Our Best Stuff on Afghanistan, Hong Kong, and the Speech Police

Happy Sunday! I hope you’re having a good weekend. And if you live in the Pacific Northwest, you have my sympathies about the weather. Back when my husband and I lived there, we always wished summer would start before July 5, but 93 in the shade seems a bit much. 

It was a good-news, bad-news kind of news week. On Thursday, we detailed some encouraging developments regarding the effort to bring the families of Afghan citizens—interpreters, drivers, engineers—who assisted our war effort to the United States.  

The Biden administration took some heat back in April, when he announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing all its remaining troops but made no provisions for the thousands of Afghans who had worked for the U.S. government. The Taliban had threatened anyone who aided the U.S., and this ABC News story from the time of the announcement shares heartbreaking stories of men who’ve been killed by the Taliban while waiting for a visa, or others who’ve fled with their families to other countries but still live in fear.

“What we don’t want to see is a scene like Vietnam, people trying to hang on to the helicopters [as American troops fly away]. … I don’t know of anyone against it,” Ohio GOP Rep. Brad Wenstrup told The Dispatch.

We have more details on the proposed plans in The Morning Dispatch.

On Friday, Thomas Joscelyn demonstrated why that effort is so necessary. In Vital Interests, he explained just how bad the situation on the ground in Afghanistan really is. He starts by quoting Mark Milley’s testimony before Congress that the Taliban controls 81 of 419 “district centers” in the country (akin to counties, he explains). But Joscelyn cites research by his colleague Bill Roggio that suggests that Taliban likely controls more than 140 districts, almost twice as many as Milley said. And the Taliban has accelerated its efforts since May 1.

Joscelyn didn’t mince words with his analysis: “The Taliban isn’t interested in peace. At all. The Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies went on the offensive immediately after the U.S. signed a withdrawal agreement with the group on Feb. 29, 2020,” he writes. “The jihadists have launched multiple offensives since then, including the most recent one. Yet, U.S. and U.N. officials continue to pretend that there is some sort of ‘peace process.’ This is delusional.”

There was other frustrating news on the home front. On Thursday, news broke that a bipartisan group of senators had reached a compromise on an infrastructure package. You might recall that in March President Biden released a $2 trillion infrasture plan that was widely panned on the right for including more money for elder care ($400 billion) than for traditional infrastructure projects like roads and bridges ($115 billion). It was even too much for some Democrats, like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, but it was just one item on Biden’s wishlist, as he also wants to spend trillions on childcare, education, and climate change.

The compromise plan announced at the White House—one negotiated by Manchin, Sinema, Republicans Rob Portman and Mitt Romney, and others—would cost $1.2 trillion, of which about $600 billion would be new spending. Now, $1.2 trillion is still a lot of money. But the senators were collegial and seemed like they had maybe actually enjoyed working together. It was a refreshing change.

And then, about two hours later, Biden issued a statement saying he would veto the legislation unless he got all of his other priorities—education money, child care, social programs—passed in a separate package that the Democrats would have to push through via reconciliation. 

How is that a compromise? Honestly, it sounds like something my kids would try to pull. Say one of them asks to have 12 friends over for a sleepover. You discuss how much pizza would cost, and how you’ll never agree on a movie to watch, and then negotiate it down to four kids. Everyone agrees, but then the kid gets on his phone and next thing you know, 10 different parents are dropping off their kids on your doorstep.

On the bright side, Biden seems to have realized that wasn’t the best response, because on Saturday he walked it back, “My comments also created the impression that I was issuing a veto threat on the very plan I had just agreed to, which was certainly not my intent,” Biden said in a statement. So there’s that.

On that note, let me turn you over to some more professional analysis of the news week. 

Who’s Oppressing Whom?

I’d say that Jonah has uncovered a case of the pot calling the kettle black, but I’m pretty sure that cliche is problematic these days. But, actually, that’s the point of his G-File. He starts out by discussing new guidance from Brandeis University on “oppressive language.” And, spoiler alert, almost everything is “oppressive,” including the phrase “trigger warning.” He goes off on a little rant about the way we incentivize victimhood, but he saves his real ire for the silly fight over the term “mother” compared with “birthing person.” “Using the commanding heights of the culture, never mind the power of the federal government, to bully and shame people out of using the term “mother” is oppressive,” he writes. “It’s an imposition from above. It’s also staggeringly, awe-inspiringly stupid.”

Mountaineers Are Always Free

Last weekend marked the first federal observation of Juneteenth, but it wasn’t the only holiday that had its roots in the Civil War. West Virginia native Chris Stirewalt pens a lovely tribute to the birth of his home state. He writes about how its creation wasn’t a given: It was a controversial move, and by 1863 most people could see that even if the war wouldn’t be over soon, it would be in the Union’s favor. Stirewalt explains how Lincoln ultimately decided to support statehood: “West Virginians had ‘been true to the Union under very severe trials.’ ‘We have so acted as to justify their hopes;’ he wrote, ‘and we cannot fully retain their confidence, and co-operation, if we seem to break faith with them.’” 

The Closure of Apple Daily Is a Warning Shot to Businesses in Hong Kong

Apple Daily is—or was, rather—a pro-democracy newspaper in Hong Kong. Authorities seized the paper’s assets, forcing the paper to close. It’s an obvious blow to democracy and freedom of the press in the beleaguered semi-autonomous region. But Ellen Bork argues there’s more to it: It’s a signal to businesses that operate out of Hong Kong. “As the distinction between the judicial systems in Hong Kong and the mainland is overridden by Beijing, foreign and local Hong Kong companies will be vulnerable to mainland political and business pressures,” she writes. “Even corporate research negatively assessing a company with political clout in Beijing might be accused of violating national security.”

And now for the best of the rest.

  • They were still counting the votes as I’m getting ready to send this, but there’s little doubt as to the outcome of the Ethiopian parliamentary elections. Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018 promising true reform. He freed political prisoners and was even awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. Today he rules over a country in conflict and many citizens were unable to vote or chose to boycott. Emma Rogers has the details, and lots and lots of background.

  • We’ve written a few pieces warning that a return to the Iran nuclear deal isn’t the best idea right now. But since the Biden administration seems determined to plow ahead, John Hannah offers up some suggestions for making it less terrible. 

  • The Senate map is going to be tough enough for the GOP, with 20 seats to defend and rfive senators retiring, creating open races. What happens if Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson also decline to run? Check out The Sweep for details.

  • On the pods: On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah break down the Supreme Court decision in favor of an angry, profane cheerleader.  On The Hangover, Chris talks to John Podhortez about how the conservative media industry has affected the conservative movement. On The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah and Chris talk to A.B. Stoddard about whether the infrastructure compromise can pass. And on The Remnant, Jonah talks to Scott Winship about the history of poverty and inequality in the United States.

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