four times the complication rate of surgical abortions; one analyzed a dataset of California Medicaid patients from 2009 to 2010, and the other studied more than 42,000 Finnish women who obtained abortions between 2000 and 2006. Obtaining a chemical abortion in a case with an unknown ectopic pregnancy could be fatal for the pregnant woman, and chemical abortions after 10 weeks’ gestation pose additional health risks. If successful, this latest effort by congressional Democrats to allow chemical abortions without in-person medical supervision is likely to harm countless women, not to mention their unborn children.

National Security & Defense

We’re in the Very Best of Hands, America

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a speech in the Eisenhower Executive Office Bulding’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 23, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Joe Biden, while visiting FEMA Headquarters in Washington D.C. Sunday, and discussing the ongoing operations for Hurricane Ida:

THE PRESIDENT: Don’t kid yourself; this is going to take a lot of resources, a little bit of luck, and as my grandfather would say, “The grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors.” And by the way, look out for your neighbors. If you’re in the region, look out for your neighbors. So, thank you very much, and thank you, Commissioner. I — I really think it all works. I’m not — I’m not supposed to take any questions, but go ahead.

Q Mr. President, on Afghanistan —

THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to answer Afghanistan now.

Q Can you say if there’s still an acute —

THE PRESIDENT: Okay.

Q — risk at the airport, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: (Addressing the staff of FEMA.) Thank you. (Applause.) Really and truly, thank you, thank you, thank you.

On the video, when Biden says, “I’m not going to answer Afghanistan now,” he waves his hand at the reporter in a dismissive manner, hits the lectern gently, and turns and walks away.

The president doesn’t want to talk about an ongoing national security and foreign policy disaster, and so he will not talk about it.

Education

Did UNC Treat Hannah-Jones Unfairly?

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After she had been extended a contract offer that didn’t include instant tenure, Nikole Hannah-Jones went into full attack mode, alleging that the white power structure at UNC had discriminated against her. Naturally, the press swallowed that line, but was it true?

In today’s Martin Center article, Duke University professor Michael Munger sheds some light on the way tenure is given to faculty members.

He writes, “Because of the time pressure, the UNC Provost made a sensible decision, changing the offer to a five-year fixed-term appointment with the option for reappointment. There was no vote on the tenure case, because the dossier was incomplete. This is quite a common occurrence, at every level of the tenure process. It cannot be hurried, and it is frustrating for the candidate. Unfortunately, the combination of events that — viewed dispassionately — could be explained as well within the normal boundaries of bureaucratic process resulted in inflammatory mischaracterizations. According to most sources, including the once-reliable New York Times, Ms. Hannah-Jones had been ‘denied tenure.’ That’s simply not true. If her supporters had resubmitted the file, she might have been voted up. We’ll never know.”

Munger also gives a learned discussion on the nature and location of that much ballyhooed idea, “academic freedom.”

Impromptus

The Wharton School, Etc.

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Edith Wharton, 1907 (Public domain via Wikimedia)

There is a saying I often borrow from the Bible (KJV) — a phrase that includes the word “saying,” in fact: “an hard saying.” “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” Now, I’m not comparing, trust me — but my column today is full of “hard sayings,” whether they are right or wrong (and I hope they are right). The column is titled “The Afghan Disaster: Notes on a war, a withdrawal, and a murky, anxious future.”

Let’s have some mail. In an Impromptus last week, I spoke of college mascots, and in particular the Notre Dame leprechaun. Some people think he’s pretty offensive.

A reader writes,

Jay,

I find it fascinating that the Spartan and the Trojan have been ignored in the purge of college mascots. As an American of Greek descent, and a Fighting Illini alumnus, this surprises me.

Anecdotally, all of my fellow citizens of Greek descent are very proud that both the Spartan and the Trojan mascots, and the Hellenic culture they represent, are present in college and high-school athletics. I have heard zero complaints from this community. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Michigan State and USC athletics! (That being said, I remain neutral when the Spartans play the Wolverines in any sport — always a good contest.)

It would be great to view your comments on why this is the case in a future column.

To be continued . . .

In the above-linked column, I spoke of a French intellectual who used some recondite words — words unknown to me: inadequation (now considered obsolete) and decortication. A reader writes,

I am glad for Google because even in reading Edith Wharton (born 1862) I find that a word is sometimes not in my dictionary. Do you know the word “reboant”?  It is in the dictionary, but I had never heard that word before.

Me neither. Means “marked by reverberation.”

In that same column, I quoted a paragraph from Tony Blair’s autobiography — the introduction to it. It was forwarded to me by Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe columnist, who thought it would be up my alley. It certainly was. A reader now writes to say that it actually moved him to tears. I thought I would re-paste it, here in the Corner, before bowing out.

A friend of mine whose parents were immigrants, Jews from Europe who came to America in search of safety, told me this story. His parents lived and worked in New York. They were not well off. His father died when he was young. His mother lived on, and in time my friend succeeded and became wealthy. He often used to offer his mother the chance to travel outside America. She never did. When eventually she died, they went back to recover the safety box where she kept her jewelry. They found there was another box. There was no key. So they had to drill it open. They wondered what precious jewel must be in it. They lifted the lid. There was wrapping and more wrapping and finally an envelope. Intrigued, they opened it. In the envelope were her U.S. citizenship papers. Nothing more. That was the jewel, more precious to her than any other possession. That was what she treasured most. So should America today.

Politics & Policy

Right on Cue, the President’s Mistakes Are Our Fault Again

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President Joe Biden reacts as he speaks about Hurricane Henri and the evacuation of Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, August 22, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

You can tell a Democrat is president, because we’re starting to see pieces blaming “us” for his mistakes. In The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago, Tom Nichols wrote that “Afghanistan Is Your Fault.” “American citizens,” Nichols suggested, “will separate into their usual camps and identify all of the obvious causes and culprits except for one: themselves.” Today, Max Boot makes the same argument in the Post. “Who’s to blame for the deaths of 13 service members in Kabul?” he asks. Answer: “We all are.”

This is of a piece with the tendency of journalists and historians to start muttering about how the presidency is “too big for one man” when the bad president in question is a Democrat. Under these terms, Republicans just aren’t up to the job, while Democrats are the victims of design or modernity or of the public being feckless. Last year, coronavirus was Trump’s fault. Now, it’s the fault of Republican governors and the unvaccinated (well, only some of the unvaccinated).

Still, this has happened pretty quickly with Joe Biden. Usually, it takes a couple of years before the press starts to sound like a bunch of hippies sitting around a fire saying, “you know, in a sense, you’re me and I’m you, and all of us are we — and so when the president makes a mistake, it’s really, like, the universe making a mistake, isn’t it? And, y’know, we’re in the universe, so we are the presidency. That’s democracy, man.”

National Security & Defense

The Taliban Are Searching People’s Phones for English Language Messages

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Taliban forces block roads around the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 27, 2021. (Reuters)

My reader who is trying to get his company’s former Afghan employees out of the country – including one that is a U.S. green card holder – has no good news in his latest update. (See hereherehere, here and here for background on this reader.)

“My green card guy is still hiding,” my reader laments. “[The U.S. embassy in Kabul] has not bothered to send him a single message. I have confirmed his evacuation request has all the correct contact information.”

One of the Afghans has told my reader that he can no longer speak to him on the phone or text him in English, because the Taliban are taking people’s phones and searching through them for English language messages. Afghans are now afraid to speak English, because the Taliban presumes that anyone overheard speaking or writing in English worked with the Americans or the coalition.

My reader says the State Department told him that the best option is to keep communicating with the Kabul Embassy through an e-mail. He has done so repeatedly, and he keeps getting the same automatic generic reply, “with gobs of links about where to go for help for this or that. It is a worthless email in an evacuation scenario.”

This morning, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said that any U.S. passport holder can get into the airport in Kabul, and that Special Immigrant Visa applicants and vulnerable Afghans are still being processed at the airport.

That does not match what my reader is hearing from his Afghan former employees on the ground. The Afghans outside the airport are telling my reader that Abbey Gate is only open to U.S. passport holders. The Washington Post reported this morning that “Taliban forces sealed off Kabul’s airport Saturday to most Afghans hoping for evacuation” and quoted an Afghan man who said, “the Taliban said they had been told by the Americans to only let U.S. passport-holders through.” Of course, who knows whether any particular Taliban soldier at a checkpoint is telling the truth.

Afghans on the ground tell my reader that there are rumors that U.S. civilian employees are starting to leave on flights, but those rumors are not confirmed. With roughly 96 hours until the U.S. forces pledged to be out, the departure of State Department employees is plausible.

My reader fears that the evacuation is coming to an early end, with only U.S. citizens with current passports getting out now.

“All others, game over,” he laments. “I challenge anyone to say with a straight face that all Americans and green card holders who wanted out are able to get out. I call B.S. on that big time. It is not the experience my guys are reporting… I can’t describe the anger and emotion. We will be transitioning to refugee movement mode here soon.”

Maybe some of the U.S.-allied Afghans will be able to make it across a border into a neighboring country. But there are a lot of trigger-happy Taliban between them and an escape.

Religion

Here’s What Got Evangelical Pastor Dan Darling Fired

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(Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Yesterday, Religion News Service (RNS) reported that Dan Darling, an Evangelical pastor and author, was fired from his job as senior vice president for communications for the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) after supporting COVID vaccines. NRB is an international association of Evangelical media companies, and one of its stated purposes is protecting free-speech rights for Christian communicators. According to the RNS report, Darling was asked to sign a document saying the comments he made on Morning Joe about how his Christian beliefs motivated him to get vaccinated were insubordinate. The NRB has a policy of remaining neutral on vaccines. Darling refused to sign such a statement and was let go by the organization. Darling said in a statement after his firing that he was “sad and disappointed,” and said, “I’m grieved that the issues that divide our country are also dividing Christians.”

Below, I’ve transcribed Darling’s segment from the August 18 episode of Morning Joe promoting his op-ed in USA Today encouraging Christians to get vaccinated. You decide if there was anything he said that should have gotten a spokesman for a Christian organization fired. Continue reading “Here’s What Got Evangelical Pastor Dan Darling Fired”

Science & Tech

Why the Hawaii Health Department Wants Looser Assisted-Suicide Rules

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A doctor holds a stethoscope in the Intensive Care Unit at the Melun-Senart hospital near Paris, France, October 30, 2020. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Please understand, dear readers, that when assisted-suicide advocates promise strict guidelines to protect against abuse, they don’t really mean it. The promise’s purpose is to get the law passed, not to be kept.

Once facilitated suicide–or in the case of euthanasia, homicide–is firmly ensconsed in public policy, the guidelines go by the wayside and are loosened repeatedly, over time. For recent examples, see Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Washington, and Oregon.

We see boosting stories for this process of liberalizing frequently in the popular media, only the vaunted guidelines are now called “obstacles” or “barriers.” It’s all such a con.

Now Hawaii’s Department of Health predictably urges a loosening of existing protections. From the Department’s Annual Report:

The DOH recommends the following changes to the OCOCA.
1. Waiver of any waiting periods if the attending provider and consulting provider agree that patient death is likely prior to the end of the waiting periods.
2. Given access to health care providers is limited, the DOH recommends authorizing advance practice registered nurses to serve as attending providers for patients seeking medical aid in dying.

Please know that if you support legalizing assisted suicide, you are also endorsing a process that ultimately leads to death on demand — as it has in Germany. You may want that. But don’t play the game that legalizing assisted suicide will only be an itsy-bitsy change in the law and medical ethics.

Calling Hawaii’s bureaucrat death-pushers the “Department of Health” is akin to the totalitarian government in 1984 calling its torture and brainwashing department the “Ministry of Love.”

World

Why Ukrainians Feel Betrayed by Biden

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Tthe Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project logo on a pipe at the Chelyabinsk pipe rolling plant in Chelyabinsk, Russia, February 26, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Today I reported on a forthcoming letter by dozens of Ukrainian anti-corruption leaders, across government and civil society, warning that President Biden’s approval of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a gift to the Kremlin and harmful to counter-kleptocracy efforts.

One additional aspect that I didn’t get to convey in detail in my report (which you can see here) is just the sheer extent to which they feel betrayed by Biden, who previously pledged to stand by Ukraine and then, as president, approved a project sure to increase Vladimir Putin’s leverage over Europe and ability to destabilize their country.

Gennady Kurochka, co-founder of the Ukraine Crisis Media Center and organizer of the letter I reported on, elaborated on this feeling of betrayal in a text message:

Many of the letter’s authors are representatives of the civil society in Ukraine – activists, volunteers, veterans – those who have personally met with Joe Biden when he visited Kyiv. Maintaining eye contact, he spoke about Russia, about the Nord Stream, about things which are consonant with our position. Furthermore, he later recalled these meetings with a warm attitude and the atmosphere of a mutual understanding. Now, as President of the United States, Joe Biden says and does things that are often exactly the opposite, and we would like to convey our disappointment with him and remind him of the common values and ideologies that we shared in the past.

Kurochka also offered a comment that struck me as particularly resonant in context of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan: He emphasized that Ukraine is pulling its weight and fighting its own battles. Biden’s efforts to blame the Afghan army for the country’s collapse seem to have made a significant impact on U.S. partners:

This letter is first and foremost addressed to the President of the United States, and its purpose is about shared values and interests. You can take a trillion dollars and try to instill democracy in a distant medieval country, but that would be the same as just burning the money. And at the same time refuse to support a European country, whose people, in fact, with their blood, the lives of their sons and daughters, have proven their adherence to the values  shared with the American people. A country, which for seven years now without American weapons, without American troops on its territory, which has been one-on-one defending its freedom against one of the strongest armies in the world.

Ukrainians, and many others who might depend somewhat on the U.S. for security, want to emphasize that they’re pulling their own weight, as they attempt to avoid drawing the ire of American presidents eager to end “forever wars.”

Politics & Policy

Biden’s Huawei Reprieve: Worth Hundreds of Millions of Dollars

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People are seen inside a Huawei store at a shopping mall in Beijing, China, July 14, 2020. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)

Huawei was hit hard by a Trump-era export ban, but a recent move by the Biden administration goes a long way toward assisting the embattled Chinese telecom company.

Reuters reported this week that the Commerce Department approved special licenses “worth hundreds of millions of dollars” allowing the telecom giant to purchase chips for components in its smart cars, such as screens and sensors.

Although those chips are less advanced than the ones that Huawei needs for its smartphone products, the decision to allow exemptions for the company, which is on Commerce’s “entity list” blacklist, shows a softening of U.S. policy since the Trump administration initiated a campaign warning about its involvement in Chinese espionage efforts.

As a result of Huawei’s entity-list designation, U.S. businesses were prohibited from selling any products to the company, forcing it to relinquish control of a portion of its smartphone business. In August, Huawei reported its largest-ever revenue drop.

But the Biden administration has overseen a softening of the export bans targeting Huawei, Reuters reported: “The U.S. has granted licenses authorizing suppliers to sell chips to Huawei for such vehicle components as video screens and sensors. The approvals come as Huawei pivots its business toward items that are less susceptible to U.S. trade bans.”

The Commerce Department told Retuers it can’t comment on specific license approvals, but that it continues to restrict “Huawei’s access to commodities, software, or technology for activities that could harm U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”

This raises an important question: Does the Biden administration consider Huawei a threat to national security and a key vector of malign Chinese influence around the world? Even if Commerce hasn’t granted license for the export of components with a direct bearing on Huawei’s likely coordination with the Chinese government on espionage, the licenses do help to shore up the company’s position.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo faced criticism at the time of her nomination for the post earlier this year for refusing to commit to keeping Huawei on the entity list, though she did promise to “protect Americans and our network from Chinese interference or any kind of backdoor influence into our network” during her confirmation hearing.

After Republican lawmakers raised concerns about her comments, she submitted a tougher statement about Huawei’s entity listing: “I currently have no reason to believe that entities on those lists should not be there. If confirmed, I look forward to a briefing on these entities and others of concern.”

To be sure, the Biden administration move to grant licenses for certain Huawei purchases of chips sold by U.S. companies is not the same as removing the company from the entity. The move in question here is narrow enough to grant Huawei some reprieve without triggering the massive backlash that a full delisting would entail. (Still, that hasn’t saved the administration from criticism by Republican senators Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton.)

Until the administration fully explains its decision, it will remain unclear as to what its motives are here — and whether these moves were motivated by a policy review, or merely enabled by Democratic super lobbyist Tony Podesta (who has taken Huawei as a client) and administration officials who previously lobbied or otherwise worked for Chinese tech companies.

Politics & Policy

How Politicians Are Using the COVID ‘Crisis’

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Here’s a sharp Points and Figures post about the political response to COVID.

Money quote: “Covid is just not as serious as the politicians are making it out to be. They have another goal. Increase their power. Political entities love power. The Founders recognized that and enshrined people’s rights into the Constitution. It’s worth pointing out the Constitution and Bill of Rights protect people from government, not the other way around.”

Jefferson rightly observed that it was in the natural order of things for government to gain power and liberty to retreat. One big reason is that politicians are always looking for ways to make themselves look great and strong — for instance by proclaiming that they have saved many lives with their coercive interference with people’s freedom.

That’s all this is about.

World

The State Department Said What?

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In a week full of jaw-droppers from the Biden administration, this ranks right up there.

What’s worse is that I have no idea if State Department spokesman Ned Price is gaslighting us or if the administration actually believes this insanity. Long War Journal‘s Thomas Joscelyn responded in stunned disbelief: “Wait, did he really say this?”

Let me quote from a good writeup in the Wall Street Journal from just yesterday morning titled, “In Taliban-Ruled Afghanistan, Al Qaeda-Linked Haqqani Network Rises to Power.”

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul, the normally elusive Haqqani network, which is built around a family of the same name, has assumed a public role in the Afghan capital. Khalil Haqqani, brother of the group’s founder, Jalaluddin, addressed the faithful in public in Kabul’s Pol-e Khishti Mosque last week—despite a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head. . . .

The network’s de facto leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin, worked closely with Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenant and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan, according to files recovered in bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Today, Sirajuddin is the Taliban’s military chief, and his forces have been put in charge of security in Kabul.

“The Haqqanis expose the lie that there is a line between Taliban and other jihadist groups, especially al Qaeda,” said H.R. McMaster, a national-security adviser in the Trump administration and former deputy commander for U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.

But, according to the U.S. government, the murderous, al-Qaeda-allied terrorists of the Taliban are our somehow our “partners.” But the murderous, al-Qaeda-allied terrorists of the Haqqani Network are not . . . even though the Taliban and the Haqqani Network are deeply intertwined. Everyone keeping up?

World

Ukrainian Leaders Hit Biden for Russian-Pipeline Capitulation

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Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky visits armed forces in the Donetsk region, Ukraine, October 14, 2019. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service / Handout via Reuters)

President Biden came to office promising to support U.S. allies, including Ukraine, and stand up to Russian aggression in Europe, but he’s alienated Ukrainian pro-democracy and anti-corruption advocates with his failure to block a Russian gas pipeline.

Over 50 Ukrainian leaders from the 2014 Ukrainian Maidan revolution, the ongoing conflict with Russian separatists in the country’s east, government, and civil society express disappointment in Biden in a letter to the U.S. president, obtained by National Review before its release by the Atlantic Council, ahead of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to Washington on August 31. Specifically, they note Biden’s failure to take steps to kill Nord Stream 2, the Russian-backed gas pipeline supported by German chancellor Angela Merkel.

“We, the signatories of this letter, have been on the frontlines of Ukraine’s fight for democracy and reform. Today, these efforts as well as your declared effort to rally the democratic world against authoritarianism and global corruption are weakened by your Administration’s decision to indulge Germany on Nord Stream 2,” write the letter’s signatories, who include Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the board of the Anticorruption Action Centre, and Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, a member of parliament who previously led Transparency International Ukraine.

The letter will give Zelensky — a vocal opponent of the pipeline and of a U.S.–Germany deal designed to assuage concerns about the project — more leverage as he heads into his upcoming meeting with Biden.

Although Biden has pledged to defend Ukraine from Moscow’s ongoing campaign to weaken the country, he has found himself at odds with Zelensky early into his own presidency. After Biden’s team declined to enforce U.S. sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and its CEO, a German citizen, this spring, Zelensky spoke out publicly against the move, revealing in an interview with Axios that U.S. officials hadn’t told him in advance, and demanding that Biden meet with him.

Administration officials then turned the tables on Zelensky by wielding Ukraine’s troubles with corruption as a political cudgel, telling Axios that Biden had decided not to move forward with meeting with Zelensky because of concerns that he was “backsliding” on corruption issues. But as Biden approached his June 16 summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin, the White House announced that Biden had invited Zelensky to Washington. The letter’s authors coolly note, however, that that meeting will take place three months after Biden met with “the tyrant Putin.”

Thus the administration has implemented a Ukraine policy that’s barely kept up with the twists and turns of public outrage over Nord Stream 2 and Biden’s oddly cool indifference over meeting Zelensky.

The anti-corruption advocates see problems with Ukraine’s still-flawed handling of corruption, but they say that that’s all the more reason for Biden to stand with Kyiv.

“For President Biden, a Ukraine which still makes slow but steady progress in its fight against corruption is still better than a Ukraine which may be ignored by its strategic allies in security issues,” since without Ukraine “all defense issues which have so far been taken on by Ukraine will become a problem of NATO and the United States,” Gennady Kurochka, co-founder of the Ukraine Crisis Media Center and organizer of the letter, told NR in a text message.

In addition to the failure to impose tougher, congressionally mandated sanctions on European entities involved in building Nord Stream 2, the recent U.S.–Germany deal is seen by Ukrainians as another U.S. policy failure.

That agreement effectively codifies U.S. acquiescence to the pipeline’s construction. According to the deal, Germany pledges to take steps to retaliate against Russia if it uses Nord Stream 2 against Ukraine and to help Kyiv achieve energy independence, including by developing green-energy sources. But those assurances — including a recent pledge by Merkel to impose sanctions on Russia in the event the pipeline is used as a weapon — don’t impress the letter writers, who describe them as inadequate, vague, and having unclear legal implications.

Importantly, the letter disarms the administration’s attempts to distract from its Nord Stream 2 concessions, making clear that anticorruption work can take place in tandem with an attempt to push back against the Kremlin’s political-influence activities — and in fact, that Ukraine’s ability to confront corruption, and Biden’s kleptocracy agenda, hinge on confronting Nord Stream 2.

“This decision completely contradicts the anticorruption memorandum of the White House, issued on June 3, 2021, which asserts: ‘Corruption… provides authoritarian leaders a means to undermine democracies worldwide,’” they write. “Allowing Gazprom to finish and operationalize its kleptocratic project Nord Stream 2 means no less than gifting to the authoritarian leader Vladimir Putin an extra tool to undermine democracies across Europe.”

The anticorruption advocates also note that the Nord Stream 2 sanctions waivers and the Germany deal empower European business interests “that serve as apologists for Putin’s authoritarian policies” and give Putin more resources with which to co-opt prominent European politicians, including former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French prime minister Francois Fillon.

Thus far, it appears that Biden’s meeting with Zelensky will still take place next week, despite the ongoing evacuation effort in Afghanistan. If the session were canceled, however, it’d be grimly fitting: One prominent self-inflicted foreign-policy crisis featuring an abandonment of U.S. allies will have overshadowed another, slower-moving debacle.

Update 6:40: This post has been updated to include comment from Gennady Kurochka. 

White House

Jen Psaki on Withdrawal Critics: ‘It Is Easy to Throw Stones or Be a Critic from the Outside’

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White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., July 16, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

We can argue whether White House press secretary Jen Psaki was ever good at her job — no, Ms. Psaki, the CDC director does not speak in her personal capacity about public health policies — but signs that this White House is overwhelmed by the crisis in Afghanistan are accumulating.

Congresswoman Susan Wild, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, is on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Last election cycle she endorsed Biden, declaring that the nation needs to be led by a president who has “compassion, competence, humility, and grace.” (Wild’s office says that while her statement praised Sanders, she did not endorse Sanders before endorsing Biden.) Wild was endorsed by unions, EMILY’s List, Everytown for Gun Safety, the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the NEA, NOW, the SEIU, the AFL-CIO, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and the Sierra Club. She is a thoroughly mainstream Democrat, with a political persona that is the opposite of her surname. Wild is not a Tulsi Gabbard–style maverick, nor is she a Joe Manchin. She does not throw sand in the gears.

And yesterday Wild acknowledged a hard truth that the administration keeps denying:

Although it is clear to me that we could not continue to put American servicemembers in danger for an unwinnable war, I also believe that the evacuation process appears to have been egregiously mishandled. In order to move forward, we need answers and accountability regarding the cascading failures that led us to this moment. Our troops deserve nothing less than a complete and unvarnished truth.

In the eyes of many NR readers, the criticism Wild expressed is exceptionally mild and an understatement.

Nonetheless, today Psaki said that she had no specific response to Wild’s comments, just that “it is easy to throw stones or be a critic from the outside.”

What makes Wild’s comments significant is that she is not a bomb-thrower and not a member who picks fights with the administration to get cable news appearances. Wild doesn’t “throw stones” at a president of her own party for the sake of throwing stones. When someone like Wild is publicly denouncing “cascading failures,” it is a signal to the administration that there is no longer any point in disputing this. It’s clear to anyone who has eyes.

If Jen Psaki is lashing out at a Democratic congresswoman on the Foreign Affairs Committee as though she’s Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity . . . it is a sign that the tensions in the White House are even worse than we can see.

Politics & Policy

Bulwark against Terror: Support Anti-Taliban Fighters, say Waltz and Graham

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U.S. soldiers and marines assist with security at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 19, 2021. (Staff Sergeant Victor Mancilla/U.S. Marine Corps)

Representative Mike Waltz and Senator Lindsey Graham don’t think it’s too late to contest the Taliban’s takeover from within Afghanistan. In a statement this morning, they called on the Biden administration to recognize anti-Taliban fighters amassed in Panjshir Valley, about an hour from Kabul.

They probably understand their calls will fall on deaf ears. The administration, in the waning days of its evacuation of Americans and allied Afghans from Kabul has demonstrated little interest in engaging, much less meaningfully supporting, the anti-Taliban opposition.

Not only have U.S. officials effectively opted to remain in the Taliban’s good graces to keep the evacuation on track, President Joe Biden has been loath to sharply condemn the Islamist group’s takeover. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, on Wedsenday raised the possibility that Washington could “work with” a future Taliban-led government that respects human rights, cracks down on terrorism, and allows people who want to leave Afghanistan to do so.

Support for the Panjshir resistance, then, is only likely to find voice on Capitol Hill, and Waltz and Graham are leading the way on an issue that might be picked up by quite a few of their colleagues. “We’re going to lead and drive this from Congress if the White House and the administration refuses to,” Waltz told Foreign Policy this week.

“After speaking with Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh and representatives of Ahmad Massoud, we are calling on the Biden Administration to recognize these leaders as the legitimate government representatives of Afghanistan,” they said in today’s statement. “We ask the Biden Administration to recognize that the Afghan Constitution is still intact, and the Afghan Taliban takeover is illegal.”

Saleh and Massoud, the son of the legendary anti-Taliban commander who organized resistance to the Taliban the last time it was in power prior to 2001, lead a husk of the former opposition, however, controlling a much smaller swath of the country than the Northern Alliance, as the pre-9/11 coalition was known, once held.

Over the past several days, it has faced a Taliban military onslaught. The Panjshir resistance has repelled a few of those efforts, and they benefit from naturally rugged terrain that makes an invasion from the outside difficult. Massoud commands almost 10,000 soldiers, including special forces members who, unlike much of the Afghan military, put up a fight against the Taliban offensive this summer.

And they’ve boasted some early military victories:

But it’s unclear how long they’ll be able to hold, as the territory under their control is surrounded by the Taliban, now in possession of significant caches of U.S. military equipment, including Blackhawk helicopters.

Massoud concedes “that our military forces and logistics will not be sufficient” for the coming Taliban assault on Panjshir, however, as he wrote in the Washington Post last week. “They will be rapidly depleted unless our friends in the West can find a way to supply us without delay.”

Receiving support from the U.S. and its allies is one way that they can begin to turn the tide — and in turn, doing so might very well bolster U.S. interests after the withdrawal is complete. Waltz and Graham suggest that Panjshir valley could be a safe haven for “Americans left behind, our allies, and those seeking freedom from Afghan Taliban rule,” as well as a beachhead for “the fight against global Islamic Extremism.”

“We call on President Biden to designate the Afghan Taliban as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and we urge him to publicly support Congressional efforts to stand with our friends in the Panjshir Valley who will serve as a bulwark against regional terror,” they wrote.

Heavier U.S. support might also give Saleh and Massoud more leverage in the ongoing negotiations on the formation of a new Afghan government as a welcome counterweight to the Taliban.

Given Biden’s decision to leave Bagram Air Base, and the Taliban’s continued coordination with al-Qaeda, having a few friends in the country well beyond the departure of U.S. forces might be worthwhile.

Capital Matters

More on the Limits of Woke Capitalism

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(Nerthuz/Getty Images)

The Washington Post reports:

Apple and AbbVie, Facebook and Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Procter & Gamble, and other top corporations made broad claims about what they would do, pledging to be a force for societal changeand tofight racism and injustice, including violence against Black Americans.

Where and how they dedicated their money became the most visible signs of their priorities.

To date, America’s 50 biggest publiccompanies and their foundations collectively committed at least $49.5 billion since Floyd’s murder last May to addressing racial inequality — an amount that appears unequaled in sheer scale.

Looking deeper, more than 90 percent of that amount — $45.2 billion — is allocated as loans or investments they could stand to profit from, more than half in the form of mortgages. Two banks — JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America — accounted for nearly all of those commitments.

Meanwhile,$4.2 billion of the total pledged is in the form of outright grants. Of that, companies reported just a tiny fraction — about $70 million —wentto organizations focused specifically on criminal justicereform, the cause that sent millions into the streetsprotesting Floyd’s murderby a Minneapolis police officer.

The whole thing is here.

First, pause for a second and marvel at the fact that these companies and their foundations have committed $50 billion to this effort.

Second, I think it is practically impossible to read this report and come away thinking that these firms’ executives are evil, or even indifferent to society’s challenges. For one thing, if minorities are having a hard time gaining access to loans, it seems a concerted effort to address this challenge isn’t a bad thing.

Third, as I have said in the past, one of the many problems with demanding that companies act like social warriors is that it requires one to ignore the essence of what corporations are and what each must do to survive. The failure to understand this simple fact will lead to a lot of meaningless virtue-signaling from companies trying to figure out how to please everyone.

The Washington Post article is worth reading because it highlights some of the reasons why the approach that consists of asking corporations to fight society’s problems with large donations was never going to work as planned. Some scholars quoted in this piece get it:

“The answer to these massive problems is not in capitalism doing better or more. It’s not going to come from philanthropy. It’s not going to come from promises. It’s got to be a policy change,” said Baradaran, who has informally advised companies on impact investing.

“We don’t want just benevolent billionaires and nicer, softer, more-woke monopolies. We want an economic structure that allows for more mobility, and we don’t have that.”

The bottom line is that fixing racial problems that prevail in this country will not happen merely as a result of corporate philanthropy or efforts to pursue “social justice.” Genuine, lasting improvement requires removing hundreds of unfair rules imposed by government, including serious reforms of our criminal-justice system. Many personal and institutional incentives must be changed — and not least through cultural changes. It is a hard battle, but one worth fighting, and we each have a role to play.

World

International Lawmakers Slam New China Threat to Lithuania, Taiwan

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An illustration of Chinese and Taiwanese national flags alongside military airplanes, April 9, 2021 (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Beijing is not happy with Lithuania for deepening its ties with Taiwan, so this summer it initiated an economic bullying campaign to punish the Baltic state, including by halting the export of certain Lithuanian products to China.

But no amount of trade pressure can dissuade Vilnius from aligning itself closer with Taipei now. Something bigger than its trade ties with Beijing is at stake — and it has the support of friends across the West: “We, the Chairs of Foreign Affairs Committees, strongly condemn the political, diplomatic, and economic pressure of People’s Republic of China on Lithuania,” wrote senior parliamentarians from 14 countries in a letter in support of Lithuania.

The group included Senator Bob Menendez, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as U.K. MP Tom Tugendhat, and their counterparts from the Czech Republic, European Parliament, France, Germany, and others.

“The interference in the internal affairs of a European Union and NATO state are neither welcome nor appropriate,” they also wrote.

Their defense of Lithuania and Taiwan marks an important new trend: Beijing’s opponents are banding together, making it all the more difficult for the Chinese Communist Party to exert its will on other countries.

The moves that kicked off this spat were a long time coming, and the strength of the international response to Beijing’s bullying will be a bellwether for Western resolve to confront it.

In July, Taiwan and Lithuania announced plans to open reciprocal representative diplomatic offices in their countries; the facilities will serve the functions of embassies in everything but name. Lithuania does not officially recognize Taiwan. The new Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania will be the only such facility in Europe.

China responded predictably the next month, recalling its ambassador to Lithuania and demanding that Vilnius’s envoy in Beijing leave. A Lithuanian MP noted at the time that Beijing’s diplomatic demands coincided with Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko’s move to release a large group of migrants that appeared at Lithuania’s borders. The Chinese Communist Party “did this EXACTLY on the day when our Parliament gathered to extraordinary session to defend from Lukashenko’s hybrid attack,” Dovile Sakaliene, the MP, wrote on Twitter.

Lithuania knows a thing or two about defending itself from a hulking authoritarian menace in its neighborhood, an experience that has clearly colored its ties with Beijing over the years.

As a revanchist Russia has sought to expand its influence in Europe, Lithuania is one of a group of countries on the vanguard of the effort to push back against those efforts. In April, it expelled Russian diplomats over revelations that Russian intelligence officers carried out a 2014 bombing in the Czech Republic.

More recently, Lithuania has pushed back against Chinese influence in Europe. Its decision to seek closer ties with Taiwan followed the country’s withdrawal from the 17+1 group — a diplomatic initiative that brought 17 Eastern and Central European countries together for talks with China on a range of issues. It faced criticism for dividing Europe — its membership is drawn from the EU but doesn’t include all of its 27 member countries — in negotiations with China. So Vilnius pulled out in May, with foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis saying, “The EU is strongest when all 27 member states act together along with EU institutions.”

Interestingly, Chinese state media has highlighted the potential for Sino–Russian cooperation on punishing Lithuania. A Global Times editorial on August 11 said China and Russia should “strike against” Lithuania together.

The Kremlin hasn’t weighed in on this yet, but the very prospect of coordination between Russian and China on confronting tiny democracies in their neighborhoods is chilling nonetheless. Thankfully, as the lawmakers’ letter indicates, Lithuania and Taiwan can go a long way toward building out an international front against authoritarian repression.

World

Who’s in Charge of Afghanistan?

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Two paratroopers assigned to First Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conduct security while a C-130 Hercules takes off during a non-combatant evacuation operation in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 25, 2021. (Department of Defense Courtesy Photo)

With the collapse of the U.S.-supported Afghan government, there’s a question many countries will have to face soon: Whom should we recognize as the government of Afghanistan?

The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, only three countries recognized it as the legitimate government of the country: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan. Most of the rest of the world recognized the Islamic State of Afghanistan, the government established in 1992, as the government-in-exile.

The government-in-exile approach seems less likely this time around. This time, the defeat of the Afghan government is seen by many as a clear defeat for the United States. Adversaries of the United States may want to recognize the Taliban government to register their opposition to American influence.

According to an August 15 story from the Washington Examiner, “China has been laying the groundwork to recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, flying in the face of the U.S. warning the group about isolation from the international community.”

A spokesman for Vladimir Putin said yesterday that, “We think that the Taliban’s dominance, the de facto rise to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan and them taking most over the country under their control is de facto an accomplished process,” hinting that recognition could be coming in the near future.

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi could barely contain his glee at what he called the U.S. “defeat” in Afghanistan. “The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that the reign of the will of the wronged people of Afghanistan has always created security and stability. . . . While consciously monitoring developments in the country, Iran is committed to neighbourly relations,” he was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera on August 16.

American allies have signaled hesitance to recognize the Taliban government over human-rights concerns. An August 20 statement from NATO foreign ministers said, “Any future Afghan government must adhere to Afghanistan’s international obligations; safeguard the human rights of all Afghans, particularly women, children, and minorities; uphold the rule of law; allow unhindered humanitarian access; and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a safe haven for terrorists.”

Pakistan, which is considered by the U.S. to be a major non-NATO ally, will be in a tricky spot. Imran Khan, the Pakistani prime minister, said Afghans had “broken the shackles of slavery” after Kabul fell to the Taliban. Boris Johnson told Khan a few days later that unilateral recognition of the Taliban government would be unacceptable. Pakistani recognition wasn’t as big a deal for the West last time around. It was pre-9/11 and Afghanistan was less of a global concern. But Pakistan has provided the Taliban with various forms of support and shelter over the years. As Walter Russell Mead wrote for the Wall Street Journal, “Whether Pakistan will be happy with its radical neighbor in the long term remains to be seen, but for now Pakistani hard-liners are celebrating the greatest single win in their history.”

The most interesting country to watch on recognition of the Taliban is India. Afghanistan is in India’s part of the world, so they can’t dodge the question. Since the middle of the Cold War era, India has prided itself on having an unconventional foreign policy that doesn’t fit neatly into anyone’s sphere of influence. Under the Trump administration, India moved slightly closer to the United States. Trump and Indian prime minister Modi had a warm personal relationship, and India is a member of the “Quad” alliance with the U.S., Australia, and Japan — which is becoming more important to oppose Chinese influence. There’s also India’s antagonistic relationship with Pakistan to factor in as well.

Today, a spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said the Indian government is going to wait and see. Spokesman Arindam Bagchi said, “The situation on the ground is uncertain (in Afghanistan). The primary concern is the security and safety of people. Currently, there is no clarity about any entity forming a government in Kabul. I think we are jumping the gun regarding recognition,” according to the Hindustan Times.

Bagchi makes an important point: We aren’t really sure how stable the Taliban’s self-proclaimed Islamic emirate is. The Taliban isn’t the only group of bad guys with guns in Afghanistan. The same Hindustan Times story said that Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said India is waiting to see “whether the new dispensation in Afghanistan will be solely a government of the Taliban or be part of a power-sharing arrangement with other Afghan leaders.”

The situation in Afghanistan is anything but settled. The country is called the “graveyard of empires,” but native governments haven’t fared much better in maintaining order throughout Afghanistan’s chaotic history. As countries decide what to do about diplomatic recognition, the Indian wait-and-see approach is one to keep an eye on.

World

Afghanistan, Opium, and Unintended Consequences

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An Afghan policeman destroys poppies during a campaign against narcotics in Jalalabad province, Afghanistan, April 4, 2017. (Parwiz/Reuters)

The United States’ efforts to suppress opium production in Afghanistan is a case study in the law of unintended consequences. It ended up giving the Taliban a multi-million-dollar revenue stream.

Economists Jeffrey Clemens, Jeffrey Miron, and Pedro Braga Soares explain how in a new Reason op-ed, based in part on Dr. Clemens’s academic research:

No single factor can explain the recent swift collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government. But one underappreciated mistake has been Washington’s long-running effort to suppress the cultivation of opium poppies in Afghanistan and, in turn, the production of heroin and other opioids. The campaign most likely had little effect on the amount of poppy grown. Instead it shifted cultivation to Taliban-controlled territories, bolstering the militia’s revenues.

Using the supply-and-demand framework:

American efforts to suppress poppy cultivation, either through direct eradication or through incentives to grow other crops, failed to account for the basics of supply and demand. Suppression policies focus on shrinking supply, which means a fixed quantity of opium will become more expensive to produce. These policies involve a mix of threats to destroy poppy fields and the provision of resources (such as fertilizers) to encourage farmers to cultivate other crops. But if demand is not very sensitive to price increases, the quantity demanded will change little in response to the reduction in supply.

It is likely, for two reasons, that the demand for opium is not very sensitive to price. First, research finds consumer demand to be modestly elastic. Second, and more importantly, “farm-gate” prices of opium account for a small share of traffickers’ costs. Smuggling opiates to retail markets entails high risks and large costs, such as dealing with law enforcement, paying bribes, and more. As a result, increases in the price of opium sold by farmers are unlikely to significantly dent traffickers’ bottom lines, enabling them to absorb higher prices without curtailing their quantity demanded.

The evidence bears this out:

Indeed, recent UNODC reports document that Afghan poppy cultivation has drifted upward since the U.S. intensified efforts to suppress poppy farming around 2005. Afghanistan maintained its key role as the primary supplier of the world’s opiates, suggesting those policies were ineffective at curbing opium output.

The economists argue that suppression efforts not only failed, but led production to shift to territories controlled by the Taliban, giving the group a major source of money.

Justice Breyer’s Eviction-Moratorium Dissent Would Turn the President into a Dictator

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Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, April 23, 2021 (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

There is simply no way of reading Justice Breyer’s dissent in last night’s eviction-moratorium case without arriving at the conclusion that Breyer, along with his two co-dissenters, believes that the executive branch of the federal government is permitted to do whatever the hell it wants providing that somewhere within the thicket that is the U.S. Code there exists a law that might be plausibly connected with their aim.

In striking down the CDC’s nationwide ban on evictions, the majority opinion carefully laid out the folly of Breyer’s approach. For a start, the majority noted, the fact that the statute in question

Impromptus

Brothers and Others

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President Jimmy Carter greets his brother Billy at the commencement ceremony of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta on February 20, 1979. (Jimmy Carter Library/National Archives)

My Impromptus today begins with the mask wars, and vax wars. These wars have various combatants, and most of them have a point. I also touch on Edward Said, Sergei Kovalev, and J.R. Smith. Kovalev was a Soviet dissident — later a Russian one, you could say — and a great man. J.R. Smith played in the NBA for 16 years. Made $90 million. Now he is going to college, and he qualified for the golf team — which I think is wonderful.

My latest Q&A podcast is with Maria DeCotis, here. She is a comedienne, and an actress, and a writer, and a singer, and a dancer — a multi-purpose, multi-talented young woman. She was a sensation on social media when she impersonated Andrew Cuomo. She has lost him, but she has any number of other characters in her repertoire.

Feel like a music podcast? Here is the latest episode of my Music for a While. I have some minor composers: George Walker, Lili Boulanger, Florence Price. Two major composers: Mozart and Shostakovich. And one in between, you might say: Paul Hindemith. Anyway, interesting stuff, and wonderful music.

Maybe I could publish two letters concerning my Impromptus of yesterday? A much-admired Georgia friend writes,

J.D. Vance’s qualification for office seems to be that he wrote a book about his relatives. I am reminded of the Carter years. Brother Billy Carter’s antics were such that people were saying, “Why wasn’t he bigger news when Carter was governor of Georgia?” The answer, of course, was, “Around here, everybody’s got a relative like that. And if you think you don’t have one, then it’s you.”

Hilarious.

The second letter:

Jay,

. . . As a conservative, and a Republican, in Oregon, I feel as though I’m hiding these days. I enjoy the rodeo at the county fair, but I hate its pseudo-Christian nationalism. I love our flag, our anthem, and our country. But I’ll confess to feeling almost more patriotic and more American when, at the same county fair, I stand in a long line to pay $10 for cotton-candy art from a tireless Chinese family with thickly accented English. (See photo attached for their excellent work.)

God bless you and God bless America . . .

That photo is below. Thank you to one and all.

National Security & Defense

Why Exactly Did We Abandon Bagram Air Base?

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Runway at Bagram Air Base after American troops vacated it in Parwan Province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2021. (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)

The Economist’s Shashank Joshi tweeted an important observation that deserves to be highlighted. President Biden was either confused or — worse — actively misleading the American people when he said at Thursday’s press conference that senior military officers advised him to abandon the Bagram air base because there “was not much value added” in holding it.

“They concluded — the military — that Bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul,” President Biden said. “And so, I followed that recommendation.”

Here’s the clip, with the president’s full answer:

You need not be a military genius on the level of Napoleon or Frederick the Great to realize that the international airport in Kabul — with a single runway, surrounded by mountains, and in the middle of a city of 4 million souls — is not an ideal base of operations from which to conduct this evacuation. In fact, the airport is dangerously exposed.

As we’ve so painfully discovered, basic security for the airport is a problem and flight operations can be threatened and even shut down due to the security situation.

So why exactly did we give up our air base at Bagram? The operational situation would suggest that a second, more-defensible air base equipped with modern facilities would be an asset during a crisis such as this.

Well, according to what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said just last week, we did it because of an arbitrary cap on troop numbers in Afghanistan.

“That was all briefed and approved,” General Milley said, “and we estimated that the risk of going out of HKIA [Kabul’s international airport] or the risk of going out of Bagram about the same, so going out of HKIA — was estimated to be the better tactical solution in accordance with the mission set we were given and in accordance with getting the troops down to about 600, 700 number” [emphasis mine].

This is indefensible from a military operations’ standpoint — but President Biden wanted the troops out, so that was that, apparently.

Surely the president wouldn’t be misleading the American people about the reasoning behind the decision. President Biden wouldn’t be passing the buck here, would he? Surely not.

Politics & Policy

BREAKING: U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Rule of Law vs. Lawless Biden CDC Eviction Moratorium

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The Supreme Court Building in Washington D.C., August 5, 2021 (Brent Buterbaugh/National Review)

Well, we have our answer to the question of whether Justice Brett Kavanaugh would sit still for Joe Biden daring him to do his job. The CDC’s renewed, flagrantly unlawful eviction moratorium survived in the district court and in the D.C. Circuit because Kavanaugh had failed to join the other four justices who found the original moratorium to exceed the agency’s lawful authority. Kavanaugh agreed, but gave the Biden administration breathing room to unwind the old moratorium and get authorization from Congress before handing down a new one. Biden gave him the finger. This time, with the Court’s institutional credibility and the rule of law itself on the line, not only Kavanaugh but Chief Justice John Roberts joined a 6–3 ruling striking down the moratorium on the grounds that it “strains credulity” to believe that the CDC had the power to regulate apartment rentals nationwide:

Careful review of [the] record makes clear that the applicants are virtually certain to succeed on the merits of their argument that the CDC has exceeded its authority. It would be one thing if Congress had specifically authorized the action that the CDC has taken. But that has not happened. Instead, the CDC has imposed a nationwide moratorium on evictions in reliance on a decades-old statute that authorizes it to implement measures like fumigation and pest extermination. It strains credulity to believe that this statute grants the CDC the sweeping authority that it asserts . . .

The applicants not only have a substantial likelihood of success on the merits—it is difficult to imagine them losing . . . [The CDC’s statute lists] the kinds of measures [it authorizes] that could be necessary: inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, and destruction of contaminated animals and articles. These measures directly relate to preventing the interstate spread of disease by identifying, isolating, and destroying the disease itself. The CDC’s moratorium, on the other hand, relates to interstate infection far more indirectly: If evictions occur, some subset of tenants might move from one State to another, and some subset of that group might do so while infected with COVID–19. . . . This downstream connection between eviction and the interstate spread of disease is markedly different from the direct targeting of disease that characterizes the measures identified in the statute. Reading both sentences together, rather than the first in isolation, it is a stretch to maintain that §361(a) gives the CDC the authority to impose this eviction moratorium. [Emphasis added.]

The Court’s unsigned per curiam opinion further noted that it would not presume that Congress delegated the vast powers claimed here without mentioning them even obliquely. The justices were visibly alarmed at the limitless powers that the Biden administration claims for the bureaucracy:

Even if the text were ambiguous, the sheer scope of the CDC’s claimed authority under §361(a) would counsel against the Government’s interpretation. . . . At least 80% of the country, including between 6 and 17 million tenants at risk of eviction, falls within the moratorium . . . the Government’s read of §361(a) would give the CDC a breathtaking amount of authority. It is hard to see what measures this interpretation would place outside the CDC’s reach, and the Government has identified no limit in §361(a) beyond the requirement that the CDC deem a measure “necessary.” . . . Could the CDC, for example, mandate free grocery delivery to the homes of the sick or vulnerable? Require manufacturers to provide free computers to enable people to work from home? Order telecommunications companies to provide free high-speed Internet service to facilitate remote work?

This claim of expansive authority under §361(a) is unprecedented. Since that provision’s enactment in 1944, no regulation premised on it has even begun to approach the size or scope of the eviction moratorium. And it is further amplified by the CDC’s decision to impose criminal penalties of up to a $250,000 fine and one year in jail on those who violate the moratorium. . . . Section 361(a) is a wafer-thin reed on which to rest such sweeping power. [Emphasis added.]

The United States of America does not have an elective democracy merely as window-dressing for a monarchy housed in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Joe Biden erred badly by daring the Court to limit that monarchical assertion of power. His open disregard for the law seems to have offended not only Kavanaugh but Roberts as well. Given that this administration has more than three years left in its elected term, that is a bad place to start.

National Security & Defense

Our Insane ‘Counterterrorism’ Strategy

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Earlier today, terrorists killed at least twelve U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman in Kabul and wounded more than a dozen others in a series of brazen suicide bombings. At least a hundred civilians were murdered.

A simple question: If the policy of the United States toward these terrorists is that, in President Biden’s words, “We will not forgive, we will not forget — we will hunt you down and make you pay,” why in the world would we choose to abandon our forward presence in Afghanistan, our on-the-ground allies, our human-intelligence apparatus, and a world-class military airbase at Bagram from which to conduct operations?

President Biden’s plan is, apparently, to pull out of Afghanistan in the face of our enemies so that we can somehow, magically, be better positioned to prosecute a counterterrorism campaign against them.

National Security & Defense

Sasse: We Need to Rescue Every Person on ‘Kill List’ Handed Over to Taliban

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U.S. Air Force airmen guide qualified evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021. (U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Taylor Crul/Handout via Reuters)

This afternoon, Politico reported that “U.S. officials in Kabul gave the Taliban a list of names of American citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies to grant entry into the militant-controlled outer perimeter of the city’s airport.”

“Basically, they just put all those Afghans on a kill list,” one defense official told Politico. “It’s just appalling and shocking and makes you feel unclean.”

In a statement, Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse said, “President Biden needs to authorize whatever force is necessary to secure every one of the souls on that list before they’re slaughtered.” Sasse also called for a congressional investigation:

Some utter fool in the Biden Administration reportedly decided to give the Taliban a kill list of Afghans who had been working with us. Two things need to happen immediately: First, President Biden needs to authorize whatever force is necessary to secure every one of the souls on that list before they’re slaughtered. Second, the Senate Intelligence Committee needs to investigate who came up with this brain-dead idea, whether our intelligence agencies were given a chance to warn against it, and who decided to hand over the list to the Taliban.

Asked about the Politico report, Biden said at his press conference Thursday: “There have been occasions when our military has contacted their military counterparts in the Taliban and said, ‘This bus is coming through with X number of people on it made up of the following group of people. We want you to let that bus or group through.’ So yes, there had been occasions like that. To the best of my knowledge, in those cases, the bulk of that has occurred and they have been let through. But I can’t tell you with any certitude that there has actually been a list of names. There may have been. But I know of no circumstance. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

Biden Just Prepared the Public for Abandoning Americans in Afghanistan

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President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the coronavirus disease response and vaccination program during a speech in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 18, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

In the midst of a jumbled and incoherent set of remarks and press conference, President Biden just prepared the public for the inevitability that there will be Americans left behind in Afghanistan.

In a low-energy speech, filled with long pauses and unconvincing vows to hunt down ISIS terrorists, Biden started off by saying “our mission will go on.” Presumably, he meant that the terrorist attacks would not deter the military from continuing to try to evacuate the Americans who are still stranded in Afghanistan. But it left an open question. What happens when the desire to have the evacuation mission continue

National Security & Defense

Democratic Senator Urges Biden to Scrap ‘Arbitrary Deadlines’ and ‘Complete This Mission’

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Paratroopers assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conduct security during evacuations from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 25, 2021. (U.S. Central Command/Handout via Reuters)

Following the terrorist attack on Thursday that killed 10 U.S. Marines, two soldiers, and one Navy medic in Kabul, Democratic senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire said she still urges President Biden to “evacuate every American, as well as our partners who stood side-by-side with our troops to combat terrorism.”

Hassan’s full statement:

My heart breaks for the loved ones of the U.S. service members and others who were murdered in this horrific terror attack. I continue to urge the administration to do everything in its power to secure the airport and evacuate every American, as well as our partners who stood side-by-side with our troops to combat terrorism. We must complete this mission, regardless of any arbitrary deadlines.

Earlier this week, Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s other Democratic senator, urged Biden to abandon the August 31 deadline:

A University of New Hampshire poll this week showed that President Biden’s approval rating has cratered in the Granite State: 

Senator Hassan is up for reelection next year, but Senator Shaheen doesn’t face voters again until 2026.

National Security & Defense

Insanity: The U.S. Reportedly Handed a List of Americans to the Taliban

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People with Taliban flags gather to welcome a man who was released from prison in Afghanistan upon his arrival at the Friendship Gate crossing point at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan, August 16, 2021. (Saeed Ali Achakzai/Reuters)

General Kenneth McKenzie told the press today that Americans “share a common purpose,” and counterterrorism intel, with the Taliban — a military group we were bombing only a few weeks ago. Politico now reports that U.S. officials had handed the Taliban a list of “American citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies” so that they could be granted entry into the U.S.-controlled airport at Kabul.

Andrew McCarthy has already hit Joe Biden for his capitulation to the Islamic group earlier this week. Still, it’s worth noting that we just apparently provided this useful list of names to the same Taliban that says there’s no proof that bin Laden had anything to do with 9/11, that threatened Americans only days ago, and that is reportedly already hunting down and executing Afghans who partnered with the U.S. If Biden holds to his August 31 deadline and leaves hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans behind, the Taliban now have a list to work off of. “Basically, they just put all those Afghans on a kill list,” an anonymous defense official said. “It’s just appalling and shocking and makes you feel unclean.”

National Security & Defense

Was It ‘Inevitable’ That We’d Hand the Taliban a Kill List?

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Taliban forces patrol a street in Herat, Afghanistan, August 14, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

When people — by which I mean a supermajority of Americans — say that they oppose the disastrous manner in which the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been handled, this, from Politico, is the sort of thing they’re talking about:

U.S. officials in Kabul gave the Taliban a list of names of American citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies to grant entry into the militant-controlled outer perimeter of the city’s airport, a choice that’s prompted outrage behind the scenes from lawmakers and military officials.

The move, detailed to POLITICO by three U.S. and congressional officials, was designed to expedite the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan as chaos erupted in Afghanistan’s capital city last week after the Taliban seized control of the country. It also came as the Biden administration has been relying on the Taliban for security outside the airport.

But the decision to provide specific names to the Taliban, which has a history of brutally murdering Afghans who collaborated with the U.S. and other coalition forces during the conflict, has angered lawmakers and military officials.

“Basically, they just put all those Afghans on a kill list,” said one defense official, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic. “It’s just appalling and shocking and makes you feel unclean.”

This was not “inevitable.” It is not “inextricable from the war.” And it has nothing whatsoever to do with the broader question of whether or not we should keep a presence there. It’s an astonishing mistake, made after a series of other astonishing mistakes, by a deeply incompetent man.

Nor was this “part of the plan all along,” as Joe Biden made clear in his July 8th press conference:

Q    Mr. President — do you trust the Taliban, Mr. President?

Q    Is a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, it is not.

Q    Why?

THE PRESIDENT:  Because you — the Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped — as well-equipped as any army in the world — and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban.  It is not inevitable.

Q    Do you trust the Taliban, Mr. President?  Do you trust the Taliban, sir?

THE PRESIDENT:  You — is that a serious question?

Q    It is absolutely a serious question.  Do you trust the Taliban?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I do not.

Q    Do you trust handing over the country to the Taliban?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I do not trust the Taliban.

That Taliban, which Joe Biden does not trust, now has the names “of American citizens, green card holders and Afghan allies.” Not because that’s what one is obliged to do when one withdraws from a war zone, but because this administration, by getting the order of things completely and utterly wrong, has totally cocked it up.

Law & the Courts

January 6 Narratives Collide With Reality

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Supporters of then President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., January 6, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Two leaked conclusions by unnamed law-enforcement sources last week about the January 6 Capitol riot should be read together. Item One:

The FBI has found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result, according to four current and former law enforcement officials. Though federal officials have arrested more than 570 alleged participants, the FBI at this point believes the violence was not centrally coordinated by far-right groups or prominent supporters of then-President Donald Trump. . . . “Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases,” said a former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. “Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages.” . . .

FBI investigators did find that cells of protesters, including followers of the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys groups, had aimed to break into the Capitol. But they found no evidence that the groups had serious plans about what to do if they made it inside. . . . So far prosecutors have steered clear of more serious, politically-loaded charges that the sources said had been initially discussed by prosecutors, such as seditious conspiracy or racketeering.

Item Two:

The Capitol Police officer who fatally shot Ashli Babbitt outside a door of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot has been formally exonerated after an internal investigation, according to a department memo. . . . The officer . . . opened fire on Babbitt as she and a mob of other Trump supporters tried to forcefully enter the Capitol. Video of the shooting showed Babbitt in front of a crowd of rioters trying to get through a door leading to where members of Congress were being evacuated on the House side of the building . . .

In a statement released Monday, the Capitol Police said the officer’s actions were consistent with the officer’s training and department policy, which states that deadly force may be used “only when the officer reasonably believes that action is in the defense of human life, including the officer’s own life, or in the defense of any person in immediate danger of serious physical injury.” “The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved Members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters who forced their way into the U.S. Capitol and to the House Chamber where Members and staff were steps away,” the statement added.

These are inconvenient conclusions for Democrats trying to sell January 6 as something comparable to a civil war or the September 11 attacks, and for people on the MAGA right trying to paint Babbitt as a martyr who was executed by the Capitol Police for no good reason. Yes, there are political actors deserving of blame, foremost among them Donald Trump. And there were bad actors who saw the January 6 protests as an opportunity for some organized criminal activity. It is right that many of the rioters are being prosecuted, and there ought to be more investigation of why the Capitol was not better secured both before and during the riot. But the reality is that both the riot and the response by law enforcement were more chaotic, unruly, and incompetent than premeditated or malicious.

Biden Can’t Blame Trump Anymore

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Left: President Joe Biden speaks about the administration’s coronavirus response at the White House, March 2, 2021. Right: Then-president Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Henderson, Nev., September 13, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque, Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

In the early days of any administration, there is a tendency for new presidents to blame their predecessors for problems they claim to have inherited — and there is a window during which the public is willing to accept such arguments. But for President Biden, the window on blaming Donald Trump has now closed. As Americans process the tragic news of double-digit deaths of U.S. service members in twin terrorist attacks in the midst of a botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, it will be hard for Biden to dodge responsibility.

When Biden took office, COVID-19 was two weeks past its winter peak,

National Security & Defense

Biden, Tuesday: Terrorism Is a Bigger Threat in Other Countries Besides Afghanistan

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President Joe Biden reacts as he speaks about Hurricane Henri and the evacuation of Afghanistan in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, August 22, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

President Biden, Tuesday: “We run effective counterterrorism operations around the world where we know terrorism is more of a threat than it is today in Afghanistan, without any permanent military presence on the ground.”

In light of today’s terrorist attacks, and the severe casualties among American servicemen . . . was it wise for President Biden to characterize Afghanistan as a country where the threat of terrorism was not that severe, compared to other countries around the world?