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Today’s Edition: The U.S. war in Afghanistan is over.
August 31, 2021.
America’s military presence in Afghanistan ended on August 31, 2021. History will record that the U.S. ended its longest war because Joe Biden refused to bend to the will of military commanders who contested and resisted his orders—just as they did with orders from Obama and Trump. As David Rothkopf writes in The Atlantic, “Unlike his three immediate predecessors in the Oval Office, all of whom also came to see the futility of the Afghan operation, Biden alone had the political courage to fully end America’s involvement.” Because Biden succeeded where other presidents failed, he alone will bear responsibility for the inevitable disappointment, heartbreak, and turmoil that accompany defeat in war. But he also deserves credit and gratitude for lives saved and for billions redirected from war to peaceful purposes. Importantly, the withdrawal will allow the U.S. to focus its attention on counterterrorism rather than futile exercises in nation-building. Those benefits will unfold gradually and will slip by unnoticed when they occur. Biden will receive no credit when they do—which is why his unwavering commitment to end the war despite the personal political cost is commendable.
Biden has been steadfast in defending his decision not to extend the date for withdrawal. Politicians and the media have taken umbrage at his unwillingness to wilt and grovel in the face of their criticism. On August 16th, Biden gave a vigorous defense of his rationale for withdrawal. If you haven’t read it, it is worth your attention. If you already have, you know that Biden answered the criticisms levied before and after the speech, though politicians and the press pretend that Biden has failed to explain himself. He will do so again on Tuesday in a speech to the nation. In a written statement issued on Monday, Biden explained that “ending our military mission was the best way to protect the lives of our troops, and secure the prospects of civilian departures for those who want to leave Afghanistan in the weeks and months ahead.”
The media continues to blame Biden for every shortcoming in the withdrawal. Although the withdrawal successfully evacuated more than 120,000 civilians, two hundred Americans remain in Afghanistan—some of whom have chosen to stay. The Washington Post Editorial Board addressed the failure to remove every last American from Afghanistan in its editorial, “America is leaving thousands of people behind in Afghanistan. This is a moral disaster.” As they say in the news business, The Post “buried the lede.” On Monday, the story was that a twenty-year war ended, not that the war did not resolve the fate of every American in Afghanistan. To be sure, their safety is important. Secretary of State Blinken addressed the plan to remove those American from Afghanistan in the coming weeks—if they choose to leave. Blinken said, “We will continue our relentless efforts to help Americans, foreign nationals, and Afghans, leave Afghanistan if they choose. [The U.S.] made extraordinary efforts to give Americans every opportunity to depart the country.”
The military phase of the war in Afghanistan is over. Its aftermath is not. The war leaves behind thousands of families who have lost sons and daughters. It has left behind tens of thousands of veterans who bear the physical and emotional scars of their service in Afghanistan. And it leaves behind tens of thousands of Afghans who helped the U.S. over the last twenty years. We must deconstruct the war to avoid repeating it. But in doing so, we should not minimize or dismiss the human suffering that will continue for a generation.
As feared, Hurricane Ida has plunged a million citizens of Louisiana into darkness. Joe Biden presided over a press briefing with the responsible federal, state, and local officials to address their joint response. I listened to the press briefing live and was impressed both by the preparedness of the governmental agencies involved and Biden’s command of the facts. Per Biden, the federal government “pre-positioned” rescue crews, food, water, and equipment near the expected path of Hurricane Ida. That allowed rescue operations to begin at first light on Monday—unlike the days’ delay and confusion after Katrina.
In his remarks, Biden noted that the federal government had brokered a “sharing agreement” between cell phone carriers to allow users of one service to use signals provided other carriers. Biden acknowledged that the electrical grid may take days to repair but said that the federal government is coordinating mitigation efforts with electricity suppliers across the country. See generally, Remarks by President Biden in Briefing on Hurricane Ida.” Biden also noted that the FAA and Pentagon are working with state officials to provide surveillance video from drones and satellites to provide a clear picture of damage to infrastructure.
On the substance, it was a confidence inspiring message from the federal government and from Biden. As usual, the media has reduced the devastation of Hurricane Ida to a political horse-race. See The Week, “Hurricane Ida is a make-or-break moment for Biden.” The right-wing press is claiming that the strong briefing by Biden is proof of senility because he referred to Cedric Richmond as “his senior advisor and boy who knows Louisiana very, very well man—and New Orleans.” The video of the press briefing is here if you want to see for yourself that Biden was in command of a complicated situation.
Supreme Court may end legal abortions in Texas this week.
The decades-long effort of conservative Republicans to end legal abortions may finally succeed later this week. If you are shocked that the issue may be decided so quickly, you haven’t been paying attention to the Court’s new strategy of deciding major cases by ruling on procedural motions before hearing the merits of cases on appeal. Two recent examples were the Court’s orders effectively ending the eviction moratorium and compelling the administration to enter into a voluntary agreement with Mexico. See my discussion of this topic in Today’s Edition: “The backbone of America.”
Here’s how the Court may abolish legal abortions in Texas without hearing the case on the merits. Texas crafted a law that gives private citizens in the U.S. the right to sue abortion providers in Texas who violate a new Texas law that plainly violates the rulings of Roe v. Wade (and progeny). By deputizing private citizens to bring suit, Texas hopes to evade federal judicial review. If the private citizen is successful, he collects his attorneys fees and the abortion provider must shut down its facility. If an abortion provider cannot obtain a stay of any lower court ruling pending appeal, the abortion provider will go out of business and face ruinous civil penalties.
Abortion providers in Texas have challenged the constitutionality of the law and a federal district judge in Texas scheduled a hearing on whether to issue an injunction against enforcement of the Texas law. In an unprecedented move, a panel of judges in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal ordered the Texas federal judge not to hold the scheduled hearing on the constitutionality of the statute. That ruling is now on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. If the Court refuses to allow the trial court judge to hold a hearing on the constitutionality of the Texas law, it will go into effect and all abortion providers in Texas will be forced to close immediately or face financial ruin.
The situation is more complicated and dire than my summary above. For an excellent analysis, see the discussion by Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern in Slate, “Texas’ new abortion ban forces the Supreme Court to decide the fate of Roe v. Wade.” I urge you to read the article by Lithwick and Stern. Even if the Supreme Court blinks and decides to kick the can down the road this time, the strategy being used by Texas will rear its ugly head again and again until Texas or Mississippi or Georgia succeeds in convincing the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade (and related cases) without holding a hearing.
It will be a bitter blow if Texas circumvents judicial review by allowing private citizens to bring suits to enforce a statute that plainly violates the Court’s well-settled precedent. But if that happens, I hope that California and other states will use similar legislation to put firearms sellers out of business by authorizing citizen suits that will evade judicial review.
A reader from Florida sent a note saying that mothers who oppose masks have begun to line up in front of schools and harass students who are wearing masks as they walk into school in the morning. This story from Florida reports that a father was arrested for assaulting a student he was videotaping for wearing a mask. (The student reached for the father’s phone in frustration over being videotaped on multiple occasions, and he assaulted her in response.)
Attacking and harassing children over masking policies is beyond the pale in a civilized society. Prosecutors in Florida (and elsewhere) should take aggressive action to charge and convict adults who are harassing children over mask policies that are set by schools, governors, and legislatures. The abhorrent behavior of anti-masking proponents will hasten the day when demagogues like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott are defeated. It can’t happen soon enough. Indeed, the Department of Education has opened investigations into five states that have prohibited masks in schools. Good.
Talk to you tomorrow!