Magazine September 30, 2019, Issue

The Week

(Roman Genn)

• It looks like Bolton did manage to start a war before he left.

• It’s an axiom among Trump advisers that everyone is just “one tweet away,” and John Bolton’s tweet came. The former national security adviser says he wasn’t fired, but resigned, and we trust our friend and sometime colleague implicitly. The larger issue is that Bolton, a hawk with an unsparingly realistic view of the world, wasn’t a good match for a president who sees every rogue as a potential negotiating partner. Since Bolton is always unvarnished in his advice — whereas others in the administration are careful to tiptoe around the president — it was likely that this was going to end in tears. The proximate cause was the intense internal debate about negotiations with the Taliban, strenuously opposed by Bolton. When negotiations blew up spectacularly (see editorial), he was vindicated. But he used up the last ounce of his capital with the president during the fight, and Trump also probably didn’t like seeing stories about Bolton being vindicated in the press. His departure is a loss to the administration, and the country. 

• In this septuagenarian presidential field, Joe Biden (76) polls better than Elizabeth Warren (70), Bernie Sanders (78), and President Trump (73). This despite a string of bloopers, the latest being a made-up story of going into harm’s way in Afghanistan as vice president to award the Silver Star to a heroic Navy captain (in fact, Biden went to Afghanistan when he was a senator, he was never endangered, the hero in question was Army, and Obama gave him a Medal of Honor). Such self-dramatizing verbal pile-ups have long been a feature of Bidenspeak: His 1988 presidential bid ended when he was caught plagiarizing the memoirs of Neil Kinnock (ordinary men steal words, but it takes a special talent to steal a life story). By now, people accept it as part of Biden’s package, even of his charm: We misspeak, he misspeaks, he is a normal guy like us. A campaign built on winnability, though, will disintegrate the moment the candidate falters. Warren and Sanders combined already command as much support as Biden alone. Watch your step, Joe.

• Democratic presidential aspirants Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris think the federal government should confiscate the most common rifle in America, the AR-15. O’Rourke and Harris don’t call their policy “confiscation,” of course. Rather, they use a euphemism, “mandatory buyback,” that doesn’t make sense even on its own terms. One cannot buy “back” something that one did not sell in the first instance, and one cannot “buy” something absent the sort of market that the word “mandatory” makes it clear would not exist under the terms of the plan. Orwell’s observation that “political language” is “designed to make lies sound truthful” seems applicable here. Linguistics aside, the chances that any such policy would be followed seem slim to nonexistent. Americans have never taken to prohibition, and even in blue states such as New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut they continue to resist far more modest measures than the one that O’Rourke and Harris propose. Ultimately, their overreach may help to rule out other gun-control measures that have a better chance of passage. For years, critics of the right to keep and bear arms have asked why Americans oppose a national registry, or other federal licensing schemes, given that “nobody is coming for your guns.” That argument is now dead. 

• Senator Elizabeth Warren vows to immediately prohibit “fracking” everywhere in the United States if elected president. Even if it were obvious that a President Warren should have the power to rule by decree like some knock-off Charles de Gaulle, the policy would be destructive on every front: bad for the economy, bad for American energy independence, and even bad for the environment. The technological marvel known as “fracking” (which involves much more than the hydraulic fracturing that gives the process its nickname) is one of the greatest things the U.S. economy has going for it. It supports millions of good jobs and fortifies local economies in places far removed from the rich coastal metros, blessing industries from manufacturing to transportation with abundant energy. It has helped make the United States the largest petroleum producer in the world and a major exporter of energy, which gives Washington a stronger hand in dealing with troublesome oil-rich despots. And the great abundance of U.S. production has brought down natural-gas prices to the point at which it makes good business sense for electric utilities to switch from relatively high-emission coal to relatively clean natural gas — which is why the United States has been able to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions. It is sadly typical of Senator Warren’s campaign that she should try to ban a success story.

• Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont socialist seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, is an abortion enthusiast, and like most abortion enthusiasts he takes an implicitly eugenic view of the question, a fact he confessed during a campaign event at which he discussed the desirability of wider access to abortion, “especially in poor countries.” Here, Senator Sanders continues a long line of progressive declaration, from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s “three generations of imbeciles is enough,” to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s complaint that policies that “promote birth only among poor people” will lead to “growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of,” to Ron Weddington’s advice to Bill Clinton: “You can start immediately to eliminate the barely educated, unhealthy, and poor segment of our country.” Eugenicists always have a special fear of the teeming populations of Asia and Africa and an instinctive loathing of the large families common in some non-Western societies: The people behind Planned Parenthood could not wait to start planning Africans’ families for them. The “population bomb” was global warming before global warming — and a useful apocalypse is very difficult to give up — but, in reality, the world’s population is expected to begin declining in only a couple of decades, peaking probably around 2040 or 2050. The challenge of the future probably will be population decline, not “overpopulation.”

• Meanwhile, Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe tweeted, “White supremacists oppose abortion because they fear it’ll reduce the number of white infants. Never underestimate the way these issues and agendas are linked.” The Washington Post later published an op-ed by Marissa Brostoff purporting to explain “how white nationalists aligned themselves with the antiabortion movement.” Mounting this case required ignoring certain facts: for one, that a disproportionate number of lives lost to abortion post-Roe have been black; for another, that some prominent white nationalists, such as Richard Spencer, believe this is a good thing and have explicitly rejected the pro-life movement for that twisted reason. Brostoff sought to bolster her argument by smearing conservative author J. D. Vance, suggesting, baselessly, that he believes whites are committing “race suicide” through abortion. (Vance had given a speech in which he said it was a worrisome sign for a nation’s health when its people don’t have enough children to replace themselves.) The Post retracted that particular falsehood about Vance, but the larger canard will linger.

• Debra Katz, an attorney for Christine Blasey Ford, who last fall accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, asserted that Justice Kavanaugh “will always” — and especially if he “takes a scalpel” to Roe v. Wade — “have an asterisk next to his name” because of Ford’s allegations, and suggested that this was part of what motivated Ford. “I believe that Christine’s testimony brought about more good than the harm misogynist Republicans caused by allowing Kavanaugh on the Court,” Katz added. It was always clear that support for Roe was what lay behind the fervor against Kavanaugh, but it’s nice to see it admitted.

• Mark Sanford, the former governor and congressman, became the latest Republican challenger to President Trump for the 2020 nomination. Sanford is running against Trump for doing nothing about the rising cost of entitlements and the growing national debt. He is most famous, however, for holding a press conference as governor in which he admitted to having an affair: a fact that Trump wasted no time bringing up. Republican voters seem heavily inclined to back the incumbent adulterer. But some Republicans don’t want to give them a choice: Four states so far have canceled primaries. If letting the voters have their say doesn’t sway Trump to restrain his allies, you’d think not looking fearful would.

• Vice President Pence, on a recent trip to Ireland that included meetings in the capital, Dublin, stayed at a golf resort in Doonbeg. Evidently no one on Pence’s staff looked at a map, for Dublin is on the Irish Sea, while Doonbeg is on the North Atlantic — that is, they are on opposite sides of the island nation, 181 miles apart. Someone had looked up who owned the resort, however, for it was the Trump International Golf Links & Hotel. Pence’s fidelity to Trump, which is so perfect as to be almost artistic, would naturally cause him to bed down in a Trump property. There is nothing illegal about this, it is only servile and unseemly. Next trip, try the American embassy.

• Q. What has more wind power than a hurricane? A. President Trump and the media, when they sing their love-to-hate-you duet. Early in Hurricane Dorian’s rampage, Trump said it was likely to cross the Florida peninsula and hit Alabama; a weather map he showed in an Oval Office briefing had just such an extension drawn onto its projected path with a Sharpie. Trump denied doodling the addition in; the press hammered him; he hammered back, railing against fake news; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined the fray, explaining that Dorian could have grazed the Cotton State. Both parties enjoyed the confrontation, because they believed it was flattering (each is a truth-teller!) and popular. But suppose the public tires of it? Genius, said Goethe, is knowing when to stop. If you don’t know this, ultimately the audience stops you.

• Dorian, a Category 5 storm that terrorized the Caribbean and much of the southeastern United States, caused more than $7 billion in damage, according to professional estimates. It particularly devastated the Bahamas, leaving more than 70,000 homeless and killing 50 more on the battered isles. The United States Coast Guard, as of this writing, has rescued 295 people trapped amid the rubble and has facilitated the delivery of food and supplies to those affected by the storm. Its courage in recovering those lost and delivering desperately needed aid is yet another ringing endorsement of those who serve.

• Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz slammed former FBI director James Comey’s keeping and then leaking of memoranda summarizing his conversations with President Trump. Weirdly, Comey reacted with a celebratory tweet, seeking an apology from critics because the IG did not find he had leaked classified information to the media. In fact, the IG report concluded he did leak a small amount of classified information to his lawyers without authorization — potentially a felony, but if so one that the Justice Department declined to prosecute. In a gross impropriety, moreover, Comey leaked unclassified but sensitive law-enforcement information to the New York Times regarding a conversation in which Trump beseeched (but did not order) him to drop the investigation of just-fired national-security adviser Michael Flynn. Comey conceded he was scheming to force the appointment of a special counsel. It was a political operation, and one more successful than anything Jerry Nadler has started.

• William Dudley was until 2018 the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, traditionally considered the second most important monetary policymaker in the country. People therefore sat up when he wrote an op-ed for Bloomberg Opinion arguing that the Fed should not “bail out an administration that keeps making bad choices on trade policy” and should “consider” whether President Trump’s defeat in 2020 would be good for the economy. The Fed issued a statement rejecting the advice, as well it should have. If the institution wants operational independence, it can’t be a self-conscious political actor. 

• Tariffs have raised prices for American consumers, and both raised prices on inputs and drawn forth taxes on exports for American businesses. Uncertainty over trade seems to be weakening the economy, too. What’s on the other side of the ledger? A revamped NAFTA has some good features — which were already scheduled to be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump scrapped when he took office — but is languishing in Congress. South Korea increased how many cars it would allow U.S. companies to sell, but our carmakers hadn’t hit the old limit. Talks with China remain stalled. Trump explicitly rejects the best option for dealing with China, which is using our trade relations with other countries against it: They’re cheating us too, he says, and could face additional tariffs of their own. Trade wars aren’t easy to win, and Trump is making them harder.

• The Trump administration has proposed two major changes to federal vehicle regulations. First, it seeks to abandon its predecessor’s plan to nearly double cars’ fuel economy by 2025, to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon; instead, the standard would stop rising after 2020, at 37 miles per gallon. And second, the administration wants to eliminate a waiver that gives California the right to create state-level emission rules that are stricter than federal law. Obama’s fuel standards are a looming boondoggle, and Trump is right to discard them. And California’s waiver, despite its pretensions to federalism, gives the state an unwarranted and outsized sway over federal policy: Unlike any other state, California can threaten to create a separate regulatory regime if federal policy doesn’t track its prerogatives. We wish Congress would step in, reform this dysfunctional system, and spell out exactly what the nation’s environmental standards should be rather than leaving it to the executive branch. But given the laws we have, the Trump administration’s move is the right one until legislative action catches up. 

• On the day of the Republican primary in Wisconsin in 2016, Breitbart ran a piece according to which incumbent congressman Paul Ryan had “been brought to his knees, bowing down before the almighty populist movement” personified by Paul Nehlen, his anti-Semitic opponent. After Ryan in fact beat him, 84 to 16 percent, Leif Olson, a lawyer, took to Facebook to mock Nehlen’s populist supporters. In response to the suggestion that Ryan was a “neo-con,” Olson, his sarcasm on full blast, replied, “No he’s not. Neo-cons are all Upper East Side Zionists who don’t golf on Saturday if you know what I mean.” Days after Olson started working for the Labor Department, Bloomberg Law reporter Ben Penn dug up the post. A department spokeswoman replied that Olson had resigned, and Penn wrote it up as a news story, “anti-Semitism” in the headline. Critics both left and right tore into the reporter’s journalistic malpractice — or was it journalistic malice? — and into the department’s bureaucratic cowardice. The following week, Labor gave Olson his job back. Neither Penn nor Bloomberg Law has apologized.

• The generally dismal conditions of New York City’s public schools are redeemed by special programs for the gifted and talented. But now a committee has recommended eliminating them — because the racial numbers don’t come out right. This committee would condemn good students to inappropriately slow teaching, in service of the illusory benefits of mixing outstanding students with everyone else. Mayor Bill de Blasio has given the plan a half-hearted endorsement but stopped short of enacting it. For educational reasons as well as ones of simple fairness, we hope he will remain unconvinced.

• The College Board has dropped its controversial calculation, for each student who takes the SAT, of an “adversity score” quantifying how much of a positive or negative factor the applicant’s neighborhood and school have been. While in principle there’s nothing wrong with giving a break to students who have overcome tough backgrounds, the attempt to reduce someone’s lifetime total of “adversity” to a single number was ill considered from the start. The adversity score has been replaced by a “dashboard” of information about a student, dubbed a “Landscape,” for some reason. To be sure, different colleges place different emphases on raw talent, diversity, geographical origin, family background, and so forth, and this new tool may reasonably help them to do so — as long as they do not grant or withhold preference on the basis of race, a practice that is contrary to our nation’s most deeply held principles.

• Protests in Hong Kong began on the last day of March and escalated during the summer. They are full-blown democracy protests. Their original cause was an extradition bill, which would have sent Hong Kong people accused of a crime to the mainland. In the face of protests, the bill was suspended. Now it has been withdrawn. Perhaps authorities in Beijing wanted minimal trouble in the run-up to their big anniversary celebration on October 1. (The dictatorship will mark its 70th anniversary.) Perhaps they wanted to split the democracy movement between moderate elements and bolder ones. Most in the movement are pressing for more, including the direct election of those who govern them. The United States should express its solidarity with the democracy movement. We should warn that the Communists will pay a price if they move on Hong Kong as they did against student protesters in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago. We have diplomatic, economic, and other levers. For example, the 2020 Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place in Beijing. Should they? Meanwhile, Hong Kong people are providing a stirring example of courage and democratic values.

• President Trump is calling for the readmission of Russia to the G-7, making it the G-8 again. It was kicked out in 2014 for its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Crimea “was sort of taken away from President Obama,” Trump said. In reality, it was taken away from Ukraine. “President Obama was not happy that this happened, because it was embarrassing to him, right?” said Trump. He further said, “President Obama was pure and simply outsmarted. They took Crimea during his term. . . . It could have been stopped with the right whatever. It could have been stopped, but President Obama was unable to stop it, and it’s too bad.” President Obama’s mistakes toward Russia are no reason to reward Vladimir Putin now. Responsibility for war and annexation in Ukraine lies entirely with the Kremlin, which has done nothing to earn readmission to an essentially democratic group. 

• Amazon rain-forest fires set off a social-media firestorm as actors, soccer players, and the president of France warned that “the lungs which produce 20 percent of our planet’s oxygen” (Macron’s words) were burning up. That’s wrong — or, as climate scientist Dan Nepstad put it to Forbes, “bullsh**”: The Amazon uses just as much oxygen in respiration as it produces. How about the notion propagated by the international press that, owing to climate change, the rain forest was burning at record rates? Also wrong: The number of forest fires in Brazil peaked in the mid 2000s, though the rate is rising as farmers clear land and the Jair Bolsonaro administration rolls back environmental protections. We obviously don’t want to see the Amazon disappear, but it’d be nice if the overheated rhetoric did.

• The New York Times unveiled the “1619 Project,” an ongoing series of essays and articles that “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.” In August 1619 a privateer, the White Lion, sold “20 and odd” slaves it had taken off a Portuguese ship to the Jamestown colony — a momentous occasion indeed. But 1619 saw another: July 30 to August 4 marked the first meeting of Jamestown’s general assembly — elected burgesses, discussing and voting on their own laws, the seed of self-rule in the new world. For many years self-rule upheld American slavery: European countries freed colonial slaves by imperial fiat. But self-rule ultimately produced the 13th Amendment, the 14th and 15th Amendments, and, later still, the civil-rights acts. It is vital to tell the story of slavery and race; equally vital to tell the story of how we correct our mistakes and maintain our liberty.

• America’s most powerful retailer — a company founded and built in the heart of rural, red America — is easing itself out of the firearms business. Walmart had previously stopped selling handguns and so-called “assault weapons,” and in the aftermath of the horrific mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart it announced it would no longer sell handgun ammunition or rifle ammunition for AR-style rifles. Its CEO also publicly urged Congress to strengthen background checks and consider a new assault-weapons ban. These rifles are legal and almost never used in crimes. Many of the company’s customers are justified in feeling slapped.

• Like many conflicts, the Great Chicken Sandwich War of 2019 was ultimately decided by logistics. Popeyes unleashed a surprise Twitter attack on Chick-fil-A, which was initially shaken but rallied its troops; in the end, Popeyes had to surrender after its supply lines had failed and it had run out of chicken. Like everything else these days, the struggle acquired a political dimension: The Left felt compelled to root for Popeyes, partly because of its urban, multicultural vibe and partly because of the conservatism of Chick-fil-A’s founder, which in turn earned Chick-fil-A support from the right, while Vox declared both sides to be evil because fast-food workers are underpaid. Whatever one’s view of it, the result was that for a few weeks, Americans ate a lot mor chikin. Hey, wait, you don’t think that was the idea all along, do you? 

• Around 150 parents and pupils protested outside a high school in Sussex, England, on account of the school’s enforced “gender neutral” uniforms, which were introduced in an attempt to make transgender pupils feel more comfortable. Female students demanded the right to wear skirts instead of being forced to wear pants. Piers Morgan, the presenter of Good Morning Britain and an old friend of Donald Trump who attended the school when he was a teen, tweeted his support for the protest. Morgan wrote that the school’s policy was just one more episode in the “gender-neutral craze.” Teenage activism in response to transgender policies is also happening across the United States. For example, in March, 60 students walked out of Abraham Lincoln High School in Iowa after the school permitted biologically male students to use the female restroom. Perhaps it is no coincidence that in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” the person who brings the miserable sham to an end is a child.

• A quarter century ago, scientists reported the possible existence of a “gay gene,” which would supposedly cause those who had it to develop homosexual tendencies. The evidence was always shaky; yet its existence was widely believed, among scientists and others, at least in part because it supported acceptance of homosexuality as “natural,” even ordained by God. Now the results of an exhaustive survey have shown that there is no single “gay gene” but rather a large cluster of genes, each of which correlates with a very mild increase in homosexual inclinations. The question of how genetics interacts with sexuality will continue to be explored by scientists, and sexual orientation might also have non-genetic biological causes. But this research should at least put an end to the drawing of questionable political or religious implications from a hazy and outdated finding in genetics. 

• Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker’s top art critic, got his start in the mid 1970s as part of the graffiti-as-art movement. In decades since, he has championed an approach to art history that “values the refreshment of traditions by way of radical departures from them.” Now he has reached the stage at which he is radically departing from himself. In 2015 Schjeldahl published a piece called “Hating Renoir Is Just a Phase,” but now he has published a self-rebuttal called “Renoir’s Problem Nudes.” He asks, “Who doesn’t have a problem with Pierre-Auguste Renoir?”; quotes a scholar’s assertion that “in contemporary discourse,” Renoir has “come to stand for ‘sexist male artist’”; and declares that “the tactility of the later nudes, with brushstrokes like roving fingers, unsettles any kind of gaze, including the male.” Strange to say, the tactility of the brushstrokes has never been our first thought when viewing a Renoir nude. His lush, sensuous style will delight anyone who views it through an aesthetic lens instead of a political one. But that’s Impressionism for you; if you’re looking for ideologically correct, non-inappropriately-arousing painting, go find a Social Realist nude.

• Margaret Atwood has rolled out The Testaments, the sequel to her 1985 feminist touchstone The Handmaid’s Tale. The books imagine an evangelical theocracy, the Republic of Gilead, in which shawled and bonneted women serve the sexual and other needs of men. These fictional dystopias coincided with a very real mini-dystopia of many years’ duration, in which women, most of them bare-midriffed and underage, served the sexual needs of men. These were the playthings of the late Jeffrey Epstein, who promised them a sort of empowerment — money, modeling contracts, contact with the rich and powerful — but turned them instead into a stable of prostitutes. A golden rule for the zealous of all persuasions is to be ever watchful: The enemy can appear in unexpected forms, sometimes not unlike yourself.

• Stand-up comics play an increasingly important cultural role: As more and more topics become unbroachable, at least in those precincts dominated by progressive thinking, comedians such as Ricky Gervais, Louis C.K., and Aziz Ansari dare to mock the received wisdom of the bien pensant class. Often their fondness for needling PC platitudes gets them stamped as “conservative” even though you would think that finding humor in, say, the story of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner need not be a partisan matter. Based on the political thoughts he reveals in his standup routines, Dave Chappelle is unlikely ever to vote for a conservative, but his latest special on Netflix, Sticks & Stones, has nevertheless incensed many of the wokerati for straying into unauthorized territory. Chappelle mercilessly roasts Jussie Smollett for his hate-crime hoax (black Americans, he says, “understood that this n***** was clearly lying”), defends his colleagues Kevin Hart and Louis C.K. after their unwelcome bouts with cancel culture, and ridicules transsexuals by pointing out how silly he would appear if he insisted he was Chinese. Sticks & Stones isn’t Chappelle’s finest work, but he uses comedy to tell the truth as he sees it. May he continue to speak his mind and inspire others to do the same. Chappelle proves that the dreaded “backlash” that seems to petrify so many in the world of culture can simply be ignored.

• Plácido Domingo is one of the greatest singers of our time, and the most important person in opera. Now he has been hit by multiple accusations of wrongful sexual conduct — aggressive, coercive, abusive conduct. Generally speaking, opinion is divided between Americans and Europeans. Some U.S. organizations have canceled appearances by Domingo; Europeans are saying that Americans are overreacting, Puritans as usual. Domingo has been called a victim — the latest — of the Me Too movement. The testimony of these many women, however, suggests that he is more victimizer than victim.

• In the singles finals of the U.S. Open, which she won for the first time 20 years ago, six-time champion Serena Williams lost to Bianca Andreescu, 19, half her age. A Canadian and the daughter of Romanian immigrants, Andreescu has been training, like Williams, since early childhood. Students of the sport remark on the breakout star’s versatility of play. “I love Bianca,” Williams said. “I think she’s a great girl, but I think this is the worst match I’ve played all tournament.” Williams gave birth to a daughter in 2017 and, since returning to competition, has scrapped and had her moments but also struggled. At home and on the court, the next generation has arrived and is getting to know her. Bring it on. We look forward to a rematch between her and the new girl on the block.

• Star quarterback at Stanford, No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, and first in the hearts of fans with one eye on their fantasy-football teams of the future, Andrew Luck signed with Indianapolis in 2012, succeeding the illustrious Peyton Manning. Over the next seven seasons, Luck threw 171 touchdown passes for the Colts, who went 53–33 in games he started. He played in four Pro Bowls. He was on track, his growing catalogue of injuries — to two ribs, his throwing shoulder, his kidney, and a calf and ankle, on top of a concussion — perhaps par for the course? He spent all of 2017 and much of 2018 on the injured-reserve list. “I’m in pain,” he said last month at a news conference, explaining his decision to retire at age 29. “I’ve been in this cycle for four years.” He forgoes the $58 million that was left on his contract and possibly hundreds of millions he would have earned had he extended his career. Weighing fame and fortune against health, or the opportunity to heal, he chose the latter.

• Robert Mugabe was a leader in the movement to topple the last white-run governments in Africa. His country was the former Rhodesia; his revolutionary faction was backed by Communist China. An arrangement brokered by Britain, the former colonial power, brought Mugabe to office in 1980. He is credited with bringing widespread secondary education to his country, renamed “Zimbabwe,” but his primary interest was power. He moved first to eliminate rival revolutionary Joshua Nkomo. The remaining white inhabitants were next to feel the whip; in the late 1990s, when ordinary Zimbabweans began stirring, Mugabe unleashed his enforcers, trained by North Korea, on them. Even as he enriched himself, he immiserated his people: In the new millennium, unemployment has topped 80 percent, and inflation has reached 230 million percent. In 2017, as Mugabe groomed his second wife to succeed him, the military revolted, replacing him with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is every bit as tyrannical. Dead at 95, R.I.P.

• There are four Koch brothers but only two who regularly make headlines — Charles and David, the latter of whom died in August after long endurance of cancer. The people who hated him in life hated him all the more intensely in death: The comedian Bill Maher disgraced himself, declaring: “I hope the end was painful.” (Maher, in his usual lightly informed fashion, went on to insist that billionaires such as the Kochs should buy up Amazonian acreage in order to protect it, blissfully ignorant that programs using property rights to secure environmental protection have long been a focus of the Koch-supported public-policy network.) The New York Times sniffed at Koch’s “right-wing” activism, but it was a specific kind of right-wingery: Koch put his billions to work for drug legalization, criminal-justice reform, gay rights, and abortion, among other causes. He also put vast sums of money to work for good works ranging from cancer research to the New York City Ballet, which dances in a theater into which Koch injected $100 million for renovations. His commitment to libertarian principle was sincere, and his generosity — both to like-minded organizations and to worthy enterprises unrelated to his political goals — was astounding. The hatred poured out on him at his death says a great deal more about the state of the progressive soul than it does about David Koch. Dead at 79, R.I.P.

No Free Pass for the Taliban

The best thing to be said for the planned Camp David meeting with the Taliban is that it didn’t happen.

President Trump has a weakness for the grand gesture. Hosting the leadership of a vicious terrorist insurgency that aided and abetted September 11 and is trying to kill Americans as we speak certainly would have been . . . memorable.

The invitation was part of the effort to bring to a conclusion negotiations that were close to a deal, although not one favorable to the interests of the United States.

The deal envisioned the U.S. reducing its current troop presence of roughly 15,000 down to zero about 16 months from now, at which point any commitments the Taliban have made would be worthless. We understand the frustration with a war that has lasted 18 years, but it would be foolish to end the “endless war,” or our part of it, with the Taliban once again in position to threaten Kabul and harbor international terrorists who mean us harm. We’ve had recent experience with a president following through on campaign pledge to end a war no matter what — and, of course, Barack Obama had to order troops back to Iraq when ISIS took over a swathe of the country.

If and when the Afghan civil war ends, it will involve a settlement with the Taliban and the Afghan government. This was not even close to that. The Taliban agreed to begin talking only to the Afghan government, and the deal didn’t even entail a ceasefire. There were reportedly conditions in an annex that the Taliban would be very unlikely to meet, giving us the leeway to put the brakes on our withdrawal. But if we don’t want to get out — and we shouldn’t — why ink a deal that creates even more doubt about our staying power and legitimizes the Taliban?

Indeed, the negotiations had only emboldened the Taliban. President Trump cited a Taliban suicide car-bomb attack that had killed a U.S. soldier as the reason for pulling the plug on the Camp David meeting. As in his Hanoi summit with Kim Jong-il, Trump at least is willing to short-circuit his own theatrical diplomacy when it clearly makes no sense.

Now we should put aside the negotiations and work on a sustainable strategy for preserving a presence in Afghanistan. We should be looking to minimize our troop commitment within reason (the number the administration has talked about, 8,600, is probably workable), although what will likely be a renewed Taliban offensive should forestall any immediate drawdown. Unlike other terrorist hot spots, landlocked Afghanistan is not accessible to us from surrounding countries. A presence there doesn’t just stabilize the Afghan government, it gives us the option of launching operations into Pakistan (we never would have killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan if we hadn’t been in Afghanistan).

The fear that the Afghan war will be “endless” shouldn’t push us into ending it badly.

NR Editors includes members of the editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

In This Issue



The Gun Issue

Books, Arts & Manners


Most Popular

Year Zero

Every cultural revolution starts at year zero, whether explicitly or implicitly. The French Revolution recalibrated the calendar to begin anew, and the genocidal Pol Pot declared his own Cambodian revolutionary ascension as the beginning of time. Somewhere after May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd, while ... Read More

Year Zero

Every cultural revolution starts at year zero, whether explicitly or implicitly. The French Revolution recalibrated the calendar to begin anew, and the genocidal Pol Pot declared his own Cambodian revolutionary ascension as the beginning of time. Somewhere after May 25, 2020, the death of George Floyd, while ... Read More

COVID’s Comeback

We’re living in Groundhog Day. For the second time this year, COVID-19 is sweeping the country and we don’t have any great options for dealing with it. We didn’t squander the past four months, exactly, but we demonstrably failed to get to a place where we can enjoy an open society without the virus taking ... Read More

COVID’s Comeback

We’re living in Groundhog Day. For the second time this year, COVID-19 is sweeping the country and we don’t have any great options for dealing with it. We didn’t squander the past four months, exactly, but we demonstrably failed to get to a place where we can enjoy an open society without the virus taking ... Read More