Our Best Stuff From the Week We Left Afghanistan

Biden’s speech, Texas’ abortion law, and more.

A C-17 Globemaster takes off as Taliban fighters secure the outer perimeter, alongside the American controlled side of the Kabul airport on August 29. (Photograph by Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images.)

On Monday, the final American plane left the Kabul airport, ending our mission in Afghanistan. Note that I didn’t say “complete” our mission. We left behind some number of Americans—the Biden administration says the number is 100 to 200 but that doesn’t include permanent residents or green card holders—and, horrifically, up to 250,000 Afghans who are eligible for visas.

As Jonah noted in his Wednesday G-File (which I’ve also summarized below), “The administration seems to have convinced itself that this is just a summer media frenzy that will go away soon enough when the media moves on to the next controversy.” 

It’s easy to see how that could happen. This week, a controversial abortion law went into effect in Texas after the Supreme Court rejected an emergency challenge to it. David has a great explanation of the law and the Supreme Court decision, and he and Sarah also broke it down on Advisory Opinions. Abortion advocates are up in arms about the law, and are (incorrectly) accusing SCOTUS of effectively overturning Roe v. Wade.

And there are multiple problems on the pandemic front—and not just the fact that many states are running out of ICU beds as the Delta variant works its way through the U.S. This week, two FDA officials resigned over the Biden administration’s push for a third-dose booster shot of the mRNA vaccines. And in an episode that harkens back to the fight over hydroxychloroquine, people are trying to treat their COVID symptoms with ivermectin, a drug that is used to treat parasitic infections but is not approved to treat COVID. Some people are using a version of the drug intended for veterinary purposes, launching a thousand warnings against taking horse dewormers. 

Meanwhile, the House is making progress on the January 6 investigation, and the administration is trying to focus on getting its $3.5 trillion spending package through Congress. It’s important for us to cover all of these stories. We have and we will continue to do so. But we will not be taking our eyes off Afghanistan. For all of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s sternly worded tweets about holding the Taliban to its “commitment” to uphold its end of the deal, we know full well that the Taliban is not going to be any kind of partner. There are already reports of executions of Afghans who aided our effort. Al-Qaeda is a threat. There will be long-term ramifications for our foreign policy.  The news cycle might move on, but we’ll continue with our reporting and analysis for as long as it takes.

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, and thanks for reading.

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Your Questions About the SCOTUS Texas Abortion Ruling, Answered

Late Wednesday night, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency challenge to Texas’ “heartbeat bill” that bans abortions after six weeks. The law itself is unusual, abortion is the hottest of hot-button topics, and the court’s decision was on procedural grounds, not the merits of the case. That led to a perfect storm of bad legal takes online, including claims that the court had effectively overturned Roe v. Wade. In the Thursday edition of French Press (🔒), David wades in with an incredibly helpful FAQ. He answers practical questions about why the law is unusual (it’s enforced by private lawsuits, which makes it difficult to challenge in courts), how the court ruled ( essentially “by saying that the plaintiffs sued the wrong defendants”), and what this has to do with Roe v. Wade (not much.) But he also shares his thoughts on the law itself: “I want to see Roe reversed and states act to protect unborn life, but I confess that I have very serious reservations about the Texas legislation. The reason why is simple—it represents a clever way to engineer temporary deprivations of constitutional rights.” 

Biden’s Timeless Obsession

On Tuesday, Joe Biden addressed the nation on the end of our mission in Afghanistan, and Jonah noted that the president “came just shy of old man yelling at clouds crankiness.” Jonah has many critiques of the president—“In July, [Biden] mocked the idea that the Afghan government would fall, and then mocked Americans and allied Afghans for not getting out sooner. He said it wouldn’t happen, and then when it did happen he said it proved he was right. He said they were ready for this, but they were caught unprepared”—but he ends by noting what good we accomplished, and how those successes are going to be undone. “I’m at a loss as to why we shouldn’t be proud of the good things that came as a result. We didn’t go into Afghanistan to protect or educate little girls, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to deny those were good things.”

Who Would Have Retreated Better Than Biden?

Chris Stirewalt asks a question that is both complex and simple. Given that the Afghanistan withdrawal was so chaotic, and that Biden has a poor track record on foreign policy throughout his political career, someone could have done it better, right? Stirewalt rules out Donald Trump, the field of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, and the potential field of 2024 candidates. So maybe “who” isn’t the right question. “You’ll find your list remains pretty short for one big reason: Many of the folks who come to mind as foreign policy experts and skilled managers wouldn’t have done it at all,” Stirewalt writes.

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Now for the best of the rest:

  • How does someone go from being a Tea Party activist handing out pocket Constitutions and tidying up after rallies to a full-blown conspiracy theorist? David traces the sad and disheartening path many Americans have taken the last five years.

  • Much of our attention has been on Afghanistan the past few weeks, but we can’t ignore Congress. In Uphill, Harvest and Ryan report on the latest in the January 6 investigation. The committee has been sending out various requests for information from government agencies, social media companies, and telecom companies.

  • In The Sweep, Sarah offers up bellwethers for the 2022 midterms (retirements, recalls, redistricting, etc.) and Stirewalt breaks down the crazy gubernatorial recall in California.

  • A year and a half into the pandemic, shouldn’t it be pretty easy to get a rapid test you can take at home? You’d think, but that’s not reality. Scott Lincicome explains why in Capitolism (🔒). 

  • And the pods: On The RemnantReason’s Peter Suderman joins Jonah for a lengthy conversation on Afghanistan, Bitcoin, cocktails, and more. You certainly don’t want to miss a podcast titled “Disco Ball of Asininty,” right? So check out Wednesday’s Dispatch Podcast. And for a little break from the news, listen to Sarah’s interview with Ben Folds on Advisory Opinions.