It was a very good week for Joe Biden. On the other hand, it was a very bad week for the United States in regards to Afghanistan. We witnessed two historic events that could shape our future in ways we can’t yet comprehend, and both are worth examining.
First, Joe Biden—whose campaign seemed all but over a few weeks ago when he scurried out of New Hampshire before the results were in—staged a sudden and overwhelming comeback that flipped the Democratic primary on its head. After he won South Carolina, his main “moderate” opponents dropped out and endorsed him in quick succession, setting the stage for him to win 10 contests on Super Tuesday. Is Biden the man Democrats want to face Donald Trump? Did we just avoid the prospect of a race between two candidates (Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump) whose bases of support foretell an angry and even-more-polarizing general election? We’ll find out soon enough.
The other historic event is nothing if not ignominious. Last Saturday—the same day that Biden won South Carolina—Mike Pompeo went to Doha, Qatar, for the signing of a deal with the Taliban to bring American troops home from Afghanistan. It’s inaccurate to call it a “peace” deal, and is better described as an exit deal. Why? The U.S. will bring home all its remaining troops despite the fact the Taliban concedes almost nothing and the document includes nothing that guarantees a much-ballyhooed actual break between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Are we leaving Afghanistan more vulnerable to a complete takeover by the Taliban? Are we inviting an attack by al-Qaeda? Again, there is no way of knowing, but if history is our guide then the consequences of this flawed deal will be unwelcome.
Here is a roundup of our best work from the last week.
Just how bad was the agreement that the U.S. signed with the Taliban? Allow Thomas Joscelyn to count the ways. For starters, it allows the organization to call itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, and while the U.S. insists that we don’t recognize such a state, the mere inclusion of the title in the document gives the Taliban legitimacy it does not deserve. The agreement also calls for the elected government Afghanistan, which was not even party to the talks, to release 5,000 Taliban operatives. But the real kicker is that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has claimed—repeatedly—that the Taliban would make a public break with al-Qaeda. Joscelyn points to four ways the agreement could have covered that. But … nothing. “In sum, the deal strengthens the Taliban and weakens America’s hand in the region.” he writes. “It legitimizes the Taliban in the eyes of jihadists worldwide and among the Afghan people and it amounts to a betrayal of the many brave Afghans who have fought alongside U.S. troops over the last 19 years.”
Enough time has passed since impeachment to allow us to look back on it with some remove. And that’s just what Daniel Vaughan did for us this week, looking at the political pressures faced by both Democrats and Republicans. Those pressures had as much to do with electoral considerations as the merits of the case. In the end, he notes, “the primary calendar incentivized Democrats to move fast. It incentivized the Trump administration to cover everything in executive privilege to slow the process. Let that be a lesson to future impeachments. If you want to succeed, you have to build political momentum behind it and change the political dynamics of the political calendar.”
The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) used to be a wonky little event where movement conservatives would meet to debate policy and network. But it’s been sliding towards nationalist populism for years. Lately, it’s become notable for inviting Milo Yiannopolous (later uninvited) and disinviting Mitt Romney. Instead of Tom Coburn and George Will discussing the dangerous overuse of executive orders, you have Diamond and Silk inveighing against Bernie Sanders and Charlie Kirk encouraging the crowd to boo Romney. And yet, there are people who think CPAC isn’t Trumpy enough. Andrew Egger went to CPAC for a few days before tuning into the livestream of the “America First PAC,” headlined by white nationalist Nick Fuentes and featuring anti-immigration activist Michelle Malkin. “Malkin, a onetime fixture at CPAC, spent the days leading up to the gathering denouncing its “ConInc gatekeepers” and trumpeting AFPAC as the true thinking patriot’s alternative.” Meanwhile, we sent Declan Garvey to the comparatively tame Summit on Principled Conservatism, where a few hundred anti-Trump conservatives met for a day to discuss policy and, well, Donald Trump.
Other highlights from the Dispatch this week:
There is a burgeoning conversation on the right as to whether one can be a conservative and vote for, say, Joe Biden. Jonah tackled the topic in his midweek G-File (sorry, we mean Hump Day Epistle) and David took his turn in his Thursday French Press (both available to members).
New Dispatch staffer Alec Dent filed his first Dispatch Fact Check this week, looking at whether activist Shaun King was correct in tweeting that MSNBC reported that Democratic leaders were “interfering” in the Democratic primary. Rachel Maddow responded with a quick denial in the moment, but Alec points out that it’s not quite that simple.
David had a piece for the website parsing the oral arguments in June Medical Services v. Russo, the first important abortion case before the Supreme Court since Justice Kennedy retired. David, alas, did not find much for pro-lifers to be optimistic about.
On the pods: The gang talked about Super Tuesday on the flagship Dispatch podcast. Jonah talked to author Michael Strain about his new book The American Dream Is Not Dead on the first episode of The Remnant and for the second, he talked to Reason managing editor Stephanie Slade about how she balances her libertarian philosophy and Catholic religion. And on Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah talked about Don McGahn, CFPB, and Katie Hill in one episode and FISA reform, qualified immunity, and arresting 6-year-olds in the second.