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Sensemaker: Leaving Afghanistan

Sensemaker: Leaving Afghanistan

Wednesday 1 September 2021

What just happened

Long stories short

  • UK officials and senior Taliban members are in talks in Doha, Qatar, about securing safe passage for British and Afghan nationals who are stranded in Afghanistan.
  • England’s drug regulator approved a “gamechanger” medication, inclisiran, that it said will protect tens of thousands of lives from heart attacks or strokes.
  • Anti-vaxxers baselessly claimed that a Welsh teenager hospitalised with Covid who urged young people to get vaccinated was a “liar” and “actress paid by the government”.

Leaving Afghanistan

President Biden yesterday spoke about his decision to end America’s war in Afghanistan. “I was not going to extend this forever war,” he said from the Cross Hall at White House. “I was not extending a forever exit.” His angry and defensive tone surprised some people, but it shouldn’t have:

  • Biden’s repeated references to the “forever war” theme would have appealed to the 54 per cent of American adults who think the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan was the right one (according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted between the 23 and 29 of August, when the drawdown was well underway).
  • His seemingly shortsighted assessment that sending thousands of American troops and billions of dollars to Afghanistan does not “enhance” the “safety and security” of his own country would have appealed to the 69 per cent of American adults who think that the US mostly failed to achieve its goals in Afghanistan.
  • Biden was most defensive about his rushed, chaotic withdrawal of all remaining American troops (“an extraordinary success”). He had set a Tuesday deadline for the withdrawal, but completed the evacuation on Monday night local time. More than seven in 10 American adults think he handled the situation in Afghanistan – right before the final evacuation – as “only fair” or “poorly”. But here he had another demographic to think about. The Taliban had warned there would be “consequences” if the US stayed past the deadline.

There were consequences for the 13 American service members and 170 Afghans killed in a suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport last week. Biden described the service members as “heroes” and said that we owe their families “a debt of gratitude we can never repay, but we should never, ever, ever forget”. Still, he made no apologies for the way in which he handled the evacuation as he left his podium.

The news reports say that Biden will now turn to domestic policy, something he was kept away from during the Afghan withdrawal, but his decision-making on Afghanistan has always been more responsive to domestic rather than foreign concerns.

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Bangladeshi murders
A special anti-terrorism tribunal convicted and sentenced to death six men over the murders of a Bangladeshi gay rights activist and his friend. Xulhaz Mannan, the activist, and Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, his friend, were hacked to death in April 2016. The six killers were members of Ansar al-Islam, a banned Islamist militant group that targets academics, secular writers, and activists who were critical of Islam. Four were in custody at the time of the sentencing; two remain at large. Homosexual relations are outlawed in Bangladesh, but the tribunal made clear that the six men were motivated by homophobia. “They decided to slay the victims for their involvement in gay rights’ activism,” it announced. “All the convicts had the same intention. They wanted to prevent them from practicing their freedom and create fear among the other people from expressing their opinion.”

New things technology, science, engineering

Booster shots
The director of the US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccines office and her deputy will leave the regulator in autumn. Their decision to leave, the New York Times reported (£), was triggered by the Biden administration’s announcement that adults should get a Covid vaccine booster jab eight months after their second jab. Dr Marion Gruber, the director, and Dr Philip Krause, her deputy, did not believe there was enough data to justify the announcement, which they saw as government pressure to fast-track the authorisation of boosters. Whilst data shows that Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines are staving off severe illness and hospitalisation, there is emerging evidence that vaccines lose potency over time. The plan for booster shots brings worrying implications for the global distributions of vaccines. Most poor countries are struggling to get their hands on enough doses even to vaccinate their populations partially.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Heartbeat act 
Texan women will no longer be able to get a legal abortion from as early as six weeks into their pregnancy. The new ‘Heartbeat Law’, named because pro-life campaigners say six weeks is when the foetal heartbeat is detected, was originally passed in May. But enforcement of the law was delayed when campaigners requested the Supreme Court block the legislation. Today, pro-choice campaigners American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) confirmed that the Supreme Court didn’t respond to the request – a silence that put the law into effect. The ACLU say that 90 per cent of abortions in the state occur after six weeks and that the law is “blatantly unconstitutional”. Three other states – Idaho, Oklahoma and South Carolina – have passed six-week bans this year, which are restricted by similar legal challenges. But with a conservatively swung Supreme Court, Texas might not be the lone state for much longer.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

A parliamentary committee will question foreign secretary Dominic Raab on his office’s failure to anticipate how quickly the Taliban would take Afghanistan. The MPs on the Foreign Affairs Committee are also set to question Raab on his failure to prepare an evacuation strategy earlier. One MP described the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s performance as “inept” to the Financial Times (£). Raab, who was on holiday in Greece when the Taliban took Kabul, is expected to be defensive and shift blame to the intelligence services and military. You can watch the parliamentary session at 2pm.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

China’s celebrity crackdown
China’s entertainment industry is experiencing a crackdown. A prominent actor in the country, Zhao Wei, had her presence mostly wiped from the Internet overnight last week. Another top actor, Zheng Shuang, was fined $46 million for tax evasion. Last month, the Chinese pop star Chris Wu was arrested based on online allegations of rape, which he has denied. The Communist Party of China has long seen popular culture as an important ideological battleground. But under Xi Jinping, it has been increasingly viewed as a dangerous and pernicious influence on young people. On Chinese social media, comments likened the crackdown to the Cultural Revolution which, between 1966 and 1976, restricted arts and culture to party propaganda.

Emily Benn’s Paralympic fact of the day

The Boccia finals are taking place in the Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo. Today, Britain’s David Smith retained the BC1 title he won in Rio 2016. The sport debuted at the 1984 Paralympics (held between Stoke Mandeville and New York), where five events were held. In Tokyo there are seven: four individual competitions, two pairs, one team. As with Goalball, there is no equivalent Olympic sport.

And finally… The master of Trinity Hall at Cambridge University has resigned after an independent review of the college’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations. The review followed our investigation into the college last year.

Thanks for reading and do share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Sophia Sun

Produced by Phoebe Davis and edited by Xavier Greenwood.

Photographs Getty Images

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