The Morning Dispatch: Afghanistan, One Year Later

Happy Monday! Best of luck to the Tesla bro looking for parents in the Bay Area who will let their child run in front of his car to “make a point” about the safety of its self-driving features and win a Twitter fight.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The House voted 220-207 along party lines on Friday to pass the Inflation Reduction Act, sending to President Joe Biden’s desk more than $400 billion in healthcare and green energy subsidies, as well as additional funding for the Internal Revenue Service. Democrats claim new corporate taxes and stricter IRS enforcement will generate enough revenue to pay for the bill’s provisions and reduce the deficit, but the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has not yet released an updated estimate following a few last-minute changes to the act. Biden is expected to sign the legislation into law this week.

  • A federal judge unsealed the warrant and receipt of materials tied to the FBI’s recent search of Mar-a-Lago on Friday, revealing federal law enforcement is investigating potential obstruction of justice, the potentially illegal removal or destruction of government records, and potential violations of the Espionage Act. An inventory of the search indicated FBI agents removed dozens of boxes from the resort, including records related to his pardon of Roger Stone, “Info re: President of France,” a “handwritten note,” and more than ten sets of items labeled classified, confidential, secret, or top secret. Trump claimed in a statement Friday that the seized documents were declassified under a “standing order” he made while president that declassified any documents he took home.

  • The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Friday reportedly issued a joint intelligence bulletin warning of increased threats of violence against federal law enforcement after the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago search, including a threat to bomb the FBI headquarters and general calls for civil war or rebellion. Ohio State Highway Patrol announced Thursday afternoon officers had shot and killed an armed man who—after reportedly expressing outrage at the Mar-a-Lago search—allegedly tried to breach an FBI field office in Cincinnati earlier in the day.

  • Salman Rushdie, 75, was stabbed several times at a speaking engagement in New York on Friday, allegedly by a 24-year-old New Jersey resident who pleaded not guilty on Saturday. Rushdie was reportedly off a ventilator and able to say a few words on Sunday, but he may lose an eye and is dealing with damage to his liver and the nerves in his arms. The Indian-American author has faced death threats since the 1988 publication of his novel, The Satanic Verses, as some Muslims consider its depiction of Muhammad blasphemous. In 1989, then-Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa—a religious decree—calling for Rushdie’s assassination, forcing the writer into hiding for several years. 

  • The Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee said in a statement Friday that the Department of Justice is investigating the 47,000-church denomination after a third-party report released in May found SBC leaders for years suppressed and mishandled sexual abuse reports. SBC members voted for various reforms after the report, and leaders promised to comply with the investigation.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said a Palestinian gunman acting alone wounded at least eight people on a bus in Jerusalem early Sunday, including, according to the State Department, at least five American citizens. It was the first such attack in several months, and came shortly after a cease-fire was reached between Israel and Gaza-based extremists. 

  • The U.S. Federal Election Commission on Thursday approved Google’s plan to conduct a test allowing campaign and other political emails through spam filters after Republicans accused the company of deliberately letting Democrats’ emails through more often. Some political consultants believe Republicans’ aggressive emailing tactics are behind the disparity, and the Democratic National Committee objected to the FEC’s plan, arguing the program would incentivize deceptive fundraising emails that would otherwise be blocked.

  • A congressional delegation led by Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts touched down in Taiwan on Sunday, kicking off a two-day visit just weeks after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to the island elicited an aggressive response from the Chinese Communist Party. Liu Pengyu—a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in the United States—criticized the trip, claiming it shows the “responsibility for the current tension across the Taiwan Straits rests entirely with the U.S. side.”

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed legislation Thursday that would halt plans to close down Diablo Canyon Power Plant—the state’s last nuclear plant, which provides nearly 10 percent of California’s power—over the next three years. Newsom’s plan would offer a $1.4 billion forgivable loan for relicensing the plant, circumvent strict environmental impact reviews, and keep the plant open for about decade to help California meet its power demand while cutting down on fossil fuels. 

Afghanistan Withdrawal, One Year Later

(Photo by Sayed Najafizada/NurPhoto via Getty Images.)

It’s been exactly one year since then-President Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan, allowing the Taliban to take back control of Kabul—and the country—after two decades of insurgency. In a piece for the site today, Charlotte and Audrey take stock of the political and humanitarian conditions 365 days later, finding, unfortunately, that many of the direst predictions from a year ago have come to pass.

By September 2021, any Afghans not evacuated from the country fell under the Taliban’s extremist rule, with few pathways of escape.

An associate of Naheed Farid—formerly a lawmaker in the lower house of Afghanistan’s national assembly—is among those trapped. The woman, who previously worked for a U.S. contractor, was attacked in her own home by the Taliban last month, and has been in hiding ever since. 

“Afghan women and girls now face a blatant gender apartheid,” Farid said in an interview. “The Taliban have stripped most women of the right to work and education. Young women who grew up in a free and open society are now living in fear.”

The reality now facing Afghanistan’s women is one the State Department sought to avoid by putting economic and diplomatic pressure on the Taliban to form an inclusive government. But the insurgent group, despite promising to work “shoulder-to-shoulder” with women, never deviated from the same extremist interpretation of Islam it followed more than 20 years ago. Shortly after taking power last year, the Taliban formed an all-male and hardline government, which has since barred girls from attending secondary school—a ban nearing its 11-month mark—and pressured many workplaces into dismissing their female employees.

The plight of Afghanistan’s women and stranded U.S. allies also weighs on congressional Democrats, and many are focusing on aiding the escape efforts of at-risk allies still on the ground.

“Our failure to enable their exit will continue to be a real potential stain on our national character,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who sits on the Senate Committees on Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs, said in an interview earlier this month.

Blumenthal said that the U.S. government is still in communication with organizations—veterans’ groups in particular—helping “at-risk Afghan allies who still have targets on their backs” get out of the country. He’s one of six senators of both parties who unveiled last week a new bill called the Afghan Adjustment Act, which aims to help special immigrant visa-eligible Afghans abroad immigrate to the United States. For Afghan refugees already in the country, the legislation would create additional legal pathways to permanent citizenship.

The fact that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was in Kabul when a U.S. operation killed him this month demonstrates the growing terrorism threat emanating from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. 

In February 2020, the Trump administration finalized an agreement with the Taliban to reduce U.S. forces effectively to zero. Some lawmakers say that the Biden team’s decision to adhere to this agreement—despite clear evidence that the Taliban hadn’t adhered to six of the seven conditions outlined in the agreement, including one requiring that it relinquish ties to al-Qaeda—placed diplomatic priorities ahead of national security interests.  

“Al-Zawahiri’s death should serve as a reminder of the constant vigilance peace demands. Al-Qaeda remains a dangerous enemy. The Taliban never broke with al-Qaeda,” GOP Rep. Liz Cheney said in a recent statement. “And the Taliban’s Afghanistan remains a safehaven for terrorists to this day.”

The administration has boasted that the strike is a success in the military’s over-the-horizon strategy. But without a troop presence on the ground in Afghanistan or a nearby military base, the U.S. continues to face a host of obstacles—both tactical and political—as it seeks to conduct counterterrorism operations from afar. 

“They can operate freely, they can regroup, reorganize. And there’s a real threat that it will get worse, endangering the region and the world,” Farid explained. “The biggest challenge in the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is accessing real-time information, confirming counterterrorism targets on the ground. … Without any foothold, without anyone on the ground, it’s impossible.”

Expect oversight of the Afghanistan withdrawal to be a focus of Republicans lawmakers if they take back either chamber of Congress this fall.

“When we take over next year, we’re going to do a review that the Democrats won’t do because they don’t want to embarrass the Biden administration,” Rep. Mike Rogers, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said in an interview last month in reference to the Afghanistan withdrawal. “There’s no way they’d come out looking good.”

Prioritizing political optics over strategy may be what led to last year’s foreign policy failure in the first place, Republican lawmakers say. Americans’ general support of an Afghanistan exit  may have contributed to the White House’s sense of urgency to depart Afghanistan as quickly as possible, even if such a decision ran counter to recommendations from Biden’s military advisors. 

“Most people in America wanted to get out of Afghanistan. Nobody wanted to go out that way,” Sen. Jim Risch, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told The Dispatch. “That withdrawal was an embarrassment for the United States, it hurt our image with both friends and enemies, and it’s going to take a long time to recover from that.”

Any oversight investigation will likely center on the extent to which President Joe Biden ignored recommendations from the country’s top generals in the lead-up to the withdrawal.

Asked by ABC News host George Stephanopoulos on August 19, 2021, whether any of his military advisers had recommended that he keep a residual force of 2,500 troops on the ground in Afghanistan, Biden denied having received such advice: “No. No one said that to me that I can recall.” 

But Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, challenged that assertion weeks later when they testified under oath that they urged Biden against withdrawing all American troops from Afghanistan. 

“What can be learned from this is that the president should always listen to the people around him,” Risch said. 

Rogers maintains that even some of his Democratic colleagues on the committee urged the White House against following through with a full drawdown of troops. “Both sides of the aisle on the [House] Armed Services committee were telling the administration not to do what we did the way that we did it, and the State Department wouldn’t listen,” Rogers said.  “That’s the first thing we learned—don’t let the State Department run a military operation. They can screw up a steel ball with a rubber hammer.”

Join the Skiff

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  • Editorial Director, Audio/Video: We’re looking for someone to expand on the early success of our four existing podcasts—The Dispatch Podcast, The Remnant, Advisory Opinions, and Good Faith—and our weekly video livestream, Dispatch Live, to oversee the development, production, and strategy of new audio/video editorial products.

  • Associate Audio/Video Editor: Primary duties include engineering tapings of Dispatch podcasts, troubleshooting technical problems, editing, audio restoration and repair, mixing, mastering, video production and collaborating with reporters and producers in a variety of settings.

Worth Your Time

  • In The Atlantic, Randy Boyagoda recalls Salman Rushdie making two requests before a speaking engagement: Keep any security subtle, and talk about anything but the fatwa. “His frustration with the public’s continued fixation on ‘the Rushdie affair’ no doubt relates to his wanting to move on, both as an artist and as a person,” Boyagoda writes. “Alas, yesterday’s attack has placed that part of his identity front and center once again.” Boyagoda suggests we honor Rushdie not by clicking another headline about the attack, but by writing boldly—and reading his work. “We venerate the wounded Rushdie as the apogee of a shared defense of artistic freedom, but do we have the gifts, and the guts, to follow him? We can more readily demonstrate our solidarity with him and advance the principles he embodies by committing to literary works bold and ambitious enough to make the very acts of writing, publishing, and reading once more daringly world-changing, even, if must be, dangerous. Also this: Instead of just scrolling and sharing links about him and the attack, we can actually read something by Salman Rushdie. One of those other books he wants to be known for.” Boyagoda suggests, as a place to start, the 1999 novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet.

  • Sing the glory of a good group chat! In the New York Times, Hannah Sung recounts the joy and community various group texts have brought to her life throughout the pandemic and across distance. “On my Twitter feed, strangers rant,” Sung writes. “Instagram feels like a beautiful day at the beach with the theme song to ‘Jaws’ in the background. Facebook is like a phone book to me, something I need in the house but don’t use often. My group chats are where I go with work drama, or an article I can drop like a bomb, or my random hot take about the best carb (where my potato people at?). They’re serious. They’re frivolous. They’re where I can be online but stay human… I appreciate how, in the apocalyptic landscape of our algorithmically juiced culture wars, a group chat is a refuge where my ideas and thoughts don’t have to be fully formed and battle ready. We grant one another a little grace, even when discussing polarizing topics.”

Presented Without Comment 

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Between the FBI search and a deposition in New York, Trump had a busy time of it last week, and Sarah, Jonah, and David unpack the fallout on Friday’s edition of The Dispatch Podcast. Plus: Thoughts on the latest inflation numbers, the “Inflation Reduction Act,” and primary results in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and elsewhere.

  • Members of Congress have introduced a bill that would help Afghan evacuees gain legal permanent residence in the U.S., Haley reports in Friday’s Uphill (🔒). Supporters hope the bill will pass before the 117th Congress finishes its term—and Democrats have a laundry list of other legislative priorities before Republicans likely win the majority in at least one chamber.

  • We live in stupid times, Jonah argues in Friday’s G-File. You may already agree, but it’s still worth the read. “If you go through life having already determined that you’re gonna be pissed off by whatever happens to you, your listening and thinking skills are going to atrophy,” he writes. “If the slightest provocation is going to make you say, ‘This means war’ because you want war, you’re going to declare war for a stupid reason.”

  • It’s almost college football season, and in a piece for the site over the weekend, Price dove into all the conference realignment we’ve seen these past few months. “By pursuing TV money and abstract ‘prestige’ without regard to historical rivalries and regional cultures,” he writes, “the conferences and the schools they represent are behaving in a rational, self-interested manner that makes sense for each entity individually while ‘overgrazing’ and cheapening the overall product that is college football.”

  • The FBI should apply the same standard for recommending criminal charges over Trump’s mishandling of classified documents as it did to Hillary Clinton, David writes in Sunday’s French Press, insisting both leaders’ behavior is serious regardless of prosecutorial decisions. “Two of the most powerful and prominent politicians in the United States engaged in conduct that virtually any other American would be prosecuted for,” he writes. “They have placed the system under great strain, and the system is buckling.”

  • Chris Stirewalt’s latest piece for the site is a jeremiad against how our primary elections have prolonged and soured election season: “Our modern parties developed their divisive approach to winning elections by mobilization, not persuasion, in part because it was so hard to get normal people to the polls … But that approach isn’t working in our time of increased voter engagement.”

Let Us Know

A year after the U.S. military left Afghanistan, have your thoughts on the withdrawal changed? If so, how?

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