Checking my assumptions on Afghanistan
Plus: The Texas abortion law heads to court and the COVID death count
There is a lot to be said for having consistent principles. On the contrary, principles and opinions should be rooted in fact. If you want to be honest with yourself, and if you have the personal strength to question your core beliefs, you can read stories from sources outside your political bubble to check your assumptions and make sure that your beliefs are grounded in reality.
The kicker here is that you have to be willing to adjust your worldview if you find that your beliefs are inconsistent with the facts on the ground. Some people can’t handle this. In some cases, these people never look outside their comfort zone. In other cases, they just disregard information that conflicts with their preconceived ideas as if they never heard it or it never happened.
I like to think that most of my opinions are pretty grounded in reality, but from time to time, things don’t work out as I expected. If I’m demonstrably wrong, I generally try to be a big enough man to admit that I was wrong. That has been the case over the past couple of weeks.
When the US evacuation effort ended on August 31, like many others, I thought that the Taliban would take advantage of the fact that not all of the Americans who tried to leave had been able to do so. It seemed to me we might be facing a situation akin to the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis in which the Taliban leveraged its captives to embarrass the United States and horrify the world. That has not proven to be the case.
While the pace of evacuation flights has slowed, they have not stopped since Afghanistan returned to the control of the extremist group. On Sunday, the fourth evacuation flight containing Americans left Afghanistan since flights resumed on September 10. The flight contained 28 US citizens and 11 permanent residents and came a week after another flight with 19 Americans.
Per the State Department, 85 Americans and 79 legal residents have left Afghanistan since the US military departed the country. At that point, the Biden Administration had said that about 100 Americans were still in the country. Simple math tells us that most Americans known to be stranded have been able to leave the country, but without knowing the exact number left behind, we can’t say for sure how many remain.
While it certainly appeared that the Taliban had us over a barrel, they did not press their advantage. The question is why. For that, I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do have theories. One is that the Taliban has changed its stripes and mended its ways. I think we can discard that theory since Amnesty International is already documenting the group’s abuses of human rights.
It’s more likely that the Taliban wants something in return. Or two somethings. First, the new rulers of Afghanistan want the legitimacy that comes from being internationally recognized as the country’s legitimate government. Second, Western nations have frozen about $10 billion in Afghan government assets. The Taliban would love to have those funds back. When in doubt, follow the money.
It isn’t clear how certain the Biden Administration could have been that evacuations would continue, but there was an inherent risk in trusting the Taliban. It’s still unlikely that thousands of Afghans who worked alongside Americans over the past two decades will be able to get out, but the hostage situation involving Americans that many of us feared has not developed, and at this point, it seems unlikely that it will.
Check your beliefs against reality. If the two don’t match up, check your assumptions. You may need to adjust your worldview. It’s not necessarily a good thing to stand by your beliefs and principles if the evidence shows that they are wrong.
The Texas abortion law might be about to meet an untimely end. The state law that bans most abortions escaped being aborted itself by the Supreme Court earlier this month after the Court allowed it to be born on a technicality. The law, which is enforced by civil action by private citizens rather than by the government, was not enjoined in large part because pro-abortion groups couldn’t figure out who to sue. They seem to have resolved that problem.
On Monday, a test case was filed against Alan Braid, a doctor in San Antonio who performed an abortion after the law took effect. The Washington Post reports the lawsuit was filed by a federal prisoner in Arkansas who was enticed by the possibility of a $10,000 payday rather than any strong feelings about abortion rights. Another suit was filed by a Chicago man who is asking courts to strike down the law.
This may be the point where Texas’s experiment in deputizing basically everyone in the country to police abortion clinics comes to an end. The doctor’s lawyers will undoubtedly be requesting an injunction to suspend further enforcement of the law until the Supreme Court rules on the merits of the case. They may well get it this time.
Personally, I don’t think the Texas law will survive the courts. The big question is how the Supremes will strike it down. Will they uphold the current abortion jurisprudence from Planned Parenthood v. Casey or will they establish a new precedent? An abortion case from Mississippi is ahead of the Texas law on the docket and would be a better vehicle for overturning Casey, but the Court needs to quash Texas’s unprecedented attempt to evade judicial review by shifting enforcement to frivolous lawsuits by out-of-state inmates.
Finally, the US passed a grim milestone this week when the number of deaths from COVID-19 exceeded the 675,000 dead from the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. We can quibble about the importance of the number. On one hand, the Spanish flu killed a larger percentage of Americans since the population of the US was about 103 million at the time compared to 330 million in 2020. It’s also true that the COVID death toll would have been much higher without a hundred years of advances in medical technology. Ventilators have saved a lot of lives over the past 18 months.
Regardless of the significance of the milestone, there have been too many deaths from COVID-19. There have especially been too many preventable deaths since the vaccines became available for widespread use.
I think it’s going to be difficult for people to look back at this pandemic 50 years from now (if we haven’t killed ourselves by then) and understand why so many chose to risk the virus rather than take a safe and effective vaccine.
We may be technologically savvy, but we are definitely lacking in common sense.
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On Afghanistan, it's also probably worth noting that the Taliban may not have a lot of attention to spend on squeezing Americans, given that they're fighting a war with ISIS-K now that they're the ones running the country:
"Amaq claimed that seven bombings were carried out on Sept. 18 and 19, with the final explosion occurring outside of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad. Other jihadists have assaulted the Indian consulate inside the city in the past, but there is no indication in Amaq’s reporting that the diplomatic location was deliberately targeted on this occasion."
"The so-called caliphate’s men previously controlled a number of districts in Nangarhar. The Islamic State even seized ground in the Tora Bora Mountains, which were once home to Osama bin Laden."
"The Islamic State remains opposed to the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate. The group’s leaders claim that only their would-be caliphate is a legitimate government."
It seems like the Taliban has its hands full trying to fend off competing Islamist caliphate ideals, most notably in ISIS-K. I think that it resulted in the US and other NATO forces getting an unintended advantage of being able to continue the evacuations of Americans and others stuck in Afghanistan. The Taliban seems to mostly but not entirely consist of Pashtuns, who represent the largest plurality of Afghans. ISIS-K seems to be a combination of Dari speaking ethnic Tajiks of Afghanistan and a handful of Tajiki extremists from Tajikistan, but with a few Turkic Islamists(Uzbeks, Uyghurs) allying with their cause. They seem to be attracting extremists who feel the Islamic caliphate ideals of the Taliban is too moderate, comparatively speaking. The Dari speaking Afghans are ethnically Tajiks(similar to the Tajiks of Tajikistan, who speak Tajiki, a language similar to Dari and Farsi). The historical boundaries of Khorosan Province consist of a mix of Iranian peoples(Including Persians and Tajiks) and Turks, which seem to be the ethnic makeup of ISIS-K. It kind of makes sense why ISIS-K's goal is to take over Central(who are mostly Turkic and Iranian peoples) and South Asia under one caliphate. In comparison, the Taliban are mostly Pashtun nationalists and they've limited their caliphate ideals to within Afghanistan.
In any case, this mess could've been avoided had we not pulled out in the manner that we did, and pursued short sighted policies in Afghanistan over the last year and a half, spanning the past and current Presidential administrations.