Certainly the way it’s played out has been messy, chaotic, mortifying. Many armchair quarterbacks have the idea that the US could have evacuated everyone who had worked with us in advance of withdrawal. But as I and many other have argued that’s a basic misunderstanding of the situation. If you evacuate everyone who might be endangered by the fall of the government in advance, you are basically signing the regime’s death warrant. You are saying you don’t expect the regime to last and that the fall will come fast. That message is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In retrospect, of course, knowing that the regime did immediately collapse, there’s sort of no loss. But the US couldn’t do that. The whole point of the almost twenty year enterprise was to build a state and an army that could stand on its own. The US was never going to prevent that regime from even trying to survive.
My point here isn’t that there’s nothing the Biden administration could have done differently or better. At a minimum they could have been processing exit paperwork more rapidly in advance for interpreters and others who worked for the US and had clearer contingency planning for evacuations of personnel outside of Kabul for a rapid collapse scenario. My point is simply that to a great extent what we are seeing today was baked into the US mission in Afghanistan all along. It is ugly. And a lot of people are going to suffer. It is mortifying on various levels – some trivial and shallow and others profound – for the United States. But it was always baked in. And what is critical to understand is that the fact that it was always baked in, and no one was ready to grab that kryptonite or make that reckoning, is precisely why we have been there for almost twenty years.
Speaking of processing of exit paperwork …
Nearly all activity at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was shut down as a result of that COVID-19 outbreak.
Christoph Reuter’s reporting on Afghanistan for Der Speigel is simply indispensable. This report is long and is informed.
It was the era of U.S. President Barack Obama – and his then-vice president, Joe Biden, who experienced the unfolding disaster firsthand for eight years. Just before he became vice president, Biden had abruptly stood up and left a dinner with [Harmid] Karzai in anger after the Afghan president, in response to questions about corruption in Afghanistan, told Biden that the U.S. is ultimately responsible for everything that goes wrong in the country.
Biden’s current stubborn insistence on a complete and rapid withdrawal from the country may be informed by the fury he felt in those years. He knew the situation was a disaster. But it ultimately became even more disastrous than expected.
Obama sought to bring the situation under control by steadily increasing the number of troops. […] More than anything, though, the rapid increase in the number of U.S. attacks, the rising total of civilian victims and their insurmountable military superiority all fed into their opponent’s most powerful narrative – that the Americans were infidel occupiers who must be driven out.
This narrative of foreign occupation was so useful that it was deployed by the Taliban and the Afghan government alike, just for opposite reasons. It helped the insurgents with mobilization, and it was a source of comfort for those in power. Then-President Hamid Karzai, in particular, transformed the narrative into a kind of mantra: The U.S., he would insist, will never withdraw. Their interests in Afghanistan are simply too great: fantastic natural resources, geopolitical conspiracies and the rest of it. It allowed him to constantly agitate against the American occupiers while having Washington pay the bill.
Jacqueline Charles and Bianca Padro Ocasio report for The Miami Herald on the humanitarian crisis in Haiti which, while remaining dire, seems to be improving a little bit.
Unlike the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that nearly destroyed Port-au-Prince, killed more than 300,000, left 1.5 million injured and an equal number homeless, the Aug. 14 quake left much more dispersed damage. It overwhelmingly affected remote communities outside of the main urban centers in the three regions of the Tiburon peninsula closest to the epicenter of the 7.2 magnitude quake.
That reality, along with the insecurity along the main road from the capital, has added to the response challenges, said Achim Steiner, who is with the United Nations Development Program and joined Mohammed on the visit.
“On the one hand, you see a lot of suffering and you see on the other side, the limited ability of the government with the emergency and humanitarian response to support people. Probably because this is a different kind of earthquake to the one in 2010,” Steiner told the Miami Herald. “This morning in the hospital, we still saw people arriving today from remote villages seeking medical support.”
Anthony Man, political writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, speculates on the political present and future of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Delta-variant-fueled COVID infections have surged across Florida for two months, putting the state at or near the top of states in new cases. And with schoolchildren having become pawns in an increasingly fought public health and political battle, DeSantis is facing a high-stakes rebellion from dozens of Florida school board members.
Defying the governor’s wishes, orders and threatened punishments, school board members representing more than a third of Florida’s population have imposed mask mandates in their schools as they attempt to curb spread of the virus. On Friday, the brinkmanship continued, with DeSantis’ education commissioner imposing financial penalties on the first two rebellious school districts.
The school battle is attracting the most attention. But what’s happening now with DeSantis and Florida’s struggles with COVID could ultimately impact not only his political future, but the 2024 presidential contest. DeSantis has bet the house, gambling that his approach is the right one, or at least good enough to keep his supporters enthralled.
A Susquehanna Polling and Research survey released Wednesday reported DeSantis’ performance as governor was viewed positively by 52% of Florida voters, with 43% disapproving, a net positive of 9 points.
Amanda Michelle Gomez of Kaiser Health News reports that there remains a critical need for COVID-19 contact tracers.
The situation has grown critical in a number of states during the past month or so as local health officials find themselves once again behind the curve as the delta variant drives up case counts. Resources are already stretched, and the politicization of covid-19 has left these local officials making tough calls regarding whom to trace in places like Missouri and Texas. And some states just don’t have enough personnel to do the job. The army of disease detectives more often than not included temporary staff or civil servants from outside the health department. In Kentucky, the former contact-tracing director is now the aviation department commissioner. The state health department said he has a successor but declined to name them.
The highly contagious delta variant makes the job harder. Cases can stack up quickly. Public health departments, which are chronically understaffed and underfunded, must pick and choose which tools will serve them the best.
“Some places have done a good job at retaining a kind of reserve workforce that they could call back up. And I’m sure that’s coming in handy right now. Other places did not. And they’re probably going to be quickly overwhelmed,” Watson said. “It’s also hard to say because there’s not a lot of public reporting.”
Kate Nicholson and Sally Satel of Washington Monthly report that a new Senate bill to impose an “opioid sin tax” will not work and has already not worked in one specific case.
The U.S. is suffering not one epidemic, but two: The opioid crisis continues to rage through the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, opioid deaths surged 30 percent to 93,000, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) just announced, due largely to fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid trafficked from Mexico and China. Federal action to help Americans combat substance abuse is urgently needed.
But a sin tax imposed in a new bipartisan Senate bill, The Life Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment (LifeBOAT) Act, is sorely misguided, robbing pain patient Peter to treat addiction patient Paul.
New York State tried an opioid sin tax; the results were not encouraging. In 2019, it imposed taxes and fees on opioid manufacturers and pharmaceutical distributors that deliver opioids to pharmacies and hospitals. According to Kaiser Health News, “scores of manufacturers and wholesalers stopped selling opioids in New York,” among them Epic Pharma, a manufacturer, and Independent Pharmacy Cooperative, a wholesaler. AvKARE and Lupin Pharmaceuticals no longer ship to New York.
Joan Walsh of The Nation writes that the story of last Thursday’s Capitol bomb threat should not have been minimized by the MSM and even the Capitol Police.
Even after all of social media was rebroadcasting his sick point of view, the US Capitol Police tweeted that his motive was unconfirmed, and then reiterated that in a press conference. Reuters reported at the time, while everyone on social media was sharing his insane right-wing insurrectionist message: “Police said they did not know his motive.”
I hate to criticize Capitol Police, after all they’ve been through. But it’s hard to believe they couldn’t access Facebook.
Maybe it’s not a big story. Now it seems like it’s just one guy. The police say the apparent bomb wasn’t one. And I have to say, I really hate the fact that local and national news normally prefers stories of violence over stories of policy or political change.
Still, I think this threat was under-covered. I heard several folks on cable news say it was important not to broadcast his message. But c’mon, folks: His message is broadcast everywhere, every day, to people just like him. Two Library of Congress buildings, plus a House office building, were evacuated, as well as some residents of the nearby neighborhood. The same people terrorized on January 6 were again terrorized; isn’t this a version of terrorism?
Sebastian Strangio of The Diplomat has a preview of Vice President Kamala Harris’ upcoming trip to Singapore and Vietnam.
For Southeast Asian governments, however, the likely impacts of the Afghanistan withdrawal will be minimal. In terms of U.S. resolve and reputation, there is little meaningful comparison to be drawn between Washington’s perhaps inevitable abandonment of its star-crossed Afghan nation-building project – a venture that was never blessed with clear aims – and its desire to defend allies and partners in Asia. Indeed, many will probably view the U.S. withdrawal as a sign that it is willing to make difficult trade-offs: the essence of sound strategy.
Indeed, the main lesson that Southeast Asian nations may take out of the debacle in Kabul, as John Harley Breen argues in an article in The Diplomat today, is that for all the differences between Biden and Trump, the U.S. government will ultimately privilege its own interests over those of its partners and allies. And herein lies the main question: if the U.S. is in Southeast Asia “to stay,” on what exactly does it plan to do there? While the region’s governments desire a robust U.S. engagement in the region, they differ markedly on the exact focus of that engagement. U.S. and Southeast Asian interests align – but only up to a point.
For one thing, the region has resisted buying into the Cold War framing of its competition with China as a showdown between “democracy” and “authoritarianism.” Each Southeast Asian nation has its problems with China, including four that directly dispute Beijing’s expansive claims to the South China Sea. But none, bar a portion of the deeply Americanized Philippine political and security establishment, are inclined to view the challenge in such stark terms.
Finally, Matt Burgess of WIRED UK reports that China has been tampering with and, in some cases, blocking the BBC’s reporting on China.
The new research from analysts at cybersecurity company Recorded Future claims that the “likely state-sponsored” operation used hundreds of websites and social media accounts to attack the BBC’s reporting. In particular the network has accused the BBC of adding a “filter” to its reports from China to make the country look dull and lifeless.
The propaganda campaign claims the BBC used a “gloom filter” or an “underworld filter” and has promoted this view widely, says Charity Wright, a threat intelligence analyst who conducted the research for Recorded Future’s Insikt Group. “What hit me the hardest was the scope of this campaign: how big it was, and the amount of posts and the volume of this particular narrative that we found,” Wright says. Social media posts, websites containing malware, and official spokespeople have pushed the idea of gloom or underworld filters, Wright adds.
The Recorded Future researchers cite a number of reasons for their confidence that the campaign is sponsored by the Chinese state[…]“The campaign’s alignment with the CCP’s objectives create a clear picture of how the CCP is conducting large-scale information operations to counter criticism and censor foreign media,” the research concludes.
The operation is seemingly part of a wider crackdown on what Chinese officials see as unjust criticism from international media. In February, BBC World News was banned from broadcasting in China.
Everyone have a good day … and to everyone in the path of Hurricane Henri, stay safe!