The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Cancel the Monday Meetings for the Pakistani Taliban Leaders — And Everything Beyond That, Too

(Akhtar Soomro/Reuters)

This is the last Jim-written Jolt for a week. Buckley Fellow Theodore Kupfer will pinch hit while I’m out; I’ll be back Monday, June 25.

Happy Friday! Whatever kind of a week you’ve had, you’ve had a better one than Mullah Fazlullah Khorasani.

The leader of the Pakistani Taliban was killed by a U.S. drone strike, an Afghan official said Friday.

Mullah Fazlullah Khorasani was Pakistan’s most-wanted militant and blamed for attacks including a 2014 school massacre that killed 132 children and the 2012 shooting of schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In March, the U.S. offered a $5 million reward for information on Fazlullah.

. . . Pakistan is considered key to persuading Afghan Taliban leaders, who Washington believes shelter on Pakistani soil, to open negotiations to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.

Prior to the Afghan Defense Ministry stating that Fazlullah had been killed, several members of the Pakistani Taliban told NBC News they had been unable to make contact with him and other senior commanders since receiving word of the strike.

They said they feared four other top commanders may also have been killed.

I’m starting to read Steve Coll’s S Directorate, which is about the U.S. War on Terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan from 9/11 to the end of the Obama years.

In the United States, a lot of the public and some of the foreign-policy wonks have a mentality that suggests if the U.S. government applies the right combination of attention, resources, military force, diplomatic pressure, and finesse, we can get the outcome we want in foreign policy. You see it in questions such as, “How can we bring peace to the Middle East?” or “How can we stop North Korea?” We don’t like to spend a lot of time thinking, “What if managing the problem — keeping the status quo in place — is as good an outcome as we can produce?”

We may find that the status quo in Afghanistan — a rickety, corrupt, pro-U.S. government that controls the cities and not much else — is about as good as it gets. The Pakistani intelligence service has always had close ties to the Taliban. I think it was Bing West who said on one of the NR cruises that, to a young man growing up in a poor village in the remote provinces of Afghanistan, joining the Taliban and playing mujahedeen warrior is a lot more glamorous and exciting than being a farmer or goat herder. While not all Afghans supported the Taliban’s brutal rule, the population is largely deeply religious.

If 9/11 had never happened, both Republican and Democratic administrations probably would have been content to continue the pre-9/11 policy towards the Taliban — nonrecognition, denunciation, and small-scale aid to their nominally pro-Western enemies. The world has a lot of oppressive regimes; what set the Taliban apart was its hosting of al-Qaeda, a group that explicitly endorsed and promoted attacks against Americans. If Mullah Omar had agreed to our demands that he turn over bin Laden and shut down the al-Qaeda training camps, the U.S. might have been content to leave the Taliban in charge in 2001.

You haven’t heard much about Afghanistan in the news or in our foreign-policy discussions in recent years. Every once in a while we hear further whispers that President Trump would like to withdraw all U.S. troops from the country. You might have missed that the Afghan government and Taliban announced a brief holiday cease-fire. But if you had to guess what Afghanistan will look like five years from now . . . doesn’t it seem likely that it will look more or less the way it does today?

The Partisan FBI

As mentioned yesterday, the FBI inspector general’s report is bad for the FBI. Bad for Jim Comey — he used his private email for official business! — bad for former attorney general Loretta Lynch, and really bad for lead agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page. It’s also bad for any of us who would like to trust the judgment of the nation’s preeminent law-enforcement agency.

What’s interesting is that everyone who wants to poo-poo Trump’s “deep state” talk is pointing to all of the times the IG report concludes it did not find evidence that bias influenced or altered the decision-making of FBI employees. But the inspector general can’t put a charge like that in there unless it’s airtight — and even then, it makes that assessment for one of Strzok’s decisions.

The inspector general concluded that Strzok’s text of “we will stop him” along with others disparaging Trump, “is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects.”

That’s about as harsh as an inspector general is going to get. That’s “burn him at the stake” in federal bureaucrat-ese.

Anyone who reads through the complete report will find that the IG didn’t exonerate the bureau at all, and it was more just than a handful of bad apples. One identified agent working on the Clinton case — separate from Strzok and Page — texted to another, “I find anyone who enjoys [this job] an absolute f***ing idiot. If you dont think so, ask them one more question. Who are you voting for? I guarantee you it will be Donald Drumpf.” In a different exchange on September 9, 2016, the agent said, “i would rather have brunch with trump and a bunch of his supporters like the ones from ohio that are retarded.”

The agents later told the IG they did not think their political and personal views affected the integrity of the investigation. It’s one thing to contend that your political views didn’t affect your decision-making; it’s another to contend that your bristling charge that anyone who disagrees with your political preference is “retarded” never affected your judgment or decision-making.

You’ll recall that when I reviewed Comey’s book, I called attention to one passage that everyone else seemed to gloss over, describing the October 27, 2016, meeting where he and his top staff concluded that they had to inform Congress that the investigation into Clinton’s emails had been reopened:

As we were arriving at this decision, one of the lawyers on the team asked a searing question. She was a brilliant and quiet person, whom I sometimes had to invite into the conversation. “Should you consider that what you are about to do may help elect Donald Trump president?” she asked.

I paused for several seconds. It was of course the question on everyone’s mind, whether they expressed it out loud or not.

“It is a great question,” I said, “but not for a moment can I consider it. Because down that path lies the death of the FBI as an independent force in American life. If we start making decisions based on whose political fortunes will be affected, we are lost.”

Comey makes the right choice . . . but clearly at least one FBI lawyer felt comfortable suggesting that the FBI should not inform Congress about new developments in the investigation, as promised, because it could help elect Trump.

Is it a great question? Or is it arguing that the primary national law-enforcement organization in the United States should alter its decision-making process because it might hurt their preferred candidate?

How many other people in the room were thinking the way this unnamed lawyer did?

Uh, Director Comey, Were You in a Coma for a Few Years There, or What?

The most implausible claim in the 500-page report:

Comey said that he recalled first learning about the additional emails on the Weiner laptop at some point in early October 2016, although he said it was possible this could have occurred in late September 2016. Comey told the OIG that this information “didn’t index” with him, which he attributed to the way the information was presented to him and the fact that, “I don’t know that I knew that [Weiner] was married to Huma Abedin at the time.”

Really? Really?

Because the Anthony Weiner sexting scandals — er, both rounds of them, both 2011 and 2013 — were not exactly obscure news. Huma Abedin wasn’t exactly an obscure figure, either. All kinds of media wrote variations of “Why the heck is she still married to him?” columns.

You’re in charge of investigating things, and you somehow missed one of the biggest, most salacious, and heavily covered political scandals of the past decade?

ADDENDA: A new poll finds Maryland governor Larry Hogan ahead by double digits in his reelection bid against all rivals. I profiled Hogan’s record as governor in NR a few months ago.


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