What Could Go Right? A little humanity in Afghanistan
Progress is not an inexorable march forward. It can stall, stop, and disappear. When it does, what’s required of us is not to shut our eyes to it but to look, with great care, at what has happened and why. So while this newsletter chooses to focus on what could go right, sometimes we need to address what went wrong first. Afghanistan is one of those times.
First is how we got here. Despite all the quick takes, punditry, and playing of the blame game the past few days, there are a few pieces that have helped us wade through the mess. If you only have time for something short and sweet, here’s TPN Member Andrew Bacevich emphasizing on Tucker Carlson’s show that Afghanistan is a bipartisan failure, something to keep in mind as the chaotic withdrawal reaches peak politicization. If you’re open to a relatively short read, here’s Member Robert Wright on how Cold War geopolitics eventually led to the Afghanistan war — and how it would behoove us to be wary of moving back into that mindset — in his newsletter. And Isaac Saul, author of the Tangle newsletter, which specializes in presenting both left and right viewpoints, has a historical explainer here that’s free of partisanship.
Second is where Afghanistan is going. Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Jonathan Rauch wrote a piece for Persuasion earlier in the month, before the withdrawal, whose central argument that the war was not a total failure has drawn some accusations of rose-colored glasses and persuaded others. You can read and decide for yourself. It is true, though, that in the last 20 years the quality of life in Afghanistan has improved, as Rauch points out: “Infant mortality dropped by half during the US operation. Life expectancy improved by six years. . . . University graduates rose from under 31,000 to almost 200,000.” What kind of country is now left with the Taliban, and does it matter?
In The New York Times, Member Thomas Friedman weighed in on the ongoing debate about whether the Taliban will be a more moderate presence than in the past, considering that there may be some genies that can’t be put back in the bottle. Since the Taliban was last in charge, Afghanistan has entered the world of modern technology, for one. A country awash with smartphones may be one harder to abuse. The Taliban also, Friedman says, must contend with the pressure to soon “deliver order and jobs for Afghans” and a foreign aid system that does not look kindly on human rights violations, as well as a generation of women and girls accustomed to greater equality.
One Member, Faisal Saeed Al-Mutar, who grew up in Iraq under the reign of Al-Qaeda, is skeptical, to say the least, that we’re about to see a more moderate Taliban. Rauch’s argument that conditions, especially for women, improved during the US’ involvement underpins the current coverage agonizing, for extremely good reason, about what will happen now to those women and girls who have been busy chasing their dreams — attending university, traveling to Canada for robotics competitions (and winning them) — and even enjoying simple pleasures like manicures.
“The Afghans now at greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation,” George W. Bush and Laura Bush said in a statement released on Monday. Like these brave Afghan women, who came out on Tuesday to defend their rights to the Taliban.
We don’t know what’s about to unfold in Afghanistan. But we can look back and correct, and we can commit to paying attention. As Friedman put it in his column, the timeframe for assessing President Biden’s actions is a longer one than the day after the withdrawal. When that time comes, the media spotlight will have moved on. It ought not to.
If you’re looking to help Afghanistan, Member Anne-Marie Slaughter shared this Google doc of organizations taking emergency donations. Veterans Affairs has sent out a list of resources for veterans.
Climate: the hot topic of the next 100 years. Last week we shared a perspective on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that called for clear-headed thinking and action, which spurred a follow-up discussion with readers over email and on social about what strategies work best for galvanizing public sentiment around climate. We loved this piece in the Christian Science Monitor on climate scientists’ new communications dilemma: the work of convincing people that climate change is real now largely accomplished, how to convey the urgency of climate change without shutting people down? It’s not an answer you can necessarily give in a sentence, but one we have to fumble through together. Meanwhile, climate queen Rebecca Solnit shared her thoughts in The Guardian. The real news of the report, she says, is not the science but cautious optimism about solutions.
Below in the links section, solar fridges are helping with vaccine distribution across Africa, new data has confirmed that the US incarceration rate kept dropping in 2019, and more.
From us: This seemed like a good week to remind people that there are ways to read the news without losing your mind. From October, but just as relevant today, we bring you five things to remember before giving up on everything.
Is the COVID pandemic shifting the balance of power to labor? TPN Member Diane Francis says yes, “in a profound way.” Read more about the move to a remote-work future and more in Francis’ latest piece, Covidnomics.
Other good stuff in the news
- The US will ship the first of 500 million shots pledged by Biden at the G7 summit | Bloomberg
- The case against crisis-mongering | Slow Boring
- Illinois will be the first state to require news literacy courses at every high school | NPR
- The Land of Lincoln also passed a law banning “hairstyle discrimination” in schools | DiversityInc
- Mathematicians are deploying algorithms to stop gerrymandering | MIT Technology Review
- A study in Bangladesh tripled the rate of mask-wearing. Can it help in the US? | NPR
- The US incarceration rate fell in 2019 to its lowest level since 1995 | Pew Research Center
- Water shortage spans the Southwest — but so does water progress | The Christian Science Monitor (Ed. note: this is a great demonstration of climate impact being dependent not only on the severity of climate effects but also how we adapt to them)
- Human hair is becoming a major player in ocean cleanups | Reasons to be Cheerful
- We can’t avoid the coronavirus for the rest of our lives, but we can minimize its impact | The Atlantic
- See how vaccines can make the difference in the Delta variant’s impact | The New York Times
- Don’t let “delta plus” confuse you. The strain hasn’t learned any new tricks. | MIT Technology Review
- A “landmark” study found that artificial antibodies can protect against malaria | Science
- Endangered maleos bounced back in Sulawesi, Indonesia, after villagers resolved to protect their eggs | Mongabay
- Finding answers to the world’s drinking water crisis | BBC
- Solar fridges: the cool way to ensure Covid-19 vaccine delivery across Africa | Evening Standard
- Understanding and solving vaccine hesitancy | Quillette
TPN Member originals
- We lost the war in Afghanistan long ago | Fareed Zakaria
- White fear is the wrong way to tell the Census story | Peniel E. Joseph
- How to boost innovation, with Alex Tabarrok | Yascha Mounk
- Generations are not at each other’s throats — we’re on the same side | Bobby Duffy
- A progressive parent confronts segregated schooling | Courtney E. Martin
- A Braver Angels roundtable: Where do the left and right step up or fall short in their approach to the media? | John Wood, Jr.
Neue Denkmuster und konstruktiver Journalismus | Maren Urner | September 7
Diversity in Office, Equity in Campaigns | Anne-Marie Slaughter | September 23
Why Mobility Is Destiny | Parag Khanna | October 13
Until Next Time
Time to get back to history class!