Mike Jason writes for The Atlantic about the failures of the American military in Afghanistan.
We invaded Afghanistan with righteous anger after 9/11, but then what? Why was the United States in Afghanistan for years afterward? What about our fraught relationship with Pakistan and its influence in Afghanistan? A coherent strategy to address these questions would have made my job easier on the ground. First and foremost, a clearly articulated end goal would have assured our Afghan partners and our allies from other nations (as well as our foes) of our determination. Instead of leaving the entire effort to the Department of Defense, a coordinated strategy with commensurate resources across government could have produced better results in multiple Afghan institutions. Further, 20 years ago, a commitment to law enforcement might have been very attractive to our allies, many of whom have their own national police force and a track record of success in performing such missions. Perhaps most crucial, a clear and forceful foreign policy regarding Pakistan, coupled with a commitment to supporting and employing a new Afghan army, would have provided much clarity and focus for our military.
We didn’t fight a 20-year war in Afghanistan; we fought 20 incoherent wars, one year at a time, without a sense of direction. The U.S. military can and should be blamed for the collapse of security forces in Afghanistan—I hold us responsible. The current collapse keeps me up at night. In the military, the main effort gets the best resources and the best talent available. For more than 20 years, no matter what was reported, what we read in the headlines, efforts to build and train large-scale conventional security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq have mostly been an aimless, ham-fisted acronym soup of trial and error that never became the true main effort, and we are to blame for that.
Emily Tankin of The New Statesman asserts that while President Joe Biden probably is doing the right thing in withdrawing from Afghanistan, the implementation of the withdrawal is simply FUBAR, but it did not have to be.
[I}f you invade and then occupy a country for 20 years, fail to adequately train Afghan security forces and oversee a failing state and corrupt government, and then leave, exposing people (especially women and girls) to the brutal rule of the Taliban, that is a reflection of the callousness of American power.
On the other hand…The idea that the US should police every possible human rights violation throughout the world would require it to militarily occupy numerous countries at great cost to American treasure, men and materiel. Nor can the US be expected to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, perpetuating what is already the longest war in American history.
This is the situation that the Biden administration finds itself in. As Biden announced this spring, American troops are due to leave by the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001. The Taliban is retaking the country. The situation is so dire that the US reportedly tried to negotiate with the Taliban to leave its embassy in Kabul unharmed and sent thousands of troops back to Afghanistan to evacuate Americans. Kabul could fall in a month.
Over at Vox, German Lopez writes that we may need to accept that COVID-19 will be with us for awhile.
If you go back to the earlier days of the pandemic, the original hope with vaccines was more modest. Previously, the Food and Drug Administration set the standard for an acceptable Covid-19 vaccine at 50 percent efficacy. The expectation was that the vaccine wouldn’t stop all cases of Covid-19, but would at least reduce the severity of the disease. As Baylor College’s Peter Hotez put it at the time, “Even if it’s not the best vaccine, it still could prevent me from going to the hospital or worse.”
Consider the recent study, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The initial headlines about the study focused on the fact that three-fourths of cases tracked in the study were among vaccinated people, showing the virus spread in a very vaccinated community. The implication, propped up by the CDC’s new guidance that vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in public, was that the delta variant can spread at a high level among even the people who got their shots.
But if you dig into the details of the outbreak, they revealed some very good news for vaccinated people. Among the more than 1,000 cases so far linked to Provincetown, there have only been seven reported hospitalizations (some unvaccinated) and no deaths.
If this was 2020, given overall hospitalization and death rates, the outbreak would have likely produced roughly 100 hospitalizations and 10 deaths.
Liz Benjamin of The New York Times writes about the soon-to-be-first woman governor of New York state, Kathy Hochul.
What’s critical to understand about Ms. Hochul — and it may sound like a small thing, but it’s not — is that she finds ways to make the most of her position.
Her most recent one, the lieutenant governor’s job, is largely ceremonial in New York, with no official policy portfolio and little opportunity to establish an agenda. And until this month, she has been far from a household name: Even some seasoned TV anchors and reporters covering the governor’s downfall and resignation struggled to pronounce “Hochul.” (It’s a hard “c,” like “cool,” not the soft “ch” of “church.”)
But Ms. Hochul is seemingly indefatigable, known to pack her day full of public events — sometimes beginning and ending at opposite ends of the state. In the process, she has established strong ties with a wide array of political stakeholders and power brokers.
In doing so she has created a profile for herself well beyond her political base in Buffalo, which has always been viewed as something of a backwater by the downstate-dominated political class. The last true upstate governor was a Cortland County native, Nathan Miller, elected in 1920. George Pataki claimed the upstate mantle, but he hailed from Westchester County, which is really a New York City suburb.
Justin George reports for The Washington Post on what transit agencies plan to do with the money they are slated to receive once the infrastructure package is signed into law.
While transit agencies, including Metro in the Washington region, worry about the slow pace of riders returning amid the coronavirus pandemic and the effect telecommuting could have on revenue, they simultaneously are looking to make expensive service upgrades. Most are eyeing electric buses, expanding rapid transit buses, installing high-tech fare gates or adding mobile fare payment systems.
The bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan — which includes a record $107 billion federal investment in transit projects — would put public transit officials in the position of bracing for possible job and service cuts because of revenue losses while also providing an opportunity to modernize their systems. The plan that recently passed the Senate calls for funding upgrades, giving agencies in the Washington region and nationwide a reason to dust off their wish lists.
Infrastructure package funding is largely devoted to capital projects, such as building, construction and equipment. In most cases, those funds can’t be spent to make up for huge fare revenue losses tied to the pandemic. Three coronavirus stimulus packages included operational dollars that many agencies continue to rely on.
Kimberly Atkins Stohr of The Boston Globe writes that when it comes to race in America, there are the facts … and then there are the politics.
If, as our nation’s foundational documents claim, we were all bestowed the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at our creation, then every American should have a vested interest in ending the persistent systemic racism in our society. But the Pew report shows that Americans just don’t see it that way.
While 78 percent of Democrats said they believe the increased attention on historical racism and slavery is a positive development, only 25 percent of Republicans said the same.
When it comes to solutions to systemic racism, 74 percent of Democrats said more needs to be done to achieve racial equity, according to the study. But only 22 percent of Republicans agreed.
The divide extends to views about the very existence of racial inequities in America. While 85 percent of Democrats said that white people benefit from the advantages denied to Black people, 78 percent of Republicans said white people do not enjoy such privilege.
The political divide on the issue of race is not new, but it is widening.
David R Baker, Brian K Sullivan and Josh Saul write for Phys.org that we may be seeing the beginning of a new era in the western United States.
Drought across the Western U.S. has forced California to ration water to farms. Hydroelectric dams barely work. The smallest spark—from a lawnmower or even a flat tire—can explode into a wildfire.
While this region has always had dry summers, they’re supposed to follow a pattern that leads to relief with the arrival of the annual rainy season in November. But a break is no longer guaranteed.
In fact, there are now both short- and long-term factors drying out the Western U.S. Under the influence of fast-warming temperatures, as documented in detail by this week’s report from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the region may be entering a drier state. Drought season might be giving way to a drought era.
Jacopo Barigazzi of POLITICO Europe writes of the coming wave of problems that may beset the continent as the American-NATO withdrawal of forces in Afghanistan nears completion, even as the Taliban rapidly advances in retaking the country.
Stoking Europeans’ fears are the prospect of a hardline Islamist regime ruling Afghanistan once again, the possibility of a new wave of migration and grave concerns about the safety of Afghans who have worked for the EU or European governments. Officials are also closely watching the roles that geopolitical rivals Turkey and China are playing in the crisis.
Yet despite Europe having a major stake in the outcome of the conflict in Afghanistan, European officials admit they have very little influence or leverage. And there is no sign of any appetite among European leaders for a new military intervention, following U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out American forces — a move that prompted the Europeans to follow suit.
The EU is represented by a special envoy, Tomas Niklasson, at talks in Qatar that are meant to produce a lasting political settlement for Afghanistan. On paper, the bloc has some sway there, through its financial aid and its ability to grant international recognition to whoever leads the country.
Lili Bayer, also writing for POLITICO Europe, muses on the current fortunes of “pirate parties” in the European Union.
One group has adopted some traditional party structures many in the movement long eschewed — and may finally become part of an EU coalition government.
The other has stuck to its anti-establishment sensibility, remaining loosely organized — and has mostly stayed on the outside looking in.
The divergence has left the political movement in a transitional phase nearly a generation after it first burst onto the scene, fueled by a growing wariness of mainstream politics and vowing to bring a tech-first, radically transparent ethos to politics.
While the broader movement has stagnated in many European countries — the success short-lived as parties struggled with infighting and conventional politics — some of the more developed parties are making gains. There are currently four pirate members in the European Parliament, as well as pirates in the national legislatures of Luxembourg, Iceland and the Czech Republic. A pirate is even serving as mayor of Prague.
Finally, Ryan Haas of Brookings’ Order From Chaos asserts that while there are other “major powers” in the international system, the United States and China are the bipolar (and interdependent) superpowers in that system—and will be for some time to come.
As America’s unipolarity in the international system has waned, there has been renewed focus on the role of major powers in the international system, including the European Union, Russia, India, and Japan. Each of these powers has a major population and substantial economic weight or military heft, but as my Brookings colleague Bruce Jones has observed, none have all. Only the United States and China possess all these attributes.
The U.S. and China are likely to continue amassing disproportionate weight in the international system going forward. Their growing role in the global economy is fueled largely by both countries’ technology sectors. These two countries have unique traits. These include world-class research expertise, deep capital pools, data abundance, and highly competitive innovation ecosystems. Both are benefitting disproportionately from a clustering effect around technology hubs. For example, of the roughly 4,500 artificial intelligence-involved companies in the world, about half operate in the U.S. and one-third operate in China. According to a widely cited study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the U.S. and China are set to capture 70% of the $15.7 trillion windfall that AI is expected to add to the global economy by 2030.
The United States and China have been reinvesting their economic gains to varying degrees into research and development for new and emerging technologies that will continue to propel them forward. While it is not foregone that the U.S. and China will remain at the frontier of innovation indefinitely, it also is not clear which other countries might displace them or on what timeline. Overall, China’s economy likely will cool in the coming years relative to its blistering pace of growth in recent decades, but it is not likely to collapse.
Note: News of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti was breaking just as I approached deadline.
Everyone have a great day!