👋 Good Tuesday morning!
President Joe Biden addressed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in a speech Monday afternoon from the East Room of the White House. The president defended his decision to remove America’s military presence from the country.
“There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces,” Biden said, “or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict.”
“I will not repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past,” Biden continued. “The mistake of staying and fighting indefinitely in a conflict that is not in the national interest of the United States, of doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country, of attempting to remake a country through the endless military deployments of U.S. forces.”
JI talked to House legislators who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan about the binary-choice argument put forward by the president. More below.
American Enterprise Institute Senior Fellow Danielle Pletka told JI that the supposed binary choice of full withdrawal or endless war is “the height of dishonesty.” She continued, “we all now pretend that the cynical formulations of political know-nothings are strategic wisdom. We have many options short of combat, and many short of capitulation. But some people want to lose; the Joe Bidens and Barack Obamas believe that America is the source of wrongdoing in the world, and the sooner we run – notwithstanding the damage – the better the world will be. Donald Trump doesn’t think at all. They’re all fools.”
chaos in kabul
Four Capitol Hill veterans split on U.S. pullout
Although Congress is currently in recess, lawmakers have taken to the airwaves and social media in recent days to offer support, recriminations and other commentary on America’s departure from Afghanistan after 20 years and the Taliban’s rapid conquest of the country. Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL), who lost both legs and a finger to an improvised explosive device in Kandahar; Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), who served as a platoon commander in Afghanistan’s Helmand province; Don Bacon (R-NE), who commanded an Air Force squadron in Iraq and retired from military service as a brigadier general; and Scott Perry (R-PA), a retired brigadier general in the Pennsylvania National Guard who served in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, weighed in on the recent developments in interviews with Jewish Insider’s Marc Rod on Monday.
Reflecting: Mast said recent events in Afghanistan have left him, his family and other veterans wondering whether their hardships were “all for naught.” “What I come to in my mind is that it’s not all for naught. We were all out there, we were fighting for things that we believed in just hitting back at people that attacked our country on our mainland,” Mast told JI, referring to the 9/11 attacks. “What we do in combat, we definitely do for our country, but we do even more so for the people to our left and right. And that can never be taken away.”
False choice: Mast blamed the Taliban’s takeover on the U.S.’s rapid drawdown, saying it came without “a process by which we were going to exit and make sure that this area was maintained.” He argued that the notion of Biden’s only options being to conduct a rapid pullback or to drag the war apace is “not a true argument.” Instead, Mast said the U.S. should have conducted a slow, regional withdrawal, taking time to “test the waters” before a full pullout. The Florida Republican said the Trump administration, which set the initial U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan, reaching an agreement with the Taliban, bears “zero blame” for the current situation.
Flip side: Auchincloss took a different view, blaming the Afghan government and military’s “lack of political will” for the catastrophic collapse. “We built Afghanistan an air force, we built them an army, we helped them craft many of the tools of statehood. But ultimately, building a nation is a project that must be done by the nation itself,” Auchincloss told JI. “And in the course of 20 years, they did not do so. We can’t have Americans fighting a war that Afghans won’t fight for themselves,” he said, echoing a phrase repeated by the president.
Third way: Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE), who commanded an Air Force squadron in Iraq and retired from military service as a brigadier general, took a third view. “We could have sustained a residual force of non-combat forces, and a combat airpower and helped maintain their aircraft. We could have done this a long time,” Bacon said. “And 2,500 forces is a lot less than what we have in Korea, Germany and many places in the world. And let’s be clear, we suffered zero combat losses in almost a year and a half.”
Helping hand: Mast and Auchincloss both agreed that evacuating Afghan interpreters and others who aided the U.S. must now be the top priority. Mast reflected on the dedication of one Afghan interpreter who worked with his unit regularly, including on the night he was injured. “He always had this helmet on that didn’t fit him right. It was like a kid putting on their dad’s suit… It was like a bobblehead on your dashboard,” Mast said. “I can remember a mission he was on… and he had on a pair of tennis shoes. And we were going through some mud and he lost his tennis shoes. And he ended up completing this whole mission with us in bare feet… These are people that you serve next to night after night, mission after mission.” Mast said he’s lost track of this individual, who had two children, and doesn’t know if he is still in jeopardy.
Heritage: Auchincloss said that the need to evacuate local U.S. partners resonates particularly strongly through his Jewish heritage. “It’s an especially resonant point for the Jewish people who know so intimately the story of the refugee,” he explained. He added that he will “be holding the administration to account to ensure that we do process and welcome refugees.”
Republican lieutenant governors ready for March 2022 Israel trip
A delegation of Republican lieutenant governors from at least four states will visit Israel on a weeklong trade mission next March with the goal of bolstering economic and diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel has learned. Scheduled for March 18-25, the trip is sponsored by the State Government Leadership Foundation, the policy arm of the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national organization dedicated to electing GOP candidates in all 50 states. The SGLF, which shared news of the upcoming delegation exclusively with JI, last hosted a trade mission for lieutenant governors in 2016.
Who’s going: Participants who have signed on so far include Jeanette Nuñez of Florida, Adam Gregg of Iowa, Mike Foley of Nebraska and Jon Husted of Ohio. But that list could expand as the SGLF shores up plans for the 2022 trip, a spokesperson for the group told JI. The delegation, according to an announcement, will meet with Israeli government officials and business leaders for discussions on such matters as agriculture, manufacturing, cybersecurity and aerospace technology.
Showing solidarity: The SGLF emphasized that it hoped to show solidarity with the Jewish state following the recent Gaza conflict, as well as last month’s announcement from Ben & Jerry’s that it will stop selling ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory.” “As Ben & Jerry’s move to boycott Israel violates several states’ laws and damages the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the group told JI, “the delegation will aim to strengthen relations with our strongest ally in the Middle East and expand growth opportunities through networking opportunities with Israeli companies, local chambers of commerce and other U.S. companies already doing business in Israel.”
Anti-BDS offensive: Florida, which is among the 33 states that have passed laws against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel, recently placed Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever on a list of “scrutinized companies that boycott Israel.” Ohio, for its part, currently has no “contractual relationships” with Unilever, according to Husted. Gregg told JI that he was unaware of “any contracts between the state of Iowa and Unilever.” But, he said, the state’s pension fund is “carefully reviewing Ben & Jerry’s actions and its relationship with Unilever,” as well as “potential state exposure” and “how our anti-BDS law applies.” Gregg said the state “will determine what next steps are appropriate” after the review, which hasn’t previously been reported.
‘Perfect time’: In conversation with JI on Monday afternoon, Husted said he had spoken with a number of Jewish community leaders in Ohio about visiting Israel in light of the Ben & Jerry’s controversy. “They said they thought it was the perfect time to send a message of how strong the relationship between America and Israel, Ohio and Israel, is,” he recalled, “and I hope that my presence on the trip will reassure those who care about those relationships that they are indeed as strong as ever.”
Graham warns possibility of another Sept. 11-style attack is ‘now through the roof‘
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who served a brief stint in Afghanistan as an Air Force reservist in 2009, warned that “the likelihood of another 9/11 is now through the roof” in a press conference on Monday afternoon in Pendleton, S.C.
Need for change: Graham also expressed concern that the situation in Afghanistan would embolden Iran and other U.S. rivals. “We’re in for a tough ride as a nation if we don’t make some adjustments. Unadjusted, these policies are going to lead to more threats to the United States. We’re going to be seen as a less reliable partner.”
Blame game: He laid primary blame for the situation on President Joe Biden, who he said has gone from “being sort of incompetent [on foreign policy] to literally dangerous,” but said there will also “be some blame to bear for the Trump administration.”
Next steps: The South Carolina senator also said the U.S. should take all possible measures to ensure it can evacuate Afghan partners, including threatening to “declare war” on the Taliban should it refuse to grant such individuals safe passage.
🤝 New Paradigm: Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and veteran of multiple Republican administrations, suggests that last year’s Abraham Accords, which opened formal relations between Israel and a number of Arab states, were driven by a perception of America’s weakening commitment to the region evidenced by the withdrawal from Afghanistan. “What is happening in Afghanistan will deepen the impression among Arab governments that they cannot rely on the United States to protect their security as they used to. So those states have increasingly drawn the conclusion that they have one neighbor who, unlike Iran or Turkey, poses no threat to them, and who continually displays a firm willingness to use military power against its enemies. That’s Israel,” explains Abrams. “This is a boon for Israel, and seeing Arab states draw closer to Israel is a benefit for the United States as well, because we maintain close relations with many of them… It reflects a realpolitik judgment about the U.S. role in the region, and about our willingness to act to protect allies, friends, and even ourselves.” [CFR]
🚩 Red Flags: In The New York Times, Bret Stephens warns about the effect the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will have on both Afghans — who will again live under repressive rule — and the world, which will suffer the effects of an emboldened Taliban. “In other words, we had achieved a good-enough solution for a nation we could afford to neither save nor lose. We squandered it anyway. Now, in the aftermath of Saigon redux, every enemy will draw the lesson that the United States is a feckless power, with no lasting appetite for defending the Pax Americana that is still the basis for world order. And every ally — Taiwan, Ukraine, the Baltic States, Israel, Japan — will draw the lesson that it is on its own in the face of its enemies.” [NYTimes]
🗳️ Queens Powerhouse: In City & State NY, Ben Adler looks at the outsized impact Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has had on New York politics since her unexpected primary victory over former Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) in 2018. Ocasio-Cortez “is in a sense the leader of every local cause she supports, because she is the leader of the left-wing opposition in New York,” Adler writes. “Before the 2018 primary, most people asked to guess the base of a forthcoming left-wing rebellion would probably have said one of the Manhattan or Brooklyn neighborhoods renowned – at least once upon a time – for being on the cultural cutting edge, like the East Village, Williamsburg or Bushwick. Instead, it came from Queens, the borough lodged in the American imagination by network sitcoms like ‘The King of Queens’ and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ as a bastion of middle-class, quasi-suburban conventionality.” [City&State]
Around the Web
🇮🇱 War of Words:The Daily Beast said it is “developing an editorial standard” for the use of the word “genocidal” after coming under criticism for a piece by entertainment reporter Tirhakah Love, who used the term to describe the Israeli Defense Forces in an article about new “Jeopardy!” co-host Mayim Bialik.
📺 Small Screen: Stone Canyon Entertainment acquired the rights to Daniel Gordis’s Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn to film a docuseries based on the book, which tells the story of Israel’s history from its creation to the present day.
🍲 Shuttered: Greenblatt’s, a Jewish deli in West Hollywood, Calif., closed its doors after 95 years in business.
📈 Back to Normal: Israel’s economy rebounded in the year’s second quarter, fueled by a reopening allowed by the country’s successful vaccination drive, a trend also illustrated in the Israeli Discount Bank’s expectation-defying second-quarter report.
🔥 Helping Hand: Israel canceled a request for international aid as firefighters combat wildfires near Jerusalem, despite concerns that wind could spread the mostly contained fire later today.
👋 Cutting Ties: Poland announced it will keep its ambassador to Israel in Warsaw amid a diplomatic spat between the two countries that was provoked by a new Polish law that blocks Jewish property restitution claims. Polish officials have threatened to end the annual trips taken by Israeli teenagers to visit Holocaust sites around the country.
🚀 Rocket Fire: A rocket fired from Gaza was intercepted over southern Israel, the first rocket fire from the enclave since Hamas’s conflict with Israel in May.
💥 Explosive News: A new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency found that Iran is continuing its enrichment work as nuclear talks in Vienna appear at an impasse.
Pic of the Day
Israeli President Isaac Herzog poses with gymnasts Linoy Ashram and Artem Dolgopyat following their gold medal victories at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
CEO at Bridgewater Associates, previously under secretary of the Treasury for international affairs, David Harold McCormick turns 56…
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