Heather Cox Richardson

And this is terrifying, the literal definition of terrorism.

  • Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives.
    Terrorism 2002/2005 — FBI

This is a rapidly escalating situation. We cannot afford to ignore it, although since the vast majority of the terrorists involved are members of and supported by the “conservative” (actually fascist) political wing, any attempt to deal with them as the terrorists that they are will be met with swift and viscous blow-back. “May you live in interesting times” rings in my head pretty constantly. As a member of one of the groups likely to be targeted, I feel this very much aimed at me.

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That really fucking sucks, doc.

Please know that, as I’m sure I can safely say for others here, both your work IRL and your willingness to share your knowledge and expertise with us are greatly appreciated and admired. We’re pulling for you and we got your back. :heart:

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huh. well that’s not anything ive heard about before.

and now i see why…

Money was funneled thru the Sen. Prescott Bush-led Union Banking Corporation (yes, those Bushes) and the Prescott Bush-led Brown Brothers Harriman (yes, that Harriman) to the League (and to Hitler, but that’s another story). The plotters bragged about Bush’s Hitler connections and even claimed that Germany had promised Bush that it would provide materiel for the coup.

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Damn, the things in our history that get hushed up! TIL!

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August 12, 2021 (Thursday)

Today the big news was that the 2020 census came out. I have some things to say about it, but I wrote my way through the weekend and it has caught up to me. I’m generally good so long as I get one early night in seven, but since I missed it this week, I can’t hit that bed fast enough tonight.

In the meantime, a new photographer, who snapped this shot on her way to work at the local boat shop. I always love different perspectives.

Thanks for your patience. I’ll be back tomorrow.

H.

[Photo “Old Shop Sunrise,” by Eva Pontrelli]

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August 13, 2021 (Friday)

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released information about the 2020 census, designed to enable states to start the process of drawing new lines for their congressional districts, a process known as redistricting.

Because of that very limited intent for this particular information dump, the picture the material gives is a very specific one. The specificity of that information echoes the political history that in the 1920s began to skew our Congress to give rural white voters disproportionate power. It also reinforces a vision of America divided by race: precisely the vision that former president Trump and his supporters want Americans to believe.

The U.S. Constitution requires that the government count the number of people in the country every ten years so that lawmakers can divide up the representation in Congress, which is apportioned according to population in the House of Representatives. (The Senate is by state: each state gets two senators.)

This matters not just for the relative weight of voices in lawmaking in the House, but also because of our Electoral College. The Electoral College is how we elect the U.S. president. Each state gets the number of electors that is equal to the number of senators and representatives combined. So, if your state has 10 representatives and 2 senators, it would have 12 presidential electors.

Censuses are never 100% accurate. It’s hard to count people, especially if they don’t want to be counted. Censuses also are inherently political, since a corrupt president will not want an accurate count: they will want areas that support their party to be overcounted, while areas that support the opposite party to be undercounted.

The 1890 census is a famous example of both of these problems. Indigenous Americans who were eager to avoid the observance of the federal government out of concern for their lives moved around to avoid being counted. The process itself was notoriously corrupt because in 1889 and 1890, the Republican Party had forced the admission of six new western states—North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming—that supported the Republicans, and had insisted that the new census would show enough people there to warrant statehood. So they were eager to find lots and lots of people in those new states but very few in the populous territories of Arizona and New Mexico, which they knew would vote Democratic. (I would love to write a whole post about the 1890 census, but I will spare you.)

Today, because of the pandemic, the results of the 2020 census have been delayed, and states are already behind in their schedules to redistrict for the upcoming 2022 election. (I know, I know, but it really is right over the horizon. Some states are already thinking about moving their primary elections because there’s not enough time to redistrict before them.) So yesterday, the Census Bureau released the information states need to begin that process. It released its record of the number of people living in each state and U.S. territory.

But in addition to needing to know the actual numbers of the count, state lawmakers need to know the racial makeup of their states, since there are federal rules about making sure minority votes aren’t silenced in redistricting by, for example, splitting a minority vote into small enough groups among districts that minorities essentially don’t have a voice (this is called “cracking”), or concentrating members of one group into a single district, so they are underrepresented at the state level (this is called “packing”).

So the material that came out yesterday was not the entire information from the census; it was just the material states need for redistricting.

It shows how many people there are living in America today. Population shifts mean that Montana, Oregon, Colorado, North Carolina, and Florida all picked up a seat, while Texas picked up two. Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, California, and West Virginia all lost one. Within those states, cities have grown and rural counties have lost people. For the first time in our history, all ten of the country’s largest cities now have more than a million people in them.

The material released yesterday also shows the nation’s racial makeup. That information is confusing, as all self-identification on a form can be. It says that America’s white population has dropped significantly since 2010. According to the census, people who identify as white now make up 58% of the population while just ten years ago they made up 64%. But the census also shows that people who self-identify as a mixture of races has skyrocketed, climbing from 9 million in 2010 to 33.8 million in 2020. It seems likely that some of the drop in self-identification as white is due to people identifying themselves differently than they have in the past.

Urbanization and multiculturalism are not new to our history, and their appearance in the census led lawmakers to create an imbalance in our government in the 1920s. The Constitution says that a state can’t have a representative for fewer than 30,000 people, but it doesn’t say anything about an upper limit of constituents represented by a single representative. In 1912, when the country had 92 million people, the House had grown to 435 members.

But the 1920 census showed that more Americans lived in cities than in the country, at the same time that white Americans were all tied up in knots that those new urban dwellers were Black Americans and immigrants from southern and central Europe and Asia. Aware that continuing to allow more representatives for these growing numbers of Americans meant that the weight of representation would move away from rural white Americans and toward immigrants in cities, lawmakers refused to continue increasing the number of seats in the House. (They also passed the 1924 Immigration Act, which set quotas on how many people from each country could come to America.)

In 1929, lawmakers froze the number of representatives at 435 voting members of the House. While this number would bounce around as new states came in, for example, it has once again settled as the number of voting representatives today, when our population is 331 million.

That cap means that the size of the average congressional district is now 711,000 people, a number that is far higher than the framers intended and that favors smaller, more rural, whiter states in the House of Representatives. It also favors those states in the Electoral College, where they have more weight proportionately than they would if the House had continued to grow.

By identifying everyone by race—as it needed to, for redistricting purposes—yesterday’s census material also engages what sociologist Karen E. Fields and historian Barbara J. Fields have called “racecraft,” which, by artificially dividing people along racial lines, reinforces the idea of race as the most important thing in society. Yesterday’s material does not mention, for example, income or wealth, which are not explicitly factored in when redistricting but which the last census material released on that topic suggested are at least as divisive as race.

The idea that race is paramount is, of course, the theory that the right wing would like Americans to believe, and the idea that white Americans are being “replaced” by people of color and Black Americans falls right into the right-wing argument that minorities are “replacing” white Americans.

For a century now, the machinery of redistricting has favored rural whites. With the 2020 census information reinforcing the idea that white, rural Americans are under siege, it seems unlikely that lawmakers in Republican states will want to rebalance the system.

But it seems equally unlikely that an increasingly urbanizing, multicultural nation will continue to accept being governed by an ever-smaller white, rural minority.

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August 14, 2021 (Saturday)

On this day in 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. While FDR’s New Deal had put in place new measures to regulate business and banking and had provided temporary work relief to combat the Depression, this law permanently changed the nature of the American government.

The Social Security Act is known for its payments to older Americans, but it did far more than that. It established unemployment insurance; aid to homeless, dependent, and neglected children; funds to promote maternal and child welfare; and public health services. It was a sweeping reworking of the relationship of the government to its citizens, using the power of taxation to pool funds to provide a basic social safety net.

The driving force behind the law was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. She was the first woman to hold a position in the U.S. Cabinet and still holds the record for having the longest tenure in that job: she lasted from 1933 to 1945.

She brought to the position a vision of government very different from that of the Republicans who had run it in the 1920s. While men like President Herbert Hoover had harped on the idea of a “rugged individualism” in which men worked their way up, providing for their families on their own, Perkins recognized that people in communities had always supported each other. The vision of a hardworking man supporting his wife and children was more myth than reality: her own husband suffered from bipolar disorder, making her the family’s primary support.

As a child, Perkins spent summers with her grandmother, with whom she was very close, in the small town of Newcastle, Maine, where she witnessed a supportive community. In college, at Mount Holyoke, she majored in chemistry and physics, but after a professor required students to tour a factory to observe working conditions, Perkins became committed to improving the lives of those trapped in industrial jobs. After college, Perkins became a social worker and, in 1910, earned a masters degree in economics and sociology from Columbia University. She became the head of the New York office of the National Consumers League, urging consumers to use their buying power to demand better conditions and wages for the workers who made the products they were buying.

The next year, in 1911, she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which 146 workers, mostly women and girls, died. They were trapped in the building when the fire broke out because the factory owner had ordered the doors to the stairwells and exits locked to make sure no one slipped outside for a break. Unable to escape the smoke and fire in the factory, the workers—some of them on fire—leaped from the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the building, dying on the pavement.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire turned Perkins away from voluntary organizations to improve workers’ lives and toward using the government to adjust the harsh conditions of industrialization. She began to work with the Democratic politicians at Tammany Hall, who presided over communities in the city that mirrored rural towns and who exercised a form of social welfare for their voters, making sure they had jobs, food, and shelter and that wives and children had a support network if a husband and father died. In that system, the voices of women like Perkins were valuable, for their work in the immigrant wards of the city meant that they were the ones who knew what working families needed to survive.

The overwhelming unemployment, hunger, and suffering caused by the Great Depression made Perkins realize that state governments alone could not adjust the conditions of the modern world to create a safe, supportive community for ordinary people. She came to believe, as she said: “The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

Through her Tammany connections Perkins met FDR, and when he asked her to be his Secretary of Labor, she told him that she wanted the federal government to provide unemployment insurance, health insurance, and old-age insurance. She later recalled: “I remember he looked so startled, and he said, ‘Well, do you think it can be done?’”

Creating federal unemployment insurance became her primary concern. Congressmen had little interest in passing such legislation. They said they worried that unemployment insurance and federal aid to dependent families would undermine a man’s willingness to work. But Perkins recognized that those displaced by the Depression had added new pressure to the idea of old-age insurance.

In Long Beach, California, Dr. Francis Townsend had looked out of his window one day to see elderly women rooting through garbage cans for food. Appalled, he came up with a plan to help the elderly and stimulate the economy at the same time. Townsend proposed that the government provide every retired person over 60 years old with $200 a month, on the condition that they spend it within 30 days, a condition designed to stimulate the economy.

Townsend’s plan was wildly popular. More than that, though, it sparked people across the country to start coming up with their own plans for protecting the elderly and the nation’s social fabric, and together, they began to change the public conversation about social welfare policies.

They spurred Congress to action. Perkins recalled that Townsend “startled the Congress of the United States because the aged have votes. The wandering boys didn’t have any votes; the evicted women and their children had very few votes. If the unemployed didn’t stay long enough in any one place, they didn’t have a vote. But the aged people lived in one place and they had votes, so every Congressman had heard from the Townsend Plan people.”

FDR put together a committee to come up with a plan to create a basic social safety net, but committee members could not make up their minds how to move forward. Perkins continued to hammer on the idea they must come up with a final plan, and finally locked the members of the committee in a room. As she recalled: “Well, we locked the door and we had a lot of talk. I laid out a couple of bottles of something or other to cheer their lagging spirits. Anyhow, we stayed in session until about 2 a.m. We then voted finally, having taken our solemn oath that this was the end; we were never going to review it again.”

By the time the bill came to a vote in Congress, it was hugely popular. The vote was 371 to 33 in the House and 77 to 6 in the Senate.

When asked to describe the origins of the Social Security Act, Perkins mused that its roots came from the very beginnings of the nation. When Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America in 1835, she noted, he thought Americans were uniquely “so generous, so kind, so charitably disposed.” “Well, I don’t know anything about the times in which De Tocqueville visited America,” she said, but “I do know that at the time I came into the field of social work, these feelings were real.”

With the Social Security Act, Perkins helped to write into our laws a longstanding political impulse in America that stood in dramatic contrast to the 1920s philosophy of rugged individualism. She recognized that the ideas of community values and pooling resources to keep the economic playing field level and take care of everyone are at least as deeply seated in our political philosophy as the idea of every man for himself.

When she recalled the origins of the Social Security Act, Perkins recalled: “Of course, the Act had to be amended, and has been amended, and amended, and amended, and amended, until it has now grown into a large and important project, for which, by the way, I think the people of the United States are deeply thankful. One thing I know: Social Security is so firmly embedded in the American psychology today that no politician, no political party, no political group could possibly destroy this Act and still maintain our democratic system. It is safe. It is safe forever, and for the everlasting benefit of the people of the United States.”

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August 15, 2021 (Sunday)

Today, in Afghanistan, Taliban fighters took over the presidential palace in Kabul, the country’s capital, while the president of the U.S.-backed Afghan government, Ashraf Ghani, fled to Tajikistan. The U.S. and many other countries are rushing to evacuate their diplomatic personnel and allies from the country, although Russia is not, as the Taliban has guaranteed their safety. As of tonight, all U.S. embassy personnel are at the Kabul airport, which is currently being protected by the U.S. military.

Over almost 20 years in Afghanistan, the U.S. has lost 2448 troops and personnel. Another 20,722 Americans have been wounded. The mission has cost more than a trillion dollars.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—which killed almost 3000 people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania—to go after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had been behind the attack. The Islamic fundamentalist group that had controlled Afghanistan since 1996, the Taliban, was sheltering him along with other al Qaeda militants. Joined by an international coalition, the U.S. drove the Taliban from power but failed to capture bin Laden, and the War on Terror became a general drive against non-state actors, usually Muslims, who threatened the U.S.

In 2003, President George W. Bush launched another war, this one in Iraq. As the U.S. got bogged down in Iraq, members of the Taliban regrouped in Afghanistan as an insurgent military force that attacked the Afghan government the U.S. had propped up in their place. By 2005, the Taliban had grown powerful enough that officials in the Bush administration worried that the U.S. could fail to undermine them.

President Barack Obama focused again on Afghanistan. In December 2009 he launched a 33,000 troop surge into Afghanistan, bringing the total U.S. deployment there to about 100,000 troops, with an additional 40,000 troops from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In 2011, U.S. Special Forces found bin Laden living in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and killed him in a raid. The next month, Obama announced that he would begin bringing troops home and that the U.S. would leave Afghanistan by 2014. Violence immediately increased, and a new joint security agreement between the U.S. and the Afghan government allowed the U.S. to stay and continue to train Afghan soldiers.

By 2018 the Taliban, which is well funded by foreign investors, mining, opium, and a sophisticated tax system operated in the shadow of the official government, had reestablished itself in more than two thirds of Afghanistan. Americans were tired of the seemingly endless war and were eager for it to end.

To end a military commitment that journalist Dexter Filkins dubbed the “forever war,” former president Donald Trump sent officials to negotiate with the Taliban, and in February 2020 the U.S. agreed to withdraw all U.S. troops, along with NATO allies, by May 1, so long as the Taliban stopped attacking U.S. troops and cut ties with terrorists.

The U.S. did not include the Afghan government in the talks that led to the deal, leaving it to negotiate its own terms with the Taliban after the U.S. had already announced it was heading home. Observers at the time were concerned that the U.S. withdrawal would essentially allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, where the previous 20 years had permitted the reestablishment of stability and women’s rights. Indeed, almost immediately, Taliban militants began an assassination campaign against Afghan leaders, although they did not kill any American soldiers after the deal was signed.

Meanwhile, by announcing their intentions, American officials took pressure off the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leaders. The Pentagon’s inspector general noted in February that “The Taliban intends to stall the negotiations until U.S. and coalition forces withdraw so that it can seek a decisive military victory over the Afghan government.”

Hoping to win voters with this deal to end the war, the Trump administration celebrated the agreement. In September, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted, “A vote for Joe Biden is a vote for forever war in the Middle East. A vote for Donald Trump is a vote to finally bring our troops home.” Then–Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested the U.S. would have “zero” troops left in Afghanistan by spring 2021.

When he was Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden had made it no secret that he was not comfortable with the seemingly endless engagement in Afghanistan. By the time he took office as president in January 2021, he was also boxed in by Trump’s agreement. In April, Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s agreement—“an agreement made by the United States government…means something,” Biden said—and he would begin a final withdrawal on May 1, 2021, to be finished before September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

In July, 73% of Americans agreed that the U.S. should withdraw.

On July 8, Biden announced that the withdrawal was taking place quicker than planned and that the military mission of the U.S. in Afghanistan would end on August 31. He said the U.S. had accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan—kill bin Laden and destroy a haven for international terrorists—and had no business continuing to influence the future of the Afghan people. Together with NATO, the U.S. had trained and equipped nearly 300,000 members of the current Afghan military, as well as many more who are no longer serving, with all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military. While we will continue to support that military, he said, it is time for the Afghan people to “drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.”

For those asking that we stay just a little longer, especially in light of the fact the U.S. has lost no personnel since Trump cut the deal with the Taliban, he asked them to recognize that reneging on that deal would start casualties again. And he asked, “Would you send your own son or daughter?”

Biden insisted the U.S. would continue to support the Afghan government and said the U.S. was working to bring to the U.S. Afghan translators whose lives are in danger for working with U.S. forces. He also seemed to acknowledge the extraordinary danger facing Afghan women and girls under the rule of the Taliban as it continues to sweep through the country. And yet, he said, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”

Instead of using troops, Biden has focused on cutting off the flow of money to terrorists through financial and economic sanctions. (Today, a U.S. official told CNN that the “vast majority” of the assets of Afghanistan’s central bank are not held in Afghanistan and that the U.S. will freeze whatever assets are in the U.S.)

As the U.S. pulled out of the country, the Afghan military simply melted away. Regional capitals fell to the Taliban with little resistance, and Kabul today fell with similar ease. Just five weeks after Biden’s July speech, the Afghan president has left the country and the Taliban is in power.

Already, Republicans are trying to blame the Taliban’s success in Afghanistan on Biden, ignoring former president Trump’s insistence that Biden speed up the exit because “getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do.” So eager are Republicans to rewrite history that they are literally erasing it. Tonight, Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel noticed that the Republican National Committee has scrubbed from its website a section celebrating the deal the Trump administration cut with the Taliban and praising Trump for taking “the lead in peace talks as he signed a historic peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan, which would end America’s longest war.”

Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), who served in Afghanistan and who opposed Biden’s plan for withdrawal, has been highlighting the past statements of pro-exit Republicans who are now attacking the president. “Do not let my party preten[d] to be outraged by this,” he tweeted. “Both the [Republicans] and [Democrats] failed here. Time for Americans to put their country over their party.”

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And of course, in the right wing media, they are blasting Biden for “abandoning all our gains” in Afghanistan. What gains, exactly? And how was this ever going to end differently, unless we stayed eternally? Assholes, every one of them. As always, it will be the civilians in the country we invaded that will pay the price.

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Typical Republican strategy:

  1. Create a problem and/or disastrous policy
  2. Schedule it’s implementation or arrange for its effects to occur for the next administration, make it impossible to “change course”, or mitigate the effects
  3. Once out of power, make a huge deal about how the Democrats have to keep to the terms of the Deal/Policy
  4. Once the timelines/effects come around, Blame the Democrats for it. Pretend it was the Democrat’s idea/fault in the first place. (caveat, even if the effects begin before the Democrats return to power, blame them anyway)

Examples:
a) Current Afghanistan withdrawal
b) Covid Response (or lack there-of)
c) Iraq invasion under Bush 1 (just weeks before Clinton is sworn in, making it “Clinton’s War”
d) Iraq invasion under Bush 2 (leave it festering for the Obama to deal with)
e) Budget Deficits (Repubs run up Huge Huge deficits, claiming deficits don’t matter, then scream bloody murder about those deficits as soon as Democrats come into power, implying they were all the Democrat’s fault)

For some reason, they always seem to get away with these shenanigans.

Edit: Corollary: If the Democrats try to fix the issue, or solve some problem, Block them from doing so (filibuster, lawsuits, etc). Then blame the democrats for failing to fix the problem.

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Right? They didn’t listen to Vizzini about either of the two classic blunders:

z84

And

image

image

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i consider it within the realm of possibility that biden’s impeachment or resignation will happen depending on how terribly the next few weeks go and if any americans are killed

( i know that the former would take the house swinging next year, but i could see this being the thing to do it. )

I feel like the Biden team going on an offensive here is warranted; we’ve been collectively saying how shitty our involvement has been for years and finally someone’s done the damn thing and ended it.

However, this leaves me uneasy. Empire sucks.

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August 16, 2021 (Monday)

According to an article by Susannah George in the Washington Post, the lightning speed takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban forces—which captured all 17 of the regional capitals and the national capital of Kabul in about nine days with astonishing ease—was a result of “cease fire” deals, which amounted to bribes, negotiated after former president Trump’s administration came to an agreement with the Taliban in February 2020. When U.S. officials excluded the Afghan government from the deal, soldiers believed that it was only a question of time until they were on their own and cut deals to switch sides. When Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s deal, the process sped up.

This seems to me to beg the question of how the Biden administration continued to have faith that the Afghan army would at the very least delay the Taliban victory, if not prevent it. Did military and intelligence leaders have no inkling of such a development? In a speech today in which he stood by his decision to remove U.S. troops from Afghanistan, President Joe Biden explained that the U.S. did not begin evacuating Afghan civilians sooner because some, still hoping they could hold off the Taliban, did not yet want to leave.

At the same time, Biden said, “the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, ‘a crisis of confidence.’” He explained that he had urged Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chairman Abdullah Abdullah of the High Council for National Reconciliation to clean up government corruption, unite politically, and seek a political settlement with the Taliban. They “flatly refused” to do so, but “insisted the Afghan forces would fight.”

Instead, government officials themselves fled the country before the Taliban arrived in Kabul, throwing the capital into chaos.

Biden argued today that the disintegration of the Afghan military proved that pulling out the few remaining U.S. troops was the right decision. He inherited from former president Donald Trump the deal with the Taliban agreeing that if the Taliban stopped killing U.S. soldiers and refused to protect terrorists, the U.S. would withdraw its forces by May 1, 2021. The Taliban stopped killing soldiers after it negotiated the deal, and Trump dropped the number of soldiers in Afghanistan from about 15,500 to about 2,500.

Biden had either to reject the deal, pour in more troops, and absorb more U.S. casualties, or honor the plan that was already underway. “I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said today. “American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves. We spent over a trillion dollars. We trained and equipped an Afghan military force of some 300,000 strong—incredibly well equipped—a force larger in size than the militaries of many of our NATO allies…. We gave them every tool they could need. We paid their salaries, provided…close air support. We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

“It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not. If the political leaders of Afghanistan were unable to come together for the good of their people, unable to negotiate for the future of their country when the chips were down, they would never have done so while U.S. troops remained in Afghanistan bearing the brunt of the fighting for them.”

Biden added, “I’m left again to ask of those who argue that we should stay: How many more generations of America’s daughters and sons would you have me send to fight…Afghanistan’s civil war when Afghan troops will not?”

The president recalled that the U.S. invaded Afghanistan almost 20 years ago to prevent another al Qaeda attack on America by making sure the Taliban government could not continue to protect al Qaeda and by removing Osama bin Laden. After accomplishing those goals, though, the U.S. expanded its mission to turn the country into a unified, centralized democracy, a mission that was not, Biden said, a vital national interest.

Biden, who is better versed in foreign affairs than any president since President George H. W. Bush, said today that the U.S. should focus not on counterinsurgency or on nation building, but narrowly on counterterrorism, which now reaches far beyond Afghanistan. Terrorism missions do not require a permanent military presence. The U.S. already conducts such missions, and will conduct them in Afghanistan in the future, if necessary, he said.

Biden claims that human rights are central to his foreign policy, but he wants to accomplish them through diplomacy, economic tools, and rallying others to join us, rather than with “endless military deployments.” He explained that U.S. diplomats are secure at the Kabul airport, and he has authorized 6,000 U.S. troops to go to Afghanistan to help with evacuation.

Biden accepted responsibility for his decision to leave Afghanistan, and he maintained that it is the right decision for America.

While a lot of U.S. observers have quite strong opinions about what the future looks like for Afghanistan, it seems to me far too soon to guess how the situation there will play out. There is a lot of power sloshing around in central Asia right now, and I don’t think either that Taliban leaders are the major players or that Afghanistan is the primary stage. Russia has just concluded military exercises with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, both of which border Afghanistan, out of concern about the military takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. At the same time, the area is about to have to deal with large numbers of Afghan refugees, who are already fleeing the country.

But the attacks on Biden for the withdrawal from Afghanistan do raise the important question of when it is in America’s interest to fight a ground war. Should we limit foreign intervention to questions of the safety of Americans? Should we protect our economic interests? Should we fight to spread democracy? Should we fight to defend human rights? Should we fight to shorten other wars, or prevent genocide?

These are not easy questions, and reasonable people can, and maybe should, disagree about the answers.

But none of them is about partisan politics, either; they are about defining our national interest.

It strikes me that some of the same people currently expressing concern over the fate of Afghanistan’s women and girls work quite happily with Saudi Arabia, which has its own repressive government, and have voted against reauthorizing our own Violence Against Women Act. Some of the same people worrying about the slowness of our evacuation of our Afghan allies voted just last month against providing more visas for them, and others seemed to worry very little about our utter abandonment of our Kurdish allies when we withdrew from northern Syria in 2019. And those worrying about democracy in Afghanistan seem to be largely unconcerned about protecting voting rights here at home.

Most notably to me, some of the same people who are now focusing on keeping troops in Afghanistan to protect Americans seem uninterested in stopping the spread of a disease that has already killed more than 620,000 of us and that is, once again, raging.

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This is the heart of it. The original mission was accomplished 18 mos or so after the war began. Everything after that (and, arguably, prior to as well) was just dumb. We need to be out, and we needed to be out long ago. The right wing will try to tar Biden as “the loser” who left the war, but the only losers are the dead and maimed who should never have been there. We need to get over the idea of empire. We suck at it, and it sucks, so no.

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Gun Fx GIF by Archer

The “War on Terror” has been in huge part an enterprise for the benefit of weapons makers and defense contractors. In those terms, and for them, it’s been one of the most successful wars the US has ever fought.

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Guarantee, the “we” who were/are over there are not in any way the same “them” who profit from it. I personally much more identify with the “we” than the “them.”

(In answer, the “we” is the US of A.)

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August 17, 2021 (Tuesday)

The news this week was so important that I wrote through the weekend, and I don’t know about you all, but I need a very early bedtime tonight. I also need a reminder that there is something out there that will last longer than the next news cycle.

To that end, here’s one of my favorite images from Buddy’s files. As Ecclesiastes puts it: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.”

I’ll see you tomorrow.

[Photo by Buddy Poland]

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August 18, 2021 (Wednesday)

It is still early days, and the picture of what is happening in Afghanistan now that the Taliban has regained control of the country continues to develop.

Central to affairs there is money. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with about half its population requiring humanitarian aid this year and about 90% of its people living below the poverty line of making $2 a day.

The country depends on foreign aid. Under the U.S.-supported Afghan government, the United States and other nations funded about 80% of Afghanistan’s budget. In 2020, foreign aid made up about 43% of Afghanistan’s GDP (the GDP, or gross domestic product, is the monetary value of all the goods and services produced in a country), down from 100% of it in 2009.

This is a huge problem for the Taliban, because their takeover of the country means that the money the country so desperately needs has dried up. The U.S. has frozen billions of dollars of Afghan government money held here in the U.S. The European Union and Germany have also suspended their financial support for the country, and today the International Monetary Fund blocked Afghanistan’s access to $460 million in currency reserves.

Adam M. Smith, who served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, told Jeff Stein of the Washington Post that the financial squeeze is potentially “cataclysmic for Afghanistan.” It threatens to spark a humanitarian crisis that, in turn, will create a refugee crisis in central Asia. Already, the fighting in the last eight months has displaced more than half a million Afghans.

People fleeing from the Taliban threaten to destabilize the region more generally. While Russia was happy to support the Taliban in a war against the U.S., now that its fighters are in charge of the country, Russia needs to keep the Taliban’s extremism from spreading to other countries in the area. So it is tentatively saying supportive things about the Taliban, but it is also stepping up its protection of neighboring countries’ borders with Afghanistan. Other countries are also leery of refugees in the region: large numbers of refugees have, in the past, led countries to turn against immigrants, giving a leg up to right-wing governments.

Canada and Britain are each taking an additional 20,000 Afghan women leaders, reporters, LGBTQ people, and human rights workers on top of those they have already volunteered to take, but Turkey—which is governed by strongman president Recep Tayyip Erdogan—is building a wall to block refugees, and French President Emmanuel Macron asked officials in Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey to prevent migrants reaching their countries from traveling any further. The European Union has asked its member states to take more Afghan refugees.

In the U.S., the question of Afghan refugees is splitting the Republican Party, with about 30% of it following the hard anti-immigrant line of former president Donald Trump. Others, though, especially those whose districts include military installations, are saying they welcome our Afghan allies.

The people fleeing the country also present a problem for those now in control of Afghanistan. The idea that people are terrified of their rule is a foreign relations nightmare, at the same time that those leaving are the ones most likely to have the skills necessary to help govern the country. But leaders can’t really stop the outward flow—at least immediately—because they do not want to antagonize the international community so thoroughly that it continues to withhold the financial aid the country so badly needs. So, while on the streets, Taliban fighters are harassing Afghans who are trying to get away, Taliban leaders are saying they will permit people to evacuate, that they will offer blanket amnesty to those who opposed them, and also that they will defend some rights for women and girls.

The Biden administration is sending more personnel to help evacuate those who want to leave. The president has promised to evacuate all Americans in the country—as many as 15,000 people—but said only that we would evacuate as many of the estimated 65,000 Afghans who want to leave as possible. The Taliban has put up checkpoints on the roads to the airport and are not permitting everyone to pass. U.S. military leaders say they will be able to evacuate between 5000 and 9000 people a day.

Today, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley tried to explain the frantic rush to evacuate people from Afghanistan to reporters by saying: “There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.” Maybe. But military analyst Jason Dempsey condemned the whole U.S. military project in Afghanistan when he told NPR’s Don Gonyea that the collapse of the Afghan government showed that the U.S. had fundamentally misunderstood the people of Afghanistan and had tried to impose a military system that simply made no sense for a society based in patronage networks and family relationships.

Even with Dempsey’s likely accurate assessment, the statement that U.S. military intelligence missed that a 300,000 person army was going to melt away still seems to me astonishing. Still, foreign policy and national security policy analyst Dr. John Gans of the University of Pennsylvania speculated on Twitter that such a lapse might be more “normal”—his word and quotation marks—than it seems, reflecting the slips possible in government bureaucracy. He points out that the Department of Defense has largely controlled Afghanistan and the way the U.S. involvement there was handled in Washington. But with the end of the military mission, the Defense Department was eager to hand off responsibility to the State Department, which was badly weakened under the previous administration and has not yet rebuilt fully enough to handle what was clearly a complicated handoff. “There have not been many transitions between an American war & an American diplomatic relationship with a sovereign, friendly country,” Gans wrote. “Fewer still when the friendly regime disintegrates so quickly.” When things started to go wrong, they snowballed.

And yet, the media portrayal of our withdrawal as a catastrophe also seems to me surprising. To date, at least as far as I have seen, there have been no reports of such atrocities as the top American diplomat in Syria reported in the chaos when the U.S. pulled out of northern Syria in 2019. Violence against our Kurdish allies there was widely expected and it indeed occurred. In a memo made public in November of that year, Ambassador William V. Roebuck wrote that “Islamist groups” paid by Turkey were deliberately engaged in ethnic cleansing of Kurds, and were committing “widely publicized, fear-inducing atrocities” even while “our military forces and diplomats were on the ground.” The memo continued: “The Turkey operation damaged our regional and international credibility and has significantly destabilized northeastern Syria.”

Reports of that ethnic cleansing in the wake of our withdrawal seemed to get very little media attention in 2019, perhaps because the former president’s first impeachment inquiry took up all the oxygen. But it strikes me that the sensibility of Roebuck’s memo is now being read onto our withdrawal from Afghanistan although conditions there are not—yet—like that.

For now, it seems, the drive to keep the door open for foreign money is reining in Taliban extremism. That caution seems unlikely to last forever, but it might hold for long enough to complete an evacuation.

Much is still unclear and the situation is changing rapidly, but my guess is that keeping an eye on the money will be crucial for understanding how this plays out.

Meanwhile, the former president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has surfaced in the United Arab Emirates. He denies early reports that he fled the country with suitcases full of cash.

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Yeah, they were moving boxes, sheesh.

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