The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Another birthday, another long walk

Just as I did a year ago, I'm planning to walk up to Lake Bluff today, and once again the weather has cooperated. I'll take cloudy skies and 25°C for a 43-kilometer hike. (I would prefer 20°C and cloudy, but I'll take 25°C anyway.)

As I enjoy my breakfast in my sunny, airy office right now, mentally preparing for a (literal) marathon hike, life feels good. Well, until I read these things:

And hey, all you other Chicago athletes, good news! The City now has a website where you can find out the likelihood of the Chicago River giving you explosive diarrhea!

End-of-summer reading

Only about 7 more hours of meteorological summer remain in Chicago. I opened my windows this afternoon for the first time in more than two weeks, which made debugging a pile of questionable code* more enjoyable.

Said debugging required me to put these aside for future reading:

Finally, one tiny bit of good news: more Americans believe in evolution than ever before, perhaps due to the success of the SARS-COV-2 virus at evolving.

Goodbye, Summer 2021. It's been a hoot.

* Three guesses who wrote the questionable code. Ahem.

Our longest war is over

The last US airplane left Afghanistan today, ending our presence in the country:

A White House official said Monday that since the Taliban took control of Kabul in mid-August, the U.S. had evacuated and facilitated the evacuation of approximately 116,700 people. Since the end of July, the U.S. has relocated approximately 122,300 people, the official said.

A State Department memo obtained by NBC News Sunday said that the agency had begun evacuating remaining diplomatic workers on two planes carrying U.S. government employees, and secured all locally employed U.S. Embassy staff members, processing the last three buses and evacuating 2,800 employees and family members, according to the cable.

On Sunday, about 250 Americans remained in Afghanistan and were seeking to leave the country, according to a State Department spokesperson, who said that assistance was being coordinated “around the clock for this group.” The official said that those Americans might already be at the airport in Kabul or “in the process of being guided there, and all have information on how to reach us.”

The State Department was also in touch Sunday with about 280 additional people who identified themselves as Americans but were either undecided about leaving Afghanistan or said that they did not intend to leave.

Almost 20 years of war, and we did no better than the Russians and the British before us. And that's just in the last century. No one has ever held that territory by force for very long.

Lunchtime roundup

Stories from the usual suspects:

Finally, Whisky Advocate calls out a few lesser-known distilleries in Scotland worth visiting—or at least sampling.

Could we have avoided 20 years of war?

New York Times reporter Alissa Rubin, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her work covering Kabul, looks back on the Bush Administration's refusal to entertain a deal with the Taliban in 2001:

“The Taliban were completely defeated, they had no demands, except amnesty,” recalled Barnett Rubin, who worked with the United Nations’ political team in Afghanistan at the time.

Messengers shuttled back and forth between [Hamid] Karzai and the headquarters of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, in Kandahar. Mr. Karzai envisioned a Taliban surrender that would keep the militants from playing any significant role in the country’s future.

But Washington, confident that the Taliban would be wiped out forever, was in no mood for a deal.

Almost 20 years later, the United States did negotiate a deal to end the Afghan war, but the balance of power was entirely different by then — it favored the Taliban.

“When I heard the U.S. were going to meet in Doha with the Taliban and without the Afghan government, I said, ‘That’s not a peace negotiation, those are surrender talks,’” said Ryan Crocker, a former ambassador to Afghanistan.

“So, now the talks were all about us retreating without the Taliban shooting at us as we went,” Mr. Crocker added, “and we got nothing in return.”

As Winston Churchill once said, "Meeting jaw to jaw is better than war." If only we'd listened.

The best take I've read

"Over-extended, hollowed-out, debt-burdened empires are not exactly intimidating to many enemies. Leaving Afghanistan is therefore not the blow to American power and prestige these pundits are claiming. Staying in Afghanistan is."—Andrew Sullivan.

David Ignatius on our withdrawal from Afghanistan

The Washington Post columnist weaves together all the threads in the story and avoids putting the blame on any one person:

The structure of the Kabul government has been rotting from within for all 20 years of the United States’ war. And every U.S. commander knew its weakness. They worried about the corruption and incompetence of the government, devised elaborate strategies to fix it, kept convincing themselves they were making progress. Hope is not a strategy, as every commander knows. In this case, it was.

Biden is being flayed both for his decision and its sloppy execution. Many of us had warned that by withdrawing the small remaining force too quickly, without a transition plan, he was unwisely ending a low-cost insurance policy against the disaster now unfolding. Biden owns the final decision, for better or worse.

But the hard truth is that this failure is shared by a generation of military commanders and policymakers, who let occasional tactical successes in a counterterrorism mission become a proxy for a strategy that never was. And it was subtly abetted by journalists who were scratching our heads wondering if it would work, but let the senior officials continue their magical thinking.

We never had a clear goal in Afghanistan, other than punishing the Taliban for providing a safe haven for Osama bin Laden. Just imagine what we could have done with the $100 billion we spent every year on that debacle.

Quote of the Year

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch: "[A] government that collapses in days without America propping them up wasn't worth $2.2 trillion and thousands of American lives."

Josh Marshall agrees:

It is crystal clear that the Afghan national army and really the Afghan state was an illusion. It could not survive first contact with a post-US military reality. As is so often the case in life – with bad investments, bad relationships – what we were doing there was staying to delay our reckoning with the consequences of the reality of the situation.

But as I’ve said..., we knew this part. What has been deeply revealing to me is the American response. ... [T]he reaction has demonstrated to me is the sheer depth of denial. The inability to accept the reality of the situation. And thus the excuse making. Sen. Maggie Hassan’s press release ... is a painfully good example of that. So is this article by in The Atlantic by George Packer. Virtually everything Richard Engel has been writing on Twitter for the last 24 hours. All so much the cant of empire. But more than this, far more important than this, simply unwise.

In just the last century, let alone the past thousands of years of humanity, no one has held Afghanistan. The British, the Soviets, and now us, three separate empires with nearly-unmatched power, all three with bloody noses courtesy of an ungovernable quintet of steep valleys with few natural resources other than poppies.

You'd think we'd learn. But no, we didn't.

After 20 years, 200,000 dead, and $1 trillion spent, we get nothing

The Afghan government—or whatever approximation of a government they actually had—has fallen as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country as the Taliban took Kabul earlier today:

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the Afghan National Reconciliation Council, confirmed earlier reports that Ghani had left Afghanistan.

“He left Afghanistan in a hard time, God hold him accountable,” Abdullah, a longtime rival of Ghani's, said in an online video.

Ghani’s team confirmed the departure to CNBC.

The Taliban ordered their fighters to enter Kabul because they believed police had deserted all their positions, a Taliban spokesman told NBC News, which could not confirm these claims.

The spokesman urged residents of the capital to remain calm.

Earlier, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said fighters would "be on standby on all entrances of Kabul until a peaceful and satisfactory transfer of power is agreed." In a separate statement to NBC News, a Taliban spokesman said that those entering Kabul were unarmed on instructions from senior commanders.

American politicians, including people who voted for the calamitous occupation of a country that no foreign army has ever successfully occupied, have tried to spin the Taliban's rapid takeover as some kind of intelligence failure. Josh Marshall points out the obvious flaw in that argument:

There’s no intelligence failure. We don’t need to pretend there is. Every actual report going back many years portrayed the Afghan army is thoroughly compromised by corruption and beset by chronically bad morale. Desertion was commonplace. This isn’t a surprise and we shouldn’t pretend it is.

Just what did we accomplish in 20 years? Absolutely nothing:

The Taliban’s political arm in Doha has claimed that they are no longer the bloody theocrats who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, when accused criminals were publicly executed at Kabul’s football grounds, including women who were stoned to death for adultery. Their negotiators have stressed that there is no rule in Islam against the education of women, for example. Yet the disconnect between statements made from Qatar and what is being done by Taliban commanders in Afghanistan is now canyon-sized. In Herat, where 60% of the students at the university were women, they have reportedly already been ordered back to their homes. Female employees have been told to give up their jobs to male relatives. On the education of girls one Taliban commander, interviewed by the BBC, was crystal clear. “Not a single girl has gone to school in our village and our district… the facilities do not exist and we wouldn’t allow it anyway.”

Even the best possible outcome, where the Taliban’s leadership decides to show it is serious about reform, looks bleak. For sure, Afghanistan’s government has made only fitful progress in raising the quality of life for ordinary Afghans, even in cities, where it has had far more control than in the countryside. Its corruption has been deep and galling, and no doubt part of the reason the Taliban were able to conquer the country so effectively. Footage of Taliban soldiers walking through the opulent interiors of the captured house of Abdul Rashid Dostum, a warlord and former vice-president, who is said to have fled to Uzbekistan, underline the rottenness of the state. And yet, buoyed by a tsunami of aid money, the government did educate people, and few Afghans starved. As embassies close and foreigners flee, the aid that has sustained the country’s economy, and helped to educate its children, including girls, will now surely dry up. A humanitarian catastrophe could quickly follow.

Of course we accomplished nothing. President George W Bush never had a clear idea of what victory would look like, even with Colin Powell—the guy whose Rule #2 for armed conflict is "have a clear, attainable objective"—running the State Department.

And in case you already had trouble sleeping, the Department of Homeland Security has put out a National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin that says, basically, the right wing nut jobs are about to go batshit:

  • Through the remainder of 2021, racially- or ethnically-motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) and anti-government/anti-authority violent extremists will remain a national threat priority for the United States. These extremists may seek to exploit the emergence of COVID-19 variants by viewing the potential re-establishment of public health restrictions across the United States as a rationale to conduct attacks.  Pandemic-related stressors have contributed to increased societal strains and tensions, driving several plots by domestic violent extremists, and they may contribute to more violence this year.
  • Law enforcement have expressed concerns that the broader sharing of false narratives and conspiracy theories will gain traction in mainstream environments, resulting in individuals or small groups embracing violent tactics to achieve their desired objectives. With a diverse array of threats, DHS is concerned that increased outbreaks of violence in some locations, as well as targeted attacks against law enforcement, may strain local resources.

Yay us?

In the news today...

I haven't had time to read a lot lately, as I mentioned. Maybe these explain why:

And finally, a man in Chicago suburb Lisle, Ill., has made a life's work out of preserving old TV commercials.