The Morning Jolt

Maybe We Won’t Just Hand Afghanistan Back to the Taliban After All

Good heavens, is it possible that President Obama just . . . made a good decision? Can he still do that?

President Obama will keep 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan when he leaves office in 2017, abandoning his pledge to end the war on his watch and turning the long-running war into a 2016 campaign issue.

Mr. Obama is expected to make the announcement at the White House Thursday morning. Senior administration officials told The Associated Press he would outline plans to maintain the current force of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of next year, then draw down to 5,500 troops in 2017.

Mr. Obama had originally planned to pull out all but a small, embassy-based U.S. military presence by the end of next year, a timeline coinciding with the final weeks of his presidency. But military leaders argued for months that the Afghans needed additional assistance and support from the U.S. to beat back a resurgent Taliban and hold onto gains made over the last 14 years of American bloodshed and billions of dollars in aid.

Just a few weeks ago, Taliban forces seized the city of Kunduz in Afghanistan. Islamic State fighters and other extremists also have been on the rise in the country where Osama bin Laden planned the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The world is still on fire, and our policy in most of the rest of the Middle East is a giant mess, but here’s at least one area where we aren’t handing territory and power to maniacs who hate us and want to kill us and our allies.

A Half-Step Towards Moving Beyond Bad Ideas on Gun Control

This morning BusinessWeek offers a long look at the gun-control issue, urging Democrats to stop demonizing the NRA (hooray!) and look at other options.

There are policy suggestions that don’t sound so good . . .

Senator Blumenthal is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate an exemption allowing gun sales to go through automatically if, because of bureaucratic delay, a background check isn’t completed within 72 hours. The don’t-wait rule allowed the Charleston (S.C.) killer to buy a Glock .45, which he used to kill nine people at an African American church in June.

. . . Exactly how long would authorities have to complete a background check on you? At what point does waiting for approval from a creaky bureaucracy to complete basic tasks turn into a de facto form of gun control?

And some policy suggestions that don’t sound quite so bad:

A second bill, sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), would expand the domestic-abuse restraining-order rule to cover not only current and former spouses, but also abusive boyfriends and convicted stalkers.

Here are the state stalking laws. At first glance, I’m okay with barring convicted stalkers from purchasing guns. How about you?

The article gives gun manufacturers a reason to explain why liability lawsuits would be a bad, pointless idea, and explains why the “Assault Weapons Ban” was feel-good legislation that had no impact on crime or violence:

Clinton and other Democrats, however, have muddled their reaction to Roseburg by combining calls for universal background checks and reinstatement of gun-industry liability with demands for revival of the Bill Clinton-era “assault weapons” ban. From 1994 to 2004, when the ban expired, Americans were forbidden to buy an arbitrarily selected list of semiautomatic rifles (although with cosmetic changes, almost identical weapons remained available) and ammunition magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds. The ban had no discernible effect on crime levels, according to studies conducted in 1997 and 2004. If anything the porous prohibition made so-called assault weapons more notorious and therefore more popular among gun owners who went out and bought an extra one. And there were more to buy of certain brands, because in the runup to the ban, manufacturers such as Glock filled warehouses with grandfathered-in, large-capacity gear. All that happened was the price of the guns and magazines rose along with demand, putting more money in the pockets of the gun industry.

Save and clip this statistic:

In 2014, according to the FBI, less than 3 percent of the roughly 12,000 murders in the U.S. were carried out with rifles of any sort, ranging from wooden-stock .22 squirrel plunkers to AR-15s, the civilian equivalents to the weapons used by U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Americans killed each other far more often with knives (13 percent) and hands and feet (6 percent) than they did with semiautomatic rifles.

The article continues, “Meanwhile, the terrorism-inspired ethos of “see something, say something” has to expand from airports and subways to school campuses and playgrounds.”

I seem to recall the Virginia Tech shooter vividly illustrating that school administrators and other authority figures don’t want to deal with these issues for fear of lawsuits. Throw in the Ahmed Mohamed clock incident, and our society is dealing with a “If you see something, saying something will get you accused of racism and hatred, and perhaps the target of a lawsuit.”

Why Is Our Society Manufacturing Rage-Filled, Self-Hating Young Men?

One line from that BusinessWeek article jumps out:

As was the case in Roseburg, these deranged individuals, typically self-hating young men, plan their suicidal attacks carefully and obtain their arsenals legally.

As the publication date for Heavy Lifting approaches, Cam and I are getting asked, “Why did you write this book?”

I wanted to dispel the biggest lie young men are told in our society: that growing up, getting married, having kids, getting a real job and career, and taking on responsibility is a burden or something to be avoided. It’s exactly the opposite: those are the things that make life worth living, that make a man want to get out of bed in the morning, and, I suspect, help ward off feelings of depression, isolation, resentment, alienation, and worse.

I wouldn’t oversimplify it to say that men who don’t want to grow up are the root cause of these mass shooters. But I will say that you don’t hear about these shooters having strong support networks; happy, loving relationships; connections to their community and neighbors. Very rarely do these shooters have their fathers around and providing them with a present male role model.

If you feel like you’re part of something greater, that your life has a purpose and meaning, and that other people rely on you and count on you . . . you very rarely wake up one morning and decide to start killing strangers.

After the Oregon shooting, I took a quick tour of those ugly, angry communities on 4chan and Reddit. Is it that our society makes it so easy to hide away from the world in a dark room, illuminated by only the computer screen, clicking from angry chat rooms to Internet porn to first-person shooter games to Facebook pages of people who seem happier than us, marinating in bitter envy?

Is it that for too many young people, when they say something insanely irresponsible and self-pitying — “the problems in my life are the world’s fault, not mine!” — there isn’t someone around to say, “No, that’s not true. Your problems are at least partially, and probably almost entirely your fault. The good news is this means you have the power to do something about them”?

Remember the Virginia shooter who was a classic “grievance collector”? Is it that we as a society become too accepting of people who practice this philosophy, and that we sort of acquiesce to it, or aren’t willing to stand up to it and rebuke it enough? Does something about our society cultivate grievance and resentment, instead of gratitude for our blessings?

The gun-control advocates among us seem pretty comfortable with a world where everybody’s disarmed, but every bit as filled with estrangement, hostility, and fury as they are now. (Great, we found the one set of circumstances where the Left doesn’t want to look too hard at “root causes.”)

In his early 20s, Cam jumped into stepfatherhood with two feet. (One of my favorite lines of his comes in a footnote: “This gets confusing, I know. I refer to all of my kids as “my kids,” even though I’m technically the stepfather of my two oldest children. I’m Dad, they’re my kids, and if you don’t like it, that’s your problem.”) That’s extraordinary today, but there was a time in the not-so-recent past where young men were expected to take on major responsibilities before the end of their teen years.

Heavy Lifting isn’t really a political book, or certainly not an overtly political book. But it is a cultural one, and it’s probably the most out-and-proud socially conservative argument Cam and I have ever made. It’s just not focused on the issues that social conservatism gets pigeonholed as; there’s just one reference to abortion, no references to gay marriage. It’s about living the pro-family life, not just arguing for pro-family policies.

One item I didn’t get to fit in the book is this quote from David Brooks, writing back in 2000 about the Millennials, reviewing a book by Neil Howe and William Strauss*:

The Millennials are earnest, can-do types, more like the World War II generation than their parents or older siblings. The Millennials, the authors write, “will correct what they will perceive to be the mistakes . . . of boomers, by placing positivism over negativism, trust over cynicism, science over spiritualism, team over self, duties over rights, honor over feeling, action over words.” Basically, it sounds as if America has two greatest generations at either end of the age scale and two crummiest in the middle.

Boy, didn’t turn out that way, huh?

*The late Bill Strauss was one of my first bosses, as I worked doing publicity for the Capitol Steps comedy troupe. I lasted six months and I’m fairly certain he thought I was an idiot.

ADDENDA: The much-delayed Pop Culture Podcast on pumpkin spice mania, iconic pop-culture moments, horror television, and leaving Matt Damon behind is finally up. 

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