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?

Law & the Courts

Democrats Take Direct Aim at Judicial Independence and the Rule of Law in Voting and Election Cases

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) holds a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., August 25, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Undermining the legitimacy and judicial independence of the Supreme Court has become an increasingly open preoccupation of Democratic politicians and progressive pundits (see e.g., here, here, here, here, and here). In the latest installment, Democrats this Tuesday passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The bill, aptly named for the deceased congressman who publicly refused to accept the legitimacy of the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections and voted to object to certifying the results of the 2004 presidential election, includes a new effort to restrict the Supreme Court’s power under Marbury v. Madison to “say what the law is,” as Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in Marbury.

As Greg Sargent of the Washington Post writes with approval:

The act . . . seeks to limit the court’s ability to uphold measures making voting harder and to strike down measures making voting easier. It requires the court, in hearing cases on election rules, to put greater weight on the “public’s interest in expanding access to the right to the vote.” And it bars the court from overturning lower court rulings that expand voting access unless it determines that this places burdens on the public interest that “substantially outweigh” its interest in expanding that voting access . . . such reforms would make it harder for the court to do things like, say, overturn lower court decisions that strike down restrictive voting rules, or invalidate the ballots of voters (ones who voted in accordance with lower court decisions) after an election.

In short, when the Supreme Court concludes that a lower court has misread the law, its power to reverse the lower court depends on which direction it ruled in. A decision that barred votes from being cast or counted can be reversed, but a decision that allowed illegal votes to be cast or counted must stand even if it violates the law. In addition to being a pro–illegal-votes rule, this is antidemocratic: When a lower court improperly strikes down a democratically enacted voting law passed by the legislature and governor elected by a majority of a state’s people, the law would put a thumb on the scales against the Court reinstating the law. Sargent sees this as a plus. So does Mark Joseph Stern of Slate, who celebrates how the bill would limit the Court, but only in one direction:

H.R. 4 is a frontal assault on every component of the Supreme Court’s voting rights shadow docket. It repeals the Purcell principle, forbidding both SCOTUS and the federal appeals courts from citing proximity to an election as an excuse to reinstate a voting restriction. (There are minor exceptions for extreme circumstances on the eve of Election Day.) It bars the justices from considering “a state’s generalized interest in enforcing its enacted laws” when deciding whether to block or permit an election regulation. And it instead compels the court to “give substantial weight to the public’s interest in expanding access to the right to vote.” Under H.R. 4, the Supreme Court may not set aside a lower court decision expanding voting access unless it finds that burdens on the state “substantially outweigh” the “public’s interest in expanding access to the ballot. The court may not set aside the district court’s factual findings unless they’re “clearly erroneous.” . . . Finally, H.R. 4 preempts the Supreme Court from issuing a future decision nullifying valid ballots, as Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch tried to do in South Carolina. The justices “shall not order relief,” the bill states, that abridges the right to vote of “any citizen who has acted in reliance” on a lower court order that suspended voting restrictions.

Barring the Court from considering the interests of a state in laws passed through the democratic process may be many things, but pro-democracy, it is not. H.R. 4 allows a rogue lower court to simply invent new rules to stuff the ballot box with flagrantly illegal votes, and the Supreme Court is barred from doing anything about it. Ian Millhiser in Vox is even more ecstatic, enthusing that the bill “provides for preclearance on steroids” and “would light Brnovich on fire” (the Supreme Court decision, not the Attorney General of Arizona).

In the real world, the Court has actually been irresponsibly timid in preventing, say, state courts from throwing out the work of state legislatures in voting and election laws, despite the explicit constitutional role that state legislatures play in federal elections. Democrats know that, for now, they do not have the votes to pass H.R. 4 through the Senate. The point of this is to send a message to the Supreme Court: Don’t get in the way of illegal votes or antidemocratic rulings, or we might take more-extreme measures against you.

Health Care

Will Newsom Cause the Unmasking of Kids?

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I hate to be this cynical, but there is nothing in the data to justify masking young kids. Which means that there is no change in the pandemic, or the campaign to vaccinate the public, that can cause school districts or the CDC to relent.

But I can’t help but think that an adverse result for Gavin Newsom in the California recall process would immediately send a signal through the nervous system of the ruling class, and inspire a wave of relaxations on mask mandates for kids.

World

How to Help When Everything Is Going Wrong

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Crowds of people show their documents to U.S. troops outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan August 26, 2021. (Stringer/Reuters)

I heard from my reader who’s a former defense contractor and still trying to get as many of his company’s Afghan former employees out. I had asked him if there were ways that I, or the public in general, could help.

He told me Samaritan’s Purse is a good start. “The refugee flows to the north and east will likely be substantial.  Samaritan’s Purse will end up performing a role in that regard either with an emergency field hospital or a food/water/shelter program, probably both. It costs a pile of money to set up and run field operations like that. Some responses are partially funded by USAID or United Nations, but not all of it.”

He reminded me that Samaritan’s Purse cannot respond unless invited or requested by a national government or a major institution such as the United Nations, the U.S. Agency for International Development, etc.

“Franklin Graham foretold, generally, this would happen,” my reader told me. “He believed the world was becoming a more dangerous place and that the work of SP would need to increase. His son Edward was a Ranger and commanded Special Forces in Afghanistan. Last year, I think with Edward’s urging, the decision was made to expand the Disaster Assistance Response Team. Edward wanted to double our capacity to respond to 4 international crises at once. SP purchased a second cargo plane and is having it made fit for purpose. Looks like just in time.”

Politics & Policy

When Are Daily Briefings Appropriate?

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President Joe Biden leaves after attending a news conference in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., August 22, 2021. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Despite the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences rescinding Andrew Cuomo’s Emmy award, we won’t forget the inordinate praise he received for his daily COVID briefings. They awarded him an Emmy for “his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world.”

A wistful retrospective from the Associated Press in June 2020 titled “100 Days of Cuomo” described the New York governor’s briefings as “appointment viewing around the nation.” It said that Cuomo “provided glimpses of his humanity through 110 briefings with reporters.” It praised his performances in glowing terms: “On any given day, he would fret over the safety of his 88-year-old mother, expound on the grittiness of New Yorkers, get misty-eyed over the gift of a single mask, defend charges he locked down the state too late, chide young people for not wearing masks, or grieve over daily death tolls that climbed as high as 800.”

An October 2020 Forbes article used Cuomo’s example as a lesson in crisis communication. “The communication lessons that Cuomo learned . . . will help any leader or aspiring leader navigate teams through a crisis,” it said. It praised the consistency of his briefings, which were at 11:30 a.m. every day. It also praised his effort in crafting the presentations and his authentic emotion.

That was for the pandemic, a crisis that, as Charlie pointed out today, politicians have limited ability to do anything about. The virus is invisible, it came from another country, it requires voluntary action throughout the whole population, and above all, its spread is governed by biology, not politics. Further, the virus is and has always been a respiratory illness with a certain set of symptoms and a certain set of available policy responses (masks, social distancing, travel restrictions, and now vaccines). Things change, and we have learned new information over the course of the pandemic, but the basic facts of the virus do not change day-to-day.

Contrast this with the situation in Afghanistan, where things change by the hour. Reporters on the ground are constantly giving updates, which unavoidably might contradict each other, and Americans are left wondering what is really going on. It’s a situation involving a discrete policy decision made by President Biden, the decision to withdraw by August 31, and it involves the military, over which Biden is commander in chief. American lives are at risk at the hands of a number of different terrorist groups, and Afghan allies are under threat of near-certain execution by the Taliban.

In the eleven days since the fall of Kabul on August 15, President Biden has spoken directly to the American people about Afghanistan four times (on August 16, August 20, August 22, and August 24). Only two of those were solely about Afghanistan (his August 22 remarks were also about tropical storm Henri, and his August 24 remarks were also about his domestic agenda).

If there were ever a time that regular, daily briefings from the chief executive would be welcome, it would be now. If they were appropriate for Cuomo to inform and comfort an unsure people about the pandemic, they are certainly appropriate for Biden now. Biden is directly responsible for this withdrawal, and the American people deserve to hear straight from him on its status.

National Security & Defense

The United States Has a Duty to Its Green-Card Holders, Too

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A plane carrying people who have been evacuated from Afghanistan is seen on the tarmac at Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle airport after Taliban insurgents entered Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, near Paris, France, August 18, 2021. (Sarah Meyssonnier/Reuters)

Jim noted this morning that:

You’ve probably noticed the administration keeps specifying “American citizens” in its numbers. This is a way to not include U.S. green-card holders, who are authorized to live and work in the U.S. permanently. Green-card holders can apply for citizenship after three to five years and enjoy almost all the benefits of American citizenship except voting. According to the website of the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan, when it comes to the evacuation, citizens and lawful permanent residents are equal priorities: “The Department of State’s efforts are devoted to evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA). Our first priority is U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) of the United States, along with eligible family members.”

Lawful American permanent residents are going to get left behind.

I want to add a little information to this, because, having been a green-card holder myself, I’m aware that Americans aren’t always sure what the category denotes.

Back in 2017, in the course of criticizing the scope of President Trump’s first immigration order, I argued that, irrespective of the measure’s underlying merits or legality, the green-card holders it included should never, ever have been covered by such a thing. Why not? Well, because while “green-card holders are not citizens”:

they’re not bog-standard visa-holders either. Unlike, say, H1B-carriers, permanent residents are expected to live in America by default, and are in fact penalized if they don’t. By law and by expectation, this country is their home; their base; the ground in which their roots are planted. Because of this, permanent residents are able to purchase, own, and carry firearms; they are required to register with the selective service; and they are treated for tax and welfare purposes as are U.S. citizens. They can’t vote or serve on a jury, but, other than, they effectively enjoy all the liberties that natural born Americans enjoy. When they re-enter the country, the agent says “Welcome Home,” which is a big change from their visa days. They are not Americans, and they mustn’t pretend to be. But they are as close as one can get without being one.

As I wrote at the time, I had no objection to having to wait to become an American. But I also didn’t want people to think I was just here on vacation:

As I’m fond of telling people who ask me “why” I “care about American politics,” I am not yet an American, but I do live here. My son and wife are here. I pay my mortgage here. I own a car here. I have a job here. And the same thing is true for green card holders from all over the world. If I were to be denied re-entry, I would be separated from my whole world.

Especially given that, unlike new applicants, green-card holders do not present a novel security challenge:

The process of obtaining a green card is tough. It took me a year from application to acceptance, and the vast majority of that time was taken up by the FBI. In addition to furnishing the government with my residential history, my employment history, and my criminal record (which is clean), I had to provide details of any clubs or societies to which I have ever belonged, to promise I wasn’t a terrorist or a Nazi or a communist, and to submit my fingerprints and a government-taken photograph on top. Which is to say: I had to go through the wringer before my card was issued.

When one obtains a green card, one is obtaining permission to live in the United States for the rest of one’s life. It’s not a visa. It’s not a temporary permission slip. It’s permanent residency. And, as Americans, we have a duty to bring the people we have welcomed to America forever back to where they belong: home.

National Security & Defense

Biden’s Bagram Bug-Out in July Made Today’s Kabul Catastrophe Inevitable

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Parked vehicles are seen in Bagram U.S. air base, after American troops vacated it, in Parwan province, Afghanistan, July 5, 2021. (Mohammad Ismail/Reuters)

The catastrophe in Kabul is playing out before our eyes today in the predictably grisly way. But the Biden administration set events in motion in July. When our forces bugged out of Bagram Air Base, it signaled that President Biden had decided to ensure that events on the ground — no matter how bad they got — could not reverse his determination to pull out.

From my column earlier this week:

The hub of the U.S. military enterprise in Afghanistan since 2002 has been sprawling Bagram air base. In early July, the Biden administration had the dwindling U.S. forces evacuate Bagram in the dead of night, giving no notice to the Afghan security forces to whom the base should have been formally transferred — thus enabling looters to scavenge the compound for hours before the Afghan forces could get there. There was a bounty for the looters because, in their haste to bug out, the U.S. forces had left millions of dollars of materiel behind, including thousands of vehicles and rounds of ammunition (alarming but just a fraction of the U.S. arsenal now in Taliban hands). Rather than alert the Afghan troops with whom they had partnered for years, the U.S. forces cut the electricity as they abandoned the compound — all the signal the looters needed to descend. The message was clear: The Afghan forces would not be capable of holding and exploiting Bagram. Biden had resigned himself to an inevitable Taliban takeover.

The Bagram bug-out was not merely a shameful episode; it was for Biden a tactical retreat. The Taliban were surging, the Afghan military forces were collapsing, and Biden knew that U.S. commanders wanted to keep a force presence and continue supporting the Afghan government. If there were to be any thought of reversing course, maintaining control of Bagram would have been essential. By not just slashing the in-country troop presence but surrendering Bagram — and in a consciously chaotic and sneaky way that deprived the Afghan forces an orderly transfer at a time when they were under siege and steadily losing their U.S.-dependent capacity to function — the Biden administration guaranteed that there would be no turning back from the decision to pull out. No matter how bad things got, U.S. commanders would have no military options. Besides having surrendered their fortress, they would be down to just 600 troops — not even enough to secure the airport in Kabul and U.S. diplomatic personnel in a real crisis.

 

Culture

Whatever Happened to the Seasons?

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(Mizina/Getty Images)

Judging from advertisements and social-media posts, this week is the inauguration of 2021’s Pumpkin-Spice Season. Never mind that actual pumpkins — you know, the ones that grow out of the ground — most likely won’t be ripening for another month or two.

In many parts of the country, the outdoor temperature remains steady at about 92 degrees Fahrenheit, and the leaves remain stubbornly green and attached to the trees. Why are so many of us rushing to experience autumn, and all of the good things we love about it, when it’s still so clearly summer?

If you happened to be one of the people enjoying pumpkin-spice something on Tuesday, don’t feel like I’m attacking you. There’s nothing wrong with anticipating the arrival of fall, nor is it reproach-worthy to indulge in pumpkin or apple-cinnamon muffins this week or even during the middle of March.

But this out-of-season disease seems to afflict all of us in many forms and at many times each year, even in parts of the country with little seasonal variation in the weather. It’s especially evident when it comes to how we market goods for each particular season.

Take grocery-store candy, for example. Earlier this year, I couldn’t help but notice that stores had begun setting out chocolate Easter eggs the weekend before Ash Wednesday. Lent hadn’t even begun, and already we were supposed to be celebrating the Resurrection.

Along with the pumpkins and cinnamon-stick decor popping up everywhere during this, the final week of August, I’ve noticed conspicuous bins of Halloween candy appearing at local stores. If I bought my Halloween candy today, I have no doubt that the kids who arrive trick-or-treating to my door will be disappointed by the strange texture the candy has assumed during the two-month interim.

By the time Halloween finally rolls around, meanwhile, stores will be gearing up for Christmas, as will local radio stations. At the start of November, the pumpkin-spice latte will be abandoned for the peppermint mocha. It is one of the greatest disappointments each year when, after all the joyful anticipation of Advent, Christmas finally arrives — only for the carols to vanish from the airwaves and the candy on the shelves to be hustled off to the discount section in favor of Valentine’s Day chocolates. But there are twelve whole days of Christmas to celebrate. Why not make the most of them?

Perhaps most unfortunate is the pathetically short shrift we give to the quiet glory of Thanksgiving, which, rather than being celebrated as a holiday in its own right, is treated as pre-Christmas: trampled in our mad rush to tinsel and holly and drowned out by “Jingle Bells.”

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes from the perspective of one demon instructing another in how to tempt his human charge, describing the way we human beings live in time and experience its seasons:

The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, [God] (being a hedonist at heart) has made change pleasurable to them. . . . But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.

As it’s said in Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” For everything, even the most mundane pleasures and joys, there is a season — and each possesses so much more of its beauty when we celebrate it in its time.

Sports

Trevor Bauer, Morals, and Violence

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Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Trevor Bauer pitches against the San Francisco Giants in the first inning at Dodger Stadium. Jun 28, 2021. (Richard Mackson/USA TODAY Sports)

As I have written on other occasions, Domestic violence presents a knotty problem for professional-sports leagues. On the one hand, there are two legitimate arguments for why the leagues should not get involved in policing domestic violence. One, domestic violence has nothing to do with the game on the field. It is not like performance-enhancing drugs or gambling, which a sports league cannot disentangle from the integrity of the game itself. Two, policing violent crime is a job for the government — it is, as much as anything, why we have a government. Sports leagues are particularly outside of their competence in wading into the many issues of credibility, intimidation, motivation, proportion, pattern, trauma, and sexuality that can arise in domestic-violence cases. If a friend came to you and said she was being battered by her husband, the last thing you would say is, “I bet the NFL would know what to do in this situation.”

On the other hand, there are three arguments for why the leagues should engage the problem. One, from a cold-blooded business perspective, image matters; fans do not like rooting for wife-beaters. How much of a real dynamic this is, and how much a rationalization, is debatable; fans seem to have no difficulty rooting for winning athletes who treat women like garbage in other ways, such as cheating on their wives, frequenting prostitutes, spreading sexually transmitted diseases, or being deadbeat absentee fathers for their illegitimate children. None of those things are likely to get you fired or banned from a job as a baseball player. Two, leaving things for the government assumes that the government is doing an adequate job, and that is the nub of the issue: We simply do not have a lot of faith that the institutions that are designed for the problem are dealing with it. It would be easier for the leagues to justify saying “the cops and the courts will handle this” if we saw a parade of wealthy young men serving serious jail time for domestic assaults. And three, professional athletes are by nature physically strong, physically aggressive young men. As such, they can present a particular risk of serious, dangerous violence against women.

For now, the leagues have chosen to step in to pick up the slack where the government leaves off. And that means they have to fumble their way toward a process that is fair to the victims and fair to the accused. Which is why it is especially sticky for Major League Baseball to handle the case of Trevor Bauer, the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner who signed a $40-million-a-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers entering this season. Bauer is an easy target. He is, in public, an obnoxious jerk even by the standards of hypercompetitive athletes. He has also expressed right-wing political opinions, for which reason the “woke” sportswriting crowd has been salivating for years at any prospect of getting him drummed out of the league. Neither of those things should result in him being more or less accountable for his actions than anybody else.

In that light, Pete Turner has a thought-provoking look at the unusual and sordid context of the sexual-assault charge against Bauer, and what it says about when letting your “freak flag” fly should not be allowed:

The thing about Bauer’s case is, while shocking, at its core, it’s consensual abuse. . . . Granted, his case is revolting, and like the incidents above it has: choking, slapping, violence, degradation, fear, intimidation . . . no need to continue. However grotesque, violence, choking, rough sex are her stated goals. Texts exist between the two sober adults negotiating the limits and desires of their temporary violent sexual encounter . . . This past week in court, while considering a permanent extension to the restraining order against Bauer, Judge Gould-Saltman said the “injuries as shown in the photographs are terrible” but added, “If she set limits and he exceeded them, this case would’ve been clear. But she set limits without considering all the consequences, and respondent did not exceed limits that the petitioner set.” . . . If you’ve successfully negotiated your abuse — in texts between Bauer and the alleged victim, she noted that she is a “Pro” (in the BDSM world) — then returned for more abuse, where is the line between satisfied and victim? . . . Did you ever think a female judge in Calif would say, out loud in court? “When a woman says ‘no,’ she should be believed,” Gould-Saltman said. “So what about when she says ‘yes’?”

Now, one obvious response is that some things are too immoral and dangerous to be tolerated, whether or not they are consensual. Call me a moralizer, but I have some sympathy for that view here. That is, after all, why prostitution should remain illegal — it is not just inherently exploitative, it also facilitates sex slavery. In fact, there is a fair case to be made that our casual-sex culture as a whole produces an unacceptably high volume of sexual assaults that would not otherwise happen. Most of the people pushing hardest against Bauer, however, tend to be the same people who have the biggest objections to sexual morality of any kind. But if the evidence truly shows that Trevor Bauer did nothing without his victim’s consent (and in individual criminal cases, the evidence is not always what it first appears), maybe we need to think harder about the idea that consent is the only standard we apply to morality in the bedroom.

Politics & Policy

Ezra Klein’s Best Defense of Joe Biden: ‘It Could Be Worse!’

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President Joe Biden makes a statement from the White House about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, August 24, 2021. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

In response to Ezra Klein Tries to Wonk-Absolve Joe Biden of Responsibility for Afghanistan

Charlie aptly skewers Ezra Klein’s latest folly: His attempt to “wonk-absolve” President Biden of the chaos and incompetence of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, for which he is directly responsible, while imagining that coronavirus, a problem that has been stubbornly immune to wonkery, would go away if only the right person (he thought Elizabeth Warren) were in charge.

I want to narrow in on a particularly fallacious aspect of Klein’s defense of Biden. He writes that:

A better withdrawal was possible — and our stingy, chaotic visa process was unforgivable — but so was a worse one.

Got that? Apparently, the fact that something could have been worse means that what we are actually seeing is okay. Try this excuse in your own life.

“Hey, I’m sorry I forgot to feed your pets while I was housesitting for you, but at least I didn’t burn down your house!”

“Yes, teacher, it’s true that I didn’t do my homework. But it’s also true that I didn’t murder your family.”

“I should definitely have remembered to pay that bill. But let’s take consolation in the fact that I didn’t set off a nuclear bomb in our neighborhood.”

Optimism is one thing. So is nuance. But looking at a bad situation that could, and should, have been avoided and defending it on the basis that it could have been worse — things can always be worse — is not analysis. It’s spin.

World

Explosions at Kabul Airport

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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)

We are still waiting on details of the bombings at the airport in Kabul, which was already chaotic due to the Biden administration’s ill-advised, belated, incompetent, inadequate evacuation effort. The Pentagon is scrambling for information and has postponed a briefing that was supposed to begin at 10:30 a.m. It already looks like a complex, well-coordinated operation, probably with suicide bombers, and clearly targeting Americans.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind.

First, as I’ve written a number of times, and Rich and I have repeatedly discussed on the podcast, once the Taliban were sure we were leaving, they made a judgment to make it look like they were chasing us out of the country in as humiliating a manner as possible. That has been going on for more than two years — as the Taliban stepped up their attacks on the U.S.-backed Afghan government, and the U.S. government responded by continuing to draw down our forces.

The initial reporting theorizes that ISIS, a break-off faction and rival of al-Qaeda, which is present in Afghanistan, may be responsible for today’s bombings (it is early evening in Afghanistan). ISIS could be to blame, for reasons I’ll come to. But this may well be a Taliban operation, carried out with deniability but quite intentionally.

The Taliban is controlling Kabul and the airport perimeter through the Haqqani organization, a significant ally of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. With President Biden doubling down on our shameful bug-out by next Tuesday — leaving even though we know Americans will be left behind — the Taliban has every incentive to double down on its objective to project the image of a surrendering superpower skulking out of Afghanistan with its tail between its legs. The Haqqani are very capable when it comes to attacks of this kind, and they have the best intelligence and maneuverability in the environs of the airport.

It is a tenet of jihadist lore that the anti-Soviet mujahideen, out of which al-Qaeda and the Taliban emerged, ground the Red Army into dust. They believe the jihad — not President Reagan, not the U.S. defense build-up, not the CIA’s arming of the mujahideen, not the internal rot of the U.S.S.R. — is responsible for the collapse of the Soviet empire. The Soviet military retreat from Afghanistan is a defining moment for them. For years, it drove terrorist recruitment, terrorist fundraising, and the ascendance of terrorist organizations as a global security threat.

It also convinced Osama bin Laden that the jihad should be targeted against the United States. Humiliating the Soviets persuaded the terrorists that defeating the other superpower was not only possible but inevitable. For the jihadists, the American surrender is a rerun of the Soviet surrender of 1989. It will be as iconic for them as 9/11.

Second, the Taliban are still consolidating their power in Afghanistan. They have common interests with ISIS in driving the U.S. out of the country in abased surrender. But ISIS also has designs on taking over Afghanistan itself. ISIS views its former al-Qaeda mothership, their Haqqani ally, and the Taliban as rivals.

Note: These are rivalries about power. These are all Sunni sharia-supremacist factions, and there is no daylight between them ideologically. The historical pattern in these situations is that these groups unite against the common enemy – namely, the United States, Israel, and the West — but when there is no enemy to unify against, they brutalize each other. That phase could be getting underway in Afghanistan.

Whichever jihadists are behind this attack, which may not be over, we can already conclude that the attack is working. A different president might reconsider his course due to this provocation. Biden’s impulse will be to accelerate the withdrawal. I take no joy in saying that, but it’s where we’re at.

Health Care

Ezra Klein Tries to Wonk-Absolve Joe Biden of Responsibility for Afghanistan

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Evacuees await their departure at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 23, 2021. (Gunnery Sergeant Melissa Marnell/USMC)

In the New York Times, Ezra Klein proposes that the United States’ disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan was not really Joe Biden’s fault — and, moreover, that the people who disagree (which is pretty much everyone in America, it seems) are “pretending”:

In 2005, my colleagues at The American Prospect, Sam Rosenfeld and Matt Yglesias, wrote an essay I think about often. It was called “The Incompetence Dodge,” and it argued that American policymakers and pundits routinely try to rescue the reputation of bad ideas by attributing their failure to poor execution. At the time, they were writing about the liberal hawks who were blaming the catastrophe of the Iraq war on the Bush administration’s maladministration rather than rethinking the enterprise in its totality. But the same dynamic suffuses the recriminations over the Afghanistan withdrawal.

To state the obvious: There was no good way to lose Afghanistan to the Taliban. A better withdrawal was possible — and our stingy, chaotic visa process was unforgivable — but so was a worse one. Either way, there was no hope of an end to the war that didn’t reveal our decades of folly, no matter how deeply America’s belief in its own enduring innocence demanded one. That is the reckoning that lies beneath events that are still unfolding, and much of the cable news conversation is a frenzied, bipartisan effort to avoid it.

To drive home the point, Klein adds:

Focusing on the execution of the withdrawal is giving virtually everyone who insisted we could remake Afghanistan the opportunity to obscure their failures by pretending to believe in the possibility of a graceful departure.

It is especially interesting to see Klein taking this tack, given that he is typically of the view that what the United States needs more than anything else is to put a competent technocrat into the White House. During the early months of COVID-19, for example, Klein fantasized publicly about how much better things would be if Elizabeth Warren were president. “Taking [sic] to @ewarren right now,” Klein tweeted in April of last year, “is a strange, slightly melancholy experience: like glimpsing an alternate reality where political leadership is proportionate to the crisis we’re facing.” In that tweet, Klein linked to a piece in which he praised Warren for being “the first presidential candidate to release a plan for combating coronavirus” and concluded that “Warren’s penchant for planning stands in particularly stark contrast to this administration, which still has not released a clear coronavirus plan.” A few days later, after Warren had dropped out of the race, Klein tweeted dolefully, “I miss Elizabeth Warren.”

As usual, Klein has got things backwards. While “winning” the war in Afghanistan was, indeed, a pipe dream, it would not, in fact, have been especially hard for the United States to get out in a more orderly fashion. The Biden administration could probably not have prevented the Taliban from taking over again (although, if this was always inevitable, Joe Biden shouldn’t have said exactly the opposite). But it could quite obviously have ensured that before our troops were drawn down we had got every American, permanent resident, and eligible Afghan out; we had removed both our weaponry and any sensitive information; and we had consulted properly with our allies. That part — which, to use Klein’s term, is not “the war” but “the execution of the withdrawal” — was within Joe Biden’s control. And he completely and utterly screwed it up. For a technocrat such as Klein to try to obfuscate this is nothing short of astonishing.

COVID-19, by contrast, was — and is — a far, far more difficult challenge. Frequent readers of mine will have noticed that, with the exception of Andrew Cuomo, who engaged in a disgraceful cover-up, I have not been especially critical of any of our leaders’ responses to this pandemic. Why not? Well, because, outside of a handful of areas (the development, production, and dissemination of vaccines, for example) this is simply not an area in which one can establish easy or obvious links between the inputs (“planning,” say) and the outputs (say, infection rates, or deaths). The state with the highest number of  COVID-19 deaths, New York, is also the state that had the governor whom everyone praised to the hilt, while Florida, which has a governor whom critics have rechristened “DeathSantis,” is 26th. As I write, Texas and Hawaii are producing virtually identical per capita infection charts, despite having adopted dramatically different policies. Seven months into the presidency that was going to save us — and despite his having said on July 4 of this year that “we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus” — President Joe Biden is still presiding over a crisis. Israel, which did everything “right” from the very start, is now seeing a brutal surge. And the rest of the world? Well, if you can find me a coherent cause–effect pattern there, I’ll buy you an ice cream. The idea that Elizabeth Warren could have fixed all this simply by running around and sounding officious is absurd.

The truth is that Klein is doing here what he always does, which is dressing up a partisan propaganda effort in pseudo-scientific garb. What Joe Biden needs more than anything right now is for the American people to conclude that the real issue here is not his own stunning incompetence, but the wisdom of the war in Afghanistan per se. And so, right on cue, Klein pops up with the goods. There’s a word for that sort of journalist; but it’s sure as hell not “wonk.”

Impromptus

Mothers and Others

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Lake Michigan, at Grand Haven, Mich. (Jay Nordlinger)

My Impromptus today begins with a fightin’ Irishman — the leprechaun mascot of Notre Dame. Is he too stereotypical for modern America? It moves on to Mitch McConnell, Rodrigo Duterte, J. D. Vance, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and other topics. Try it here.

Maybe I’ll publish two letters today, one of them tart, the other of them lovely and transcendent. Okay, get ready for the tart.

In my Impromptus of Tuesday, I wrote of driving past a billboard outside Grand Rapids, Mich. The billboard advertises the delivery of pot right to your home. I said, out loud in my car, “Go jump in a lake.” (I have Bowdlerized heavily.) A reader writes,

I lived near Pensacola as a teenager and when my mother drove by a strip club that was part of our route to the doctor, she lost her temper once and yelled “AHHHHH” with her middle finger outstretched in front of my startled face pointing at the club.

There’s a mom. A bit more from the same letter:

Myself, I drive home from St. Louis into Illinois and when I see the sign advertising pre-abortion screening with copy about “living your best life” and a woman modeling as if she were at a night club, I turn into you.

Also in Tuesday’s column, I wrote of Grand Haven, Mich., which is a community on Lake Michigan, about 30 miles from Grand Rapids. A lady writes,

Dear Jay,

I love Grand Haven, too. Growing up in the D.C. area, but originally from West Michigan Dutch stock, I vacationed with my family there in the summers, in one of those stack-built cottages tucked back in the dunes — affordable for large families in the ’60s. In September, we are returning to Grand Haven, to Lake Forest Cemetery behind the dunes, to bury my mother, a Grand Haven native. She is the last of her generation, children of a Dutch immigrant father (arrived in 1904) and a Grand Rapids native to whom Grand Haven was the end of the world . . .

The end of the world until street cars were extended. Our correspondent includes a picture — a small black-and-white — of “my beautiful mother,” sitting on the beach. Beautiful indeed.

And thanks to one and all.

National Security & Defense

A ‘Lifeline for the American People’ Sidelined amid Kabul Evacuation

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U.S. Air Force loadmasters and pilots assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron load passengers aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 24, 2021. (U.S. Air Force/Master Sergeant Donald R. Allen/Handout via Reuters)

As the frenetic U.S. effort to evacuate Americans and allied Afghans from Kabul approaches the August 31 deadline set by President Biden, a former senior State Department official is alleging that the Biden administration moved to disband a unit that could’ve played a significant role in the evacuation effort.

That team, called Operational Medicine, OpMed for short, is housed within State’s Bureau of Medical Services. Until Vanity Fair published a deep dive on the group this spring, it was virtually unknown to the public. “You tend to see the missions [in the press]. You just don’t see the unit,” one State Department official told Vanity Fair. Some of those headline-grabbing operations: evacuating 800 Americans from Wuhan at the outset of the COVID pandemic, assisting in the repatriation of nearly 100,000 more, and delivering nearly 200,000 vaccine doses to U.S. diplomats around the world this year.

Accordingly, in April, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called OpMed “a lifeline for the Department of State and the American people.” But Blinken’s team has worked to disband this low-profile, yet vastly effective expeditionary group, and OpMed has not played a direct role in evacuating the Afghan capital, according to Mary Kissel, who served as senior adviser to former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

“The Biden administration and some of the career medical team at the State Department just decided they didn’t like this group and they wanted them gone, and so they advised the management at the State Department to put it on ice, and that’s what they have done,” said Kissel, executive vice president and senior policy advisor at Stephens Inc., on the John Batchelor Show. She added that most of the unit’s 64 members are looking for new jobs; as waves of terror unfurl in Afghanistan, and the Biden administration struggles to repatriate Americans, most of OpMed’s members have been ordered to stay put in Washington, though a few were sent to assist refugee-processing efforts in Doha, Qatar.

OpMed was formed in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, dead. It consolidates resources from across the State Department and exercises capabilities not otherwise tapped by the Bureau of Medical Services, OpMed’s larger parent bureau. There are differences between the groups: OpMed members, for instance, have military training, while ordinary medical staffers do not. This has caused some friction: A swashbuckling approach to jetting into global hot spots to extricate Americans from danger has not endeared OpMed to some medical-bureau officials who hold a stodgier view of diplomacy.

Pompeo attempted to elevate OpMed, granting the unit its own special bureau with a designated senior official. That initiative, which reassembled the group into the new Contingency and Crisis Response Bureau (CCR), would have granted OpMed officials the ability to make their own contingency plans and draw upon resources from across government. But Blinken’s team killed that effort, dissolving the CCR, as the Washington Free Beacon reported. “The Biden administration made the determination that they’re going to just throw it all away,” Pompeo told NR’s Jack Crowe last week.

After dissolving the effort to upgrade OpMed, Blinken’s team “has reconsolidated those capabilities into the kind of traditional medical staff who can’t deal, have no operational training or contingency planning experience. They obviously can’t handle it,” Kissel said. And State Department leadership has piled on additional layers of bureaucracy, hampering OpMed’s ability to operate.

A State Department spokesperson sidestepped a question about whether Blinken’s team is disbanding OpMed, only saying there is no plan to disband the broader Bureau of Medical Services.

The spokesperson also ignored National Review’s question about OpMed’s role in the evacuation of Kabul, though the official did praise the unit’s work throughout the COVID pandemic.

“The Department is proud of the critical role all of our worldwide MED personnel including those in OPMED and our colleagues across bureaus have played in crisis response, especially through the pandemic. We continue to maintain the organizational posture that has served us so well through this pandemic,” wrote the spokesperson in an emailed message.

The evacuation of Kabul is quickly running up against Biden’s self-imposed deadline for full U.S. withdrawal, though Blinken says the Taliban has agreed to allow Americans and allied Afghans to leave the country after August 31. Blinken also told reporters that 1,500 U.S. citizens remain, about 500 of whom he said definitely want to leave Afghanistan.

Amid the mass evacuation of Americans from Taliban terror, it seems OpMed’s detractors have finally gotten their way, sidelining over 60 heroes during a crisis that calls for their unique abilities.

World

Blinken: There Could Be Americans in Afghanistan Who ‘Have Not Yet Identified Themselves to Us’

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken opened his press conference on Wednesday by speaking for about ten minutes about the number of Americans in Afghanistan who “want to leave” the country.

Blinken said the State Department is in direct contact with 500 Americans trying to evacuate, and the department is also sorting through another list of 1,000 contacts to figure out how many are actually U.S. citizens and how many citizens want to evacuate. Some, he said, may want to stay with family in Afghanistan.

Blinken also acknowledged the State Department could be unaware of some Americans trapped in Afghanistan. He noted that the U.S. government doesn’t track the movement of Americans abroad and added: “There could be other Americans in Afghanistan who never enrolled with the embassy, who ignored public evacuation notices, and have not yet identified themselves to us.”

Politics & Policy

Andrew Cuomo Losing His Emmy Is Good News for All

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo arrives to depart in his helicopter after announcing his resignation, in New York City, N.Y., August 10, 2021. (Caitlin Ochs/Reuters)

Andrew Cuomo, the disgraced former governor of New York, is an Emmy-award-winning politician no more.

The International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences released a statement yesterday announcing that “in light of the New York attorney general’s report, and Andrew Cuomo’s subsequent resignation as governor, it is rescinding his special 2020 International Emmy Award.” Just last November, when Cuomo was still hailed as the white knight of New York battling COVID-19, he received this international Emmy award “in recognition of his leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic and his masterful use of television to inform and calm people around the world.” At the time, the news was baffling and a source of amusement to many. It is hardly customary for Emmys to be awarded to individuals unaffiliated with show business, let alone to a politician. Despite being praised by some, Cuomo’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic had been much criticized by others. For instance, his decision to prohibit nursing homes from denying admission to COVID patients and from requiring hospitalized patients to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission has been tied to New York’s disproportionately high death rates. Unsurprisingly, many conservatives resented the idea of Cuomo getting any award at all.

There is no telling how devasted Cuomo is by the loss of his Emmy. But one would not expect Cuomo, who is currently under investigation by the Albany County sheriff’s office as per a criminal complaint filed against him, to have much of a reaction — after all, this may be the least of his troubles, which he well deserves — and not just for his COVID response. The attorney general’s report to which International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences statement refers was an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by Cuomo. It stated that Cuomo harassed multiple female state employees “by engaging in unwanted groping, kissing, and hugging, and making inappropriate comments.”

The report confirms the substantiated sexual-harassment allegations against Cuomo that started surfacing last December. At that time, Democrats who had previously heralded the former governor as the saintly symbol of resistance against the wrath of COVID-19 and gushingly lauded his disastrous response to the pandemic began to turn against him. Conservatives, on the other hand, have been gloating on the sidelines and reveling in the irony of these developments. Beyond smug amusement, however, conservatives might be glad to see Cuomo’s former liberal supporters retract their support and praise for him — not only for the irony of it all, but also for what it might indicate about the survival of common values in an increasingly polarized America. Double standards are abundant in modern politics, as commentators prioritize the advancing of their respective narratives over objectivity in evaluation of political events.

It is reassuring to know that the Left and the Right are still able to come together in unified condemnation of a man who had abused his position  and the power that came with it to take advantage of women, who, by virtue of professional subordination, were placed in a particularly vulnerable position. Power and political affiliation, as it turns out, are not impenetrable shields behind which the guilty can hide.

Of course, conservatives may hope that other fundamentally important principles, such as free speech, can also be defended with equal ardor on both sides. But for now, this is good news.

National Security & Defense

‘Leave No American Behind’

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We’re up with an editorial on the August 31 deadline in Kabul:

If Americans are still in Afghanistan next Tuesday, Biden will be faced with a choice — either abandon our countrymen or ignore the deadline that he, under Taliban pressure, has now doubled down on.

If he leaves Americans behind enemy lines, it will be one of the most shameful derelictions of duty by a commander in chief in our nation’s history, a putrid act that will stain Biden’s memory forever. It was Biden’s recklessness and incompetence that stranded these Americans in Taliban-controlled territory, and it would be his cravenness and incompetence that would leave them there.

Politics & Policy

Why Newsom Is in Trouble

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Peter Hamby has a good piece on the California recall (language warning):

These days, the messiah of All Politics Is Local here is Alex Villanueva, the Los Angeles County sheriff. “Nothing will change your political viewpoint more than a transient taking a shit in your front yard,” he told me. Villanueva is a Democrat, elected in 2018, but he’s since gone full-blown Law and Order, appearing on Fox News to belittle “woke privileged Democrats” who want a more “compassionate” approach to criminals and homeless people. “The Democratic Party of 2021 has smoked some powerful stuff that’s made them blind to what’s happening on the ground,” he said. “Democrats think party loyalty alone is going to help them survive? They’re fooling themselves. This has nothing to do with politics. It’s not a Trump thing, it’s not a Republican thing. Normal people just want normal stuff they should expect from a functioning government and civil society.”

That frustration is on full display in Venice. After an outcry from westside residents fed up with the homelessness, crime, fires, and rampant drug use all around them, Mike Bonin, the progressive city councilman representing parts of Venice and the westside, finally put into motion a plan to clean up the tent encampments along the Venice boardwalk this summer. But it might be too late to save his political career. Bonin is facing a recall effort of his own over his slow response to the homelessness crisis, supported by plenty of local Democrats who listen to NPR, practice yoga, and drink green smoothies.

While I was on the phone with him, Villanueva texted me a photo from an I-10 underpass near Banc of California stadium showing a quarter mile-long pile of trash. “There’s garbage everywhere, and no one wants to clean it up,” he said. “The city isn’t doing shit.” Crime is also up throughout the state. Even former California Senator Barbara Boxer was attacked and mugged in broad daylight in a “nice” part of Oakland last month. “How could you do this to a grandmother!” she cried.

National Security & Defense

What, Specifically, Does ‘Want to Leave Afghanistan’ Mean, and Who Qualifies?

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken holds a joint news conference in London on May 3, 2021. (Chris J. Ratcliffe/Pool via Reuters)

Antony Blinken said this afternoon that “the specific estimated number of Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave can go up as people respond to our outreach for the first time, and can go down when we reach Americans we thought were in Afghanistan but have already left.”

Keen-eyed readers will note that “want to leave” language again.

In a tweet reporting Blinken’s address, Idrees Ali of Reuters used the phrase “actively seeking” in describing the “less than 1,000 American citizens” who are yet to be evacuated.

In order to understand what’s going on here, we need a hard definition of what phrases such as “want to leave” and “actively seeking” mean — along with a detailed estimate of how many Americans in Afghanistan qualify for that description and how many do not. Blinken noted that the “number of Americans in Afghanistan who want to leave can go up as people respond to our outreach for the first time.” Does this mean that anyone who hasn’t been able to contact the U.S. government is being counted as a “doesn’t want to leave”? And, if so, how many of those people does Blinken believe there are left?

The press corps, which has been quite effective during this debacle, should make it a priority to find answers to these questions. Without them, the numbers are meaningless.

Education

Propagandists Who Masquerade as Scholars

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Owing to the intense politicization of American higher education, we now find many faculty members whose “research” amounts to nothing more than statist polemics.

In this essay, Phil Magness looks at this nasty phenomenon, focusing in particular on Lawrence Glickman’s book Free Enterprise: An American History.

As Magness demonstrates, the book is an unscholarly hatchet job that’s meant to discredit opponents of government economic control.

He writes, “In Glickman’s telling, that attack amounted to a ‘one-sided war’ upon the New Deal by business interests and other defenders of ‘free enterprise,’ all rooted in the aforementioned myth-making. While he offers a moderately interesting etymology of the phrase and its diverse political claimants dating back to the nineteenth century, the core of his myth-making narrative suffers deeply from the epistemic distortions of the book’s ideological hostility to its subject.”

Rather than trying to elucidate the arguments that proponents of free enterprise made against the New Deal — and subsequent government incursions into the functioning of the economy — this book would have readers condemn them as the products of a terrible conspiracy against good governance. It’s MSNBC stuff dressed up as academic research.

Read the whole thing.

Larry Elder Is Not on the ‘Far Right’

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Larry Elder at the 2016 FreedomFest in Las Vegas, Nev. (Gage Skidmore)

One wonders if there’s any center-right position that isn’t considered “far right” by political journalists. In a recent New York Times hit piece on California Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder, you will read those words on three occasions.

An example:

Mr. Elder’s political positions speak loudly and clearly to the state’s small but vocal strain of far-right conservatism. He supports school vouchers and prioritizes jobs over environmental and climate considerations. He opposes abortion. He is vaccinated against the coronavirus because of a rare blood condition but opposes vaccine and mask “mandates.”

I’m unsure why the word mandate deserves quotation marks here. Does reporter