The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

What have we learned?

Elections have consequences. The events of 20 years ago transformed the world in ways I can't imagine happening had the Supreme Court not thrown the 2000 election. Of course, had Al Gore won, the terrorists probably would not have attacked; they wanted the rage and violence that followed as part of their plan to drag the world back to the 12th Century.

But because the president was a draft-dodging chickenhawk, and because his vice-president was a power-hungry paranoid, the terrorists won:

The terms of the debate were set by the Islamic extremists on one side, and Western neoconservatives on the other. People like me found ourselves caught in the middle. Through my entire adolescence and young adulthood, I was forced to distinguish myself from the terrorists, to prove I was one of the “good ones.” George W. Bush had called it a “crusade” against an elusive foe who might be your neighbor. He said that you were either with us or with the terrorists, implying that anyone who did not support the United States was supporting Al Qaeda. Those were the parameters of the post-9/11 era.

Only by getting the West drawn into endless wars abroad, and into plots against enemies at home, could [Osama bin Laden] bankrupt the American behemoth. In the decade since his death, the results have been plain to see: conflict and instability across the greater Middle East; more refugee flows into the West, combined with anti-immigrant violence in response; the rise in America of terrorist attacks carried out by white extremists, goaded on by an authoritarian leader who made a name for himself demonizing Muslims. The surveillance state now has extensive access to every facet of our lives. Trust in political institutions is decaying. Democracy itself is in peril.

[S]omething much worse than terror wounded our society over the last two decades. An essential faith in the future was lost. Perhaps this is true for the end of all empires, and despair always precedes the fall. But if younger generations are to emerge from the darkness of the 9/11 era — and it remains my naïve hope that they will — we must first acknowledge the damage we wrought on ourselves. That was the deepest cut of all.

It helped them that we got everything wrong after 9/11:

The nation’s failures began in the first hours of the attacks and continue to the present day. Seeing how and when we went wrong is easy in hindsight. What’s much harder to understand is how—if at all—we can make things right.

The most telling part of September 11, 2001, was the interval between the first plane crash at the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m., and the second, at 9:03. In those 17 minutes, the nation’s sheer innocence was on display.

[A]fter that second crash, and then the subsequent ones at the Pentagon and in the fields outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania, our government panicked. There’s really no other way to say it. Fear spread up the chain of command.

Rather than recognizing that an extremist group with an identifiable membership and distinctive ideology had exploited fixable flaws in the American security system to carry out the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration launched the nation on a vague and ultimately catastrophic quest to rid the world of “terror” and “evil.”

[R]emoving the terror cases from traditional federal courts and sending them to military tribunals has still produced no closure for the families of 9/11 victims. So far, none of the alleged 9/11 plotters sitting in Guantánamo have faced trial. Military-commission proceedings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, allegedly a mastermind of the attacks, and four co-defendants are still in a pretrial phase.

DHS has the wrong DNA. Unlike the Justice Department, it has no institutional culture rooted in respect for the rule of law. Unsteeped in America’s traditions of freedom and openness, the new department was built to view everything through a lens of “Can it hurt us?” This corrosive mindset became particularly visible on immigration and border-control issues, as a culture of welcoming new citizens and families shifted to one of questioning and suspicion—especially if you happened to have dark skin.

Meanwhile, for all the original talk of banishing evil from the world, the [Global War on Terror's] seemingly exclusive focus on Islamic extremism has led to the neglect of other threats actively killing Americans. In the 20 years since 9/11, thousands of Americans have succumbed to mass killers—just not the ones we went to war against in 2001. The victims have included worshippers in churchessynagogues, and temples; people at shopping mallsmovie theaters, and a Walmart; students and faculty at universities and community colleges; professors at a nursing school; children in elementarymiddle, and high schools; kids at an Amish school and on a Minnesota Native American reservation; nearly 60 concertgoers who were machine-gunned to death from hotel windows in Las Vegas. But none of those massacres were by the Islamic extremists we’d been spending so much time and money to combat.

Looking back after two decades, I can’t escape the conclusion that the enemy we ended up fighting after 9/11 was ourselves.

Other analyses:

And the New York Times has a running blog on the events of today's anniversary.

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.

How is it already 4pm?

I have opened these on my Surface at work, but I'll have to read them at home:

Finally, Empirical Brewery has a new line of beer that supports Tree House Cats at Work. I'll try some and let you know.

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.

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.

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?

Vaccines, climate change, and trains

Those topics led this afternoon's news roundup:

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its 6th periodic report on the state of the planet, and it's pretty grim. But as Josh Marshall points out, "Worried about life on earth? Don’t be. Life’s resilient and has a many hundreds of millions of years track record robust enough to handle and adapt to anything we throw at it. But the player at the top of the heap is the first to go."
  • Charles Blow has almost run out of empathy for people who haven't gotten a Covid-19 jab. Author John Scalzi takes a more nuanced view, at least distinguishing between the people who peddle the lie and those who merely buy it.
  • A research group has discovered how they can own your locked-down computer in about 30 minutes with a few tools, but at least they also tell you how to lock it down better.
  • Almost half of Amtrak's $66 billion cash infusion will go to making New York City more navigable. I want my HSR to Milwaukee, dammit!
  • Sometime last week, a Russian capsule accidentally fired a thruster, sending the International Space Station into a 540-degree roll.

Finally, long-time police reporter Radley Balko exposes the lie that keeps innocent people in jail.