The Weekend Jolt

Politics & Policy

The Democratic Party’s Icons Crack and Crumble

(Getty)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan was thought to be the worst-case scenario. As it turns out, the worst had yet to happen.

Horrific attacks on Thursday outside the crowded Kabul airport — already a chaotic scene amid the evacuation mission and, as such, a prime target for terrorists — killed at least 13 U.S. service members and dozens more Afghans. Countless decisions, from Trump’s Taliban deal (and a related prisoner release) to Biden’s Bagram bug-out and botched handling of the withdrawal itself, led to this moment of vulnerability. As NR’s editorial details, this entire bloody episode marks a devastating setback not just for Afghanistan but for America’s national security long-term. Yet underneath the chaos of the past several weeks, and concomitant with it, is another shift of considerable consequence — the realization that political figures long regarded as institutions, at least outwardly, have lost their grip.

At the top, there is President Joe Biden, and any deputies associated with the withdrawal who might have thought these posts were a springboard to higher office. When the BBC is skeptically fact-checking a Democratic president, when CNN is lamenting his “defensiveness, imprecision and apparent changes of position,” when the New York Times is reporting on the party rift over Biden’s leadership, when Politico exposes the unfathomable detail that the administration shared names of Afghan allies with the Taliban . . . Wilmington, we have a problem.

Rich Lowry writes:

The Afghanistan fiasco has created that most disorienting and discomfiting experience for a progressive administration — a serious bout of critical media coverage immune to White House spin and determined to tell the unvarnished story of an ongoing debacle.

Of course, it is not just normally friendly media outlets that have turned.

Leon Panetta, Obama’s defense secretary, is dismayed. New Hampshire’s Democratic senators are pressing Biden to ignore the withdrawal deadline. Senator Bob Menendez called the Afghanistan collapse “astounding,” pinned blame on “flawed negotiations” under Trump and “flawed execution” under Biden, and vowed to seek a “full accounting.” Democratic congressman Jim Langevin called this a “catastrophe.” The president’s approval rating has slipped below 50 percent by some readings, even spending time underwater for the first time in his presidency.

To use the in-vogue term of economists, this could be transitory, though the rising casualty count challenges any such expectations. John Fund makes a fundamental observation — that what we’re seeing now is pent-up frustration from the Beltway establishment, loosed by the vivid affirmation of long-held doubts about Biden’s ability:

Make no mistake, there is a genuine collapse of confidence in Biden. They may kiss and make up because Democratic control of Congress is at stake in 2022, but the wounds felt by the establishment from Biden’s incompetence will remain. . . .

The question that Biden’s media allies and the Washington establishment are now privately wondering: Is the Afghan disaster an aberration, or will the calculated risk they took in helping Biden into the White House prove to be an unending series of headaches and embarrassments?

Biden’s not the only institution whose image is crumbling.

For entirely separate reasons, Andrew Cuomo has gone from political deity to political refuse. The former New York governor, still defiant, delivered a bitter farewell address earlier this week accusing the government of undermining the justice system with its handling of the sexual-misconduct allegations that felled him. Any path to public rehabilitation is murky. His successor already is cleaning up, and exposing, his shoddy record-keeping on COVID deaths. He’s the roast, no longer the toast, of late-night. One need only look back at the flood of statements from fellow Democrats precipitating his resignation to appreciate how the gloss on the once-lionized gov is gone. They even took away his Emmy.

Lastly, there’s Barack Obama. He is not suffering anywhere near the credibility collapse of the other two but nevertheless engineered his own Gavin-Newsom-in-Napa moment by throwing his 60th birthday party, albeit a scaled-back one, on Martha’s Vineyard, the stuff of Mark Leibovich book chapters. “Behold Barack Antoinette,” declared the scathing Maureen Dowd column devoted to it. Jim Geraghty noted earlier this month how, in the inverse of how the party treats out-of-office Republicans, Democrats tend to criticize out-of-office Democrats more as time passes, and “now this appears to be the moment when Democrats feel comfortable publicly ripping into Barack Obama.”

So . . . what does it all amount to? It is at least noteworthy that, in a seniority-prizing party whose leaders are more likely to have their driver’s licenses taken away than their gavels, Democratic institutions are fading. What do the names Biden, Cuomo, Obama . . . heck, Clinton, Kennedy, Madigan . . . mean? Not nearly what they used to, as kingmakers or candidates.   

Ultimately, the development that matters most concerns the sitting president. While progressives always had an uneasy relationship with Biden, an uncontestable foreign-policy disaster has forced the establishment to see him with fresh eyes. This will color the calculations over whom to close ranks behind in the future, and, for now, it presents nothing less than a crisis of trust for the country and Biden’s party. (You can read more about implications in the newest issue of NR.)

Charles C. W. Cooke gets the last word(s):

As a direct result of his decisions about Afghanistan, Americans are stranded, our allies are outraged, our reputation is diminished, and the Afghan people have been left once again at the mercy of a cabal of cut-throat tyrants. In response, Biden has insisted that all of this was inevitable, despite his having promised precisely the opposite beforehand. . . .

Knowing what they now know, do the many swing-district Democrats who eked out victories in 2020 really want to throw in their lot with this guy?

NAME. RANK. LINK.

EDITORIALS

It’s time to rethink our reliance on, and deference to, the Taliban: Afghanistan Nightmare Gets Worse

Right now, this is the most important task in Afghanistan: Leave No American Behind

The Kabul airport attack is a glimpse at the security costs from America’s pullout decision: The Cost to Our Security

In news from the culture-wars front, the ABA’s latest recommendation is great for Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi. Not so much for academic freedom: The American Bar Association Attacks Academic Freedom

ARTICLES

Michael Brendan Dougherty: The Lies Are Exposed in Kabul

Rich Lowry: Joe Biden Has So Neutered Himself That He Can’t Even Criticize the Taliban

Isaac Schorr: School Board Rebels against Virginia’s Transgender Guidelines, Setting Stage for Heated Legal Battle

Mark Antonio Wright: Why Exactly Did We Abandon Bagram Air Base?

Dan McLaughlin: Red Warning Lights Flashing for Democrats

Luther Ray Abel: Veterans Furious Their Afghan Allies Might Be Left Behind

Andrew McCarthy: Biden’s Appalling Trust in the Taliban

Ryan Mills: Medical Experts, Parents Deeply Divided over Masking in Schools as Delta Surges

Jack Crowe: Pompeo Responds to Claim That Taliban Agreement to Blame for Afghanistan Collapse: ‘Nonsense’

Caroline Downey: U.S. Veterans Escort Hundreds of Afghan Allies to Airport for Evacuation in Daring Operation

Alexandra DeSanctis: Planned Parenthood Jumps into the Hormone-Therapy Game

Charles C. W. Cooke: It’s Dawning on the Democrats: Biden-Harris Will Drag Them Down

Charles C. W. Cooke: Justice Breyer’s Eviction-Moratorium Dissent Would Turn the President into a Dictator

Brad Taylor: The Day Afghanistan Died

Matt Weidinger: Democrats Stay Silent as Unprecedented ‘Benefits Cliff’ Approaches

David Harsanyi: Larry Elder Is Not on the ‘Far Right’

Philip Klein: Biden’s Spending Plans Are Now Too Big to Fail

Kevin Williamson: The Long, Quiet Death of American Foreign Policy

CAPITAL MATTERS

Kevin Hassett worries that market turbulence could be over the horizon with the fall of Afghanistan: Afghanistan Is a Much Bigger Economic Disruption Than Markets Think

Andrew Stuttaford follows up with more on the Afghan economy: Afghanistan’s Coming Economic Collapse — and What It Could Mean

Joseph Sullivan says it’s time to buckle up for an inflation ride: 1977 vs. 1981: The Ghosts of Inflation Past

Douglas Carr sees more political than economic upside in the Senate infrastructure bill: Not Your Father’s Infrastructure

LIGHTS. CAMERA. REVIEW.

Armond White follows up Kyle’s review with his own take on the documentary Searching for Mr. Rugoff: Film Culture Searches for a Leader

Brian Allen rolls the dice and checks out whether the iconic Gamble House in Pasadena is what it used to be. Seems so, as the quintessence of the home as art: A Visit to the Gamble House, an Arts & Crafts Gem in Pasadena

Kyle Smith reviews the secret sequel disguised as a remake: New Candyman: Chicago Racism Is the Boogeyman

FROM THE NEW SEPTEMBER 13, 2021, ISSUE OF NR

Bing West: Who Will Trust Us after Afghanistan?

Charles C. W. Cooke: Our Upside-Down System

Noah Rothman: The ‘Forever War’ Fallacy

Andrew McCarthy: Counter-terrorism since 9/11

Mario Loyola: What Truths Do We Still Hold to Be Self-Evident?

THE LINKS MAKE YOU THINK, BUT THE EXCERPTS . . . DON’T RHYME WITH A THING

The intelligence community’s task of preventing another 9/11 is going to be much more difficult after the Afghanistan pullout. NR’s editorial looks at the security costs:

[T]he harrowing events of the last two weeks, with more sure to come, shouldn’t obscure the long-term blow to American national security. The Biden pullout, eschewing even a limited U.S. footprint and carried out in a manner that will dissuade valuable informants from cooperating with American agencies, is a devastating blow to the counter-terrorism strategy that, for 20 years, has prevented a reprise of the 9/11 attacks. . . .

President Biden is deluding himself (again) if he believes we can execute the still-vital counter-terrorism mission with no in-country intelligence capacity and “over the horizon” air power that is over a thousand miles away. His claim that this will suffice in Afghanistan because we do not have a U.S. military presence in other dangerous countries is fatuous. In point of fact, we do keep a modest presence in many such countries — with the grateful military cooperation of governments that oppose jihadists. But in Afghanistan, the challenge is not merely jihadist cells; it is that highly capable, incorrigibly anti-American jihadist organizations will once again have a military alliance with the Taliban, an incorrigibly anti-American Islamist regime.

That was the situation that obtained in Afghanistan from 1996 through 9/11. It was a national-security catastrophe for the United States. Congress needs to reacquaint itself with that history, examine the ramifications of the Taliban’s ascendancy for our counter-terrorism needs, and ask the administration the hard questions that President Biden is avoiding.

In an interview with news editor Jack Crowe, Mike Pompeo rejected criticism* of the Trump–Taliban agreement and argued that the Afghanistan withdrawal would not have been such a debacle — and might not have been total, either — on that administration’s watch:

[Pompeo] stressed that the May withdrawal deadline was “conditions-based,” and implied that a second-term Trump administration would have maintained a small military footprint on the ground past the May deadline, once it became clear the Taliban weren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

“I never believed a thing they said,” Pompeo said of the Taliban’s vow to sever ties with al-Qaeda. “It was a condition.” . . .

The degree to which the Taliban violated their commitment to break with Islamic extremists has become clearer in recent days. The al-Qaeda-affiliated Haqqani network is reportedly running security inside Kabul, and American officials fear that a resurgent Islamic State will begin to attack the airport to escalate the conflict. Without a significant U.S. troop presence, some argue that Afghanistan is destined to become the new headquarters for global jihad.

Could this outcome really have been prevented without sending thousands more American troops into Afghanistan in defiance of Trump’s campaign promises?

Pompeo says unequivocally “yes.”

*Andrew McCarthy is not entirely convinced by Pompeo’s argument and explains why here.

Novelist and veteran Brad Taylor pinpoints a single day — and a single shameful tragedy — that marked the loss of Afghanistan. It came when the U.S. and Afghan army abandoned the Afghanistan Commandos:

If you’ve read the plethora of post-mortem reports on Afghanistan, there are plenty of enemies to go around, from corruption, to incompetent leadership, to 20 years of rosy assessments from our own defense establishment. For me, there is a single day that Afghanistan died, and it was June 16, 2021. . . .

There was a nationwide plan for Commando use, which, put simply, was that they would insert and clear out Taliban influence, and then would be replaced with regular ANA components to keep the area secure and out of Taliban control. To this, they had been very successful. On that fateful day in June, everything changed.

The Commandos assaulted a village called Dawlat Abad and routed the Taliban. They called in the ANA to take over, and the ANA refused to enter, afraid of the Taliban. The Taliban regrouped and surrounded the village, pounding it with mortar fire and conducting a siege, until the small contingent of Commandos had no recourse but to surrender. Calls for air support went unheeded, because America had pulled the maintenance capability of the very aircraft that would have responded. There was no help coming.

Twenty-two Commandos surrendered to the Taliban. All 22 were summarily executed — on video. One of the men killed was a soldier named Sohrab Azimi. He was the son of an ANA general, trained in the United States, and engaged to be married to a United States citizen. He could have done anything with his life, but he chose to lead the Commandos. He was the best and brightest of Afghanistan, and he was killed on the street with a bullet to the back of his head because his pleas for air support went unheeded.

Unrelated to Afghanistan . . . Isaac Schorr with the news team zooms in on a developing battle in Virginia, where local school boards are bucking state transgender policy:

Indeed, while many county school boards have or are poised to implement policies consistent with the new guidelines, as is required by state law, others are resisting. The boards of education in Augusta, Bedford, Carroll, Pittsylvania, Russell, and Warren counties have all decided not to change their policies.

Late last month, Augusta County’s board unanimously voted down new policies that would have aligned with the guidance despite warnings from counsel that such a decision could result in legal action against them. They did so at a meeting that garnered significant community attention; close to 500 people crowded in to see where the board would come down.

“I do not think that any child in Augusta County Public Schools should ever be bullied, harassed, or in any way made to feel uncomfortable in their respective schools,” declared board member Dr. John Ocheltree, recasting the issue as one in which all students’ dignity and comfort should be preserved.

These boards could be held responsible not just for violating state law, but also federal civil rights law and the Constitution. Case law established last year by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals set controlling precedent in Virginia: Schools must allow transgender students to use facilities that correspond with their gender identity, holding that even providing separate, private facilities constituted unlawful, unconstitutional discrimination.

Shout-Outs

Barnini Chakraborty, at the Washington Examiner: Founder of all-girls school in Afghanistan escapes with students and burns records

Edward Kosner, at Commentary: New York City’s Kristallnacht

Noah Williams, at City Journal: The Results of the Labor-Market Experiment Are In

Robby Soave, at Reason: Cancel Culture Is Ruining Jeopardy!

CODA

In keeping with the theme of the headline, we’ll close with “Fallen Angel,” from King Crimson’s Red, a little something for your audio-cassette player. Heavy and foreboding, this is mood music.

Given the polarizing effect that particular band has on folks, the postscript here should read either “you’re welcome” or “sorry.” Pick whichever suits.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to jberger@nationalreview.com. It’s the easiest way to purge King Crimson from this e-missive (or add more of it). And as always, thanks for reading. Let’s hope for better news next week.

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