Editorial Roundup: U.S.
Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Hindu on the fall of Kabul and a bleak future facing Afghanistan:
History came full circle on August 15 when the Taliban captured Kabul, almost 20 years after the U.S. launched its global war on terror. The city of roughly 5 million people fell to the Islamist insurgents without even a fight while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, and the Americans abandoned their Embassy and rushed to Kabul airport. It was a surreal moment for the U.S., which had pledged to defeat the Taliban in every corner of Afghanistan, and a tragedy for the Afghans, who were left at the mercy of a murderous militia. The soldiers did not fight. Police abandoned their stations. Former Northern Alliance warlords left the country. And the government crumbled like the proverbial house of cards. There is already worrying news coming from the provinces that the Taliban are enforcing a strict religious code on the public and violence against anyone who resists. The last time the Taliban were in power, women were not allowed to work. They had to cover their faces and be accompanied by a male relative outside their homes. Girls were not allowed to go to school. The Taliban had also banned TV, music, painting and photography, handed out brutal forms of punishment to those violating their Islamic code, and persecuted minorities. The chaotic scenes from Kabul airport, where people are desperately trying to cling on to airplanes hoping to leave the country, bear testimony to their fear of the Taliban.
This is a historic development that will have lasting implications for global geopolitics. Unlike 1996, this is not only about the Taliban taking power. This is also about an Islamist group with a medieval mindset and modern weapons defeating the world’s most powerful country. The U.S. can say in its defence that its mission was to fight al-Qaeda and that it met its strategic objectives. But in reality, after spending 20 years in Afghanistan to fight terrorism and rebuild the Afghan state, the U.S. ran away from the battlefield, embarrassing itself and leaving its allies helpless. The images from Arg, the presidential palace in Kabul, and the airport will continue to haunt President Joe Biden and the U.S. for a long time. In 1996, when the Taliban took Kabul, the government did not flee the country. Ahmad Shah Massoud and Burhanuddin Rabbani retreated to the Panjshir valley from where they regrouped the Northern Alliance and continued resistance against the Taliban. This time, there is no Northern Alliance. There is no government. The whole country, except some pockets, is now firmly under the Taliban’s control. The Taliban are also more receptive to regional players such as China and Russia, while Pakistan is openly celebrating their triumph. It remains to be seen what kind of a regime a stronger Taliban will install in Kabul. If the 1990s are anything to go by, darker days are ahead in Afghanistan.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune on military, moral ‘fiasco’ of Afghanistan withdrawal:
The incompetent method with which the Biden administration administered the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan is a military and moral fiasco.
On Sunday, a panicked evacuation of U.S. personnel took place amid the abandonment of many of the thousands of Afghans who helped Americans during the war, all while the Taliban raised a flag over the presidential palace in Kabul, reconquering the country nearly 20 years after the U.S. and NATO nations had ousted the extremists following the 9/11 attacks.
The impact on everyday Afghans will be incalculably bad, particularly for women and girls and those who aided Western efforts over the last two decades.
The impact on America will be lasting, too, especially if the Taliban once again allows a training haven for terrorist groups. At minimum the searing, Saigon-like images of helicopters ferrying U.S. envoys to Kabul’s airport while Afghans scrambled on the tarmac, with some desperate enough to cling to departing military planes, will have a profound effect on U.S. foreign policy. At a time when Biden wants to pivot to the threats from a rising China and a revanchist Russia, both adversaries and allies will question America’s resolve.
Biden had chosen Sept. 11, 2021, as the withdrawal deadline, seemingly tying the date to the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the U.S. that triggered the U.S. and NATO invasion. That arbitrary, politically driven deadline was already too early even before Biden accelerated it. And in the end, the withdrawal of about 2,500 troops was undone by the thousands more now deployed to protect departing Americans.
It’s indefensible that at minimum the U.S. did not secure passage for Afghan translators, journalists, leaders of key governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and others, let alone have an effective plan to back up Afghan forces to hold the capital, if not the country.
These failures are Biden’s, and history will not be kind. But Biden is not alone in this lost war. In fact, he’s one of four presidents — two Republicans and two Democrats — who made multiple mistakes.
Former President George W. Bush took his and America’s focus off Afghanistan for another fiasco, the war of choice with Iraq. Former President Barack Obama oversaw a troop surge in Afghanistan, but also dramatically de-escalated the U.S. presence. Former President Donald Trump signed a deal with the Taliban that called for an even earlier withdrawal deadline.
But political parties don’t go to war. Nations do. And this is a failure for America, on top of the failures in Vietnam and the war in Iraq, among other military misadventures.
Avoiding a repeat of these serial losses must go beyond introspection and toward a formal independent inquiry by experts who put country over party. Among the many issues that need to be investigated are the multiple political, intelligence and military failures, and how billions of dollars, years of U.S. training and far superior materiel failed to produce Afghan troops who were willing and able to fight for their country.
What isn’t in question are the sacrifices of U.S. troops and their families who supported them during deployments. They answered their country’s call, even if the trumpet became uncertain. Those who lost their lives should be honored. Those whose lives were shattered deserve support and care. Americans should be grateful to those who gave so much to their country — and to Afghans.
But we should not ask yet another generation of Americans to fight without a finite mission. That’s an essential message for those who have irresponsibly advocated a military strike against Iran.
While the war in Afghanistan is lost, America should not surrender the fight to still extricate as many Afghans as possible, and it should not hesitate to give them refuge in the U.S. While this won’t wash away the stain of America’s abandonment of its allies, it is the right thing to do.
The Wall Street Journal on a reckoning for Pakistan:
American strategists will be studying for some time how Afghanistan’s U.S.-trained security forces crumbled so quickly before what appeared to be an inferior Taliban militia. One place they should look for answers is Pakistan, whose leader on Monday cheered the Taliban takeover of its northwestern neighbor.
Afghans “have broken the shackles of slavery,” said Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, according to Indian media. The offhand celebration of the U.S. retreat from Afghanistan came as Mr. Khan denounced English education in Pakistan as promoting cultural control.
That a U.S. security partner would say this out loud certainly raises eyebrows. But the sentiment should not surprise. As Walter Russell Mead notes nearby, a key obstacle to American success in Afghanistan was “unrelenting support for the Taliban from our ‘ally’ in Islamabad.” The Taliban safe-haven across Afghanistan’s southern border was crucial to the group’s longevity and eventual military success.
Over the last two decades, the U.S. depended on bases in Pakistan for its war-on-terror operations in Central Asia. Yet Islamabad is playing its own great-power games in the region. Its intelligence services want control over Afghanistan and have seen the Taliban as the best vehicle. They want to frustrate the objectives of their greatest regional rival, India, which would prefer a secular government in Kabul.
The U.S. relationship with Islamist-influenced Pakistan has arguably become a devil’s bargain. Americans caught a glimpse of that a decade ago when they found out Osama Bin Laden was hiding in the country, apparently unmolested. Now Islamabad has played a key role in restoring to power the Taliban that the U.S. sacrificed for two decades to keep from power in Kabul.
But Mr. Khan may rue what he wished for. Jihadists want to control Pakistan and its nuclear weapons, which would instantly become a dangerous Islamist caliphate. Mr. Khan’s glib anti-Americanism may be an effort to appease Pakistan’s extremists, but he should watch that they don’t come for him first.
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail on the tragic legacy of one man’s lottery windfall:
Jack Whittaker may have died more than a year ago, but the problems surrounding what’s left of the Putnam County man’s lottery winnings persist.
Whittaker’s ex-wife, Jewell Whittaker, filed a lawsuit claiming Delegate Barry Bruce, R-Greenbrier, who is an attorney, gave her bad advice and maneuvered to take control of her $10 million fortune — this after Jewell Whittaker married his brother, Robert, who also is named in the lawsuit. Robert Bruce, the lawsuit claims, had been living in Michigan with no assets to his name when Barry Bruce introduced him to Jewell Whittaker.
Among other things, Jewell Whittaker claims that Barry Bruce told her she couldn’t obtain pre- or post-nuptial agreements to protect her assets when marrying Robert Bruce in 2013. Barry Bruce also set up control of a trust of a substantial amount of money without consent and has operated that trust outside the bounds of financial law, the complaint claims.
Whether the lawsuit has any merit, it’s a testament to the legacy of misery around Jack Whittaker’s lottery win, even as the pot of money dwindles. Sure, $10 million is a lot of money. It’s also crumbs compared to the $113 million Whittaker won in 2002. What’s more, Jack Whittaker was already worth an estimated $17 million before hitting the jackpot in 2002.
Jack Whittaker became somewhat infamous after he claimed his prize; a poster child for everything that can go wrong when that type of money is suddenly bestowed on a person. He had nearly $800,000 stolen from him on two occasions at a now-defunct Cross Lanes strip club. His granddaughter’s boyfriend died of a drug overdose at the Whittakers’ home in 2004. His granddaughter, who received a $2,000 weekly allowance from Jack Whittaker, died shortly thereafter at a friend’s house. A toxicology report found that she had methamphetamine and cocaine in her system, although no cause of death was ever officially reported.
In 2008, after 42 years of marriage, Jewell and Jack Whittaker filed for divorce. A lengthy court battle over money ensued.
All of this, and more, played out in local and national news media because of the elevated profile all that money brought. The morbid fascination with lottery winners whose lives implode also made Jack Whittaker’s story a frequent source for sensationalized cable television programs.
Long before he died last year at age 73, Jack Whittaker had come to resent his windfall. He said in numerous interviews that he wished he’d never claimed the winning ticket. In an interview with ABC News, he said he didn’t like the man he’d become and that his vast wealth had cost him everything that really meant anything to him.
Now, even the scraps of that 2002 prize are a source of legal contention and squabbling, with everyone trying to come away with something. It’s less money, but it still brings more problems.
The Kansas City Star on anti-vax protesters and the meaning of yellow stars:
At this week’s Springfield City Council meeting, about 15 of those in the crowd who had come to oppose the brutal oppression of a non-binding resolution encouraging vaccinations showed up wearing big yellow Stars of David pinned to their shirts and dresses.
Not just anti-science, but antisemitic, too, those stars told us.
And since the disgusting comparison of lifesaving COVID-19 public health measures to the murder of 6 million Jews is now a regular feature of these mad protests, it’s time to take such displays for what they are, which is the mark of a hate group.
The resolution that those who had come to heckle and jeer were comparing to the Holocaust said this: “Vaccination is the leading prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic and should be strongly encouraged for all eligible individuals.” Somehow, this reminded opponents of the Nazis’ attempt to rid the world of Jews, homosexuals and Roma.
One member of the council, Angela Romine, who has falsely suggested that the vaccine is more dangerous than COVID, was the hero of the mostly unmasked crowd, while those who spoke in favor of efforts to beat the pandemic were mocked.
One citizen who spoke said that getting vaccinated makes you more likely to get COVID. Her proof? In Israel, she said, there are more vaccinated than unvaccinated people getting infected. (Since the majority of Israelis are vaccinated, yes, there are more cases among those who’ve had their shots. The woman did not mention that hospitalizations have fallen off a cliff since most people got vaccinated.)
Another speaker approvingly cited former President Donald Trump as the source of her discredited belief that hydroxychloroquine is the key to ending this pandemic.
When a member of the council asked why health authorities the world over would have said the vaccines are both safe and fantastically effective if that were not the case, the mob roared that they were clearly being paid to lie. Of course, conspiracy theories and Jew-hating have always gone together like soup and a sandwich.
Council members were taunted for five hours. And after all that, that even this timid resolution passed 8-to-1 could be seen as an act of bravery by Springfield officials.
A similarly furious crowd at the St. Louis County Council this week got their way when the council voted down a mask mandate. Several speakers there also made references to Nazi Germany. Two said COVID vaccination efforts were a violation of the 1947 Nuremberg Code intended to prevent a repeat of the inhumane medical experiments done on prisoners at Auschwitz. (“There’s a clear agenda to promote a dystopian techno-medical dictatorship, a one-world government…warned against by JFK shortly before his assassination,” one of these mask and vaccine opponents said.) A third speaker who referenced the Holocaust said, “There is no virus; it’s a scam. What did the Nazis say? The bigger the lie, the more will believe it.”
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, of course, is suing to block mask mandates, including ours in Kansas City. And while Schmitt wears no yellow star, his completely unscientific opposition to public health interventions in our state have only encouraged those who do.
The Los Angeles Times on the unjust toll of extreme heat:
Extreme heat kills more people in an average year than any other weather-related hazard, including hurricanes and tornadoes. As climate change fuels more frequent and severe heat waves, the death toll is only going to grow — unless California takes aggressive action now to cool communities.
But advocates are deeply concerned that programs to prepare for extreme heat could get cut in the political fight over how to spend nearly $3.7 billion that Gov. Gavin Newsom and lawmakers have budgeted for climate resilience. Their fear is understandable. Heat waves have been overlooked and underfunded as a climate threat in California, compared with wildfires, coastal erosion and other more visually dramatic events. That cannot continue.
Heat is a silent killer. It exacerbates underlying health conditions, such as heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes. It can be deadly for those who work outside. And it can worsen lung-damaging air pollution.
Yet extreme health has gotten less attention as a climate threat because it’s often treated as a temporary inconvenience, one that can be managed if people stay hydrated and remain inside with the air conditioning on. That advice highlights a very real problem: Extreme heat is not an equal-opportunity threat. It poses the gravest risk to disadvantaged communities, often in urban areas.
Low-income urban neighborhoods are most affected because they tend to have older housing without air conditioning, and their neighborhoods lack trees and parks, creating a “heat island” effect that traps heat and stays hotter longer, often into the night. That’s a big problem. Heat puts an enormous strain on the body, worsened when people cannot cool down at night.
Environmental justice and public health groups have pushed Newsom and lawmakers to dedicate more funding to manage extreme heat, particularly in these most vulnerable communities. That could include more money for planting trees, creating parks, replacing pavement with landscaped areas and other urban greening projects. The state could also provide funds to help communities switch to light-colored, “cool” pavement and roofs, and install bus shelters and other structures that provide shade.
Advocates also want the state to be more savvy about how the money is spent. For example, does it make sense to keep spending on temporary cooling centers that are barely used during heat waves? Should California communities come up with new ways to make sure people have access to convenient, comfortable and cool public spaces?
There are 16 state departments with some responsibility for heat-related issues, but there’s not enough communication and coordination across these agencies or a focus on results. Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-North Hollywood) has a bill to create an Extreme Heat and Community Resilience Program within the governor’s office to coordinate the state’s actions and spending on extreme heat.
California has to make every dollar count. Even with a record $3.7-billion climate resilience budget, there’s a long to-do list to help manage and mitigate the impacts of global warming. Still, the impacts of extreme heat are real and cannot be ignored or downplayed any longer.
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