The Big Story After two decades of U.S. influence, Monday marked the first day of the post-American era in Afghanistan. A day after the U.S.-backed president, Ashraf Ghani, fled the country, China extended an official welcome to Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers. “China respects the right of the Afghan people to independently determine their own destiny and is willing to continue to develop ... friendly and cooperative relations with Afghanistan,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted as saying. As the United States undertakes frantic efforts to evacuate remaining personnel from Afghanistan, the Taliban is taking early steps to normalize relations with key regional powers. This is the second time that the fundamentalist Islamist group has ruled Afghanistan, after an earlier government in power from 1996 to 2001 was deposed by the U.S. invasion. Retired U.S. diplomat Alberto Fernandez notes that the Taliban today “are likely to be far less isolated than they were in 1996-2001, when they were recognized by just three countries. If they play their cards right, they will likely have productive relations with China, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, and Azerbaijan, in addition to their patron Pakistan. Russia and the Central Asian states are wary but also likely to look for a modus vivendi with Taliban-ruled Kabul.”\n\nThe United States and countries aligned with its policies in Afghanistan have spent weeks threatening the Taliban with international isolation if the group seized power in Afghanistan by force instead of by negotiations. But the Taliban’s leaders calculated that they were better off taking power and making demands in power, a move that appears to be paying off so far. Just last week, U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad was attempting to “press the Taliban to stop their military offensive and to negotiate a political settlement, or be isolated and denied foreign funding if they seized power.” But already, “a lot of countries in the region are meeting with [the Taliban] … Russia, the Chinese, the Pakistanis, the Iranians … and you have nothing to pressure them to sit at the table,” a person briefed on negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, told the Financial Times. While the United States appears to have been blindsided by the rapid Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, China has spent years preparing for this outcome. In July, The Scroll reported on a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that “received virtually no attention in the U.S. press but may offer a window into how the organization’s key players, China and Russia, plan to respond to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.”\n\nRead more at:\nhttps://www.ft.com/content/df617411-3d5c-4665-8c54-0f9df95e0a19\n\nToday’s Back Pages: Afghan Tragedy, American Calamity\nThe RestPresident Biden returned to the White House from his Camp David retreat Monday to deliver his first public address on Afghanistan since last Tuesday. “Truth is, this unfolded more quickly than we anticipated,” Biden said in the televised address, acknowledging the rapid disintegration of the Afghan security forces and U.S.-backed government in Kabul and the Taliban takeover of the country. But Biden was resolute, saying he stood “squarely behind my decision” to end the war and withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.\n\nCanadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for snap elections Sunday to take place on September 20, two years ahead of the next scheduled elections. Trudeau said the elections were necessary to ensure a popular mandate for his liberal government’s pandemic-response policies.\n\nAt least 1,297 people were killed and 5,700 injured in Haiti after a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the country on Saturday. With search-and-rescue operations still going on from the earthquake, Haiti is now preparing for even more casualties when Tropical Storm Grace touches down on the island Monday.\n\nA federal judge who accused the Biden administration of acting “arbitrarily and capriciously” ordered the administration to reinstate the “remain in Mexico” policy put in place by the Trump administration that required asylum seekers to wait in Mexico while their cases were still pending in U.S. courts.\nThe Back Pages: Afghan Tragedy, American CalamityAmericans see something hideous unfolding in Afghanistan and are justifiably horrified. But that horror is a delayed reaction to institutional failure that has been playing out in the full view of the public for the past two decades. Thousands of reports, easily accessible to anyone interested in the state of the war effort, have detailed the rampant corruption, absenteeism, and dysfunction of the Afghan government and security forces. Evidence that the United States was throwing money into a sinking ship went largely ignored. When the bad news was acknowledged, it was spun by officials—often with a financial or political stake in keeping the United States in Afghanistan—as an acceptable loss in an indefinite mission where there would always be another chance to get it right. \n\nAnd now it has come due as the longest war in U.S. history ends with our allies unceremoniously giving up and our enemies in power. The U.S.-backed President Ashraf Ghani fled the country in a chopper filled with cash, and hours later Taliban leaders were taking photos around his desk Sunday in the presidential palace. Somehow this caught American leaders by surprise, forcing the U.S. military to carry out a chaotic and hasty evacuation of the country. Videos on social media showed hundreds of Afghans crowded around a U.S. military transport plane Sunday, so desperate to flee that they would risk being run over or incinerated or falling from the wheel well as the aircraft tried to take off.\n\nA year after I got back from a military deployment to Afghanistan, one of the first articles I published as a journalist in 2013 was an attempt to come to terms with the reality of the war. It was titled “‘Afghan Good Enough’ May Be the Best We Can Hope for in Afghanistan.” That was the phrase American soldiers used to acknowledge the limits of what was achievable in a mission that revolved around the nebulous task of nation building.\n\nThe article described how the Taliban “has been resurgent in recent years and now effectively controls large parts of the Pashtun south,” a fact that was already clear in 2013 and has remained so ever since. On the crucial question of training the Afghan military forces, which had become the U.S. military’s primary mission, I noted that they “have displayed a mixed record at best. Desertion and corruption are both rampant. The logistical system is incapable of providing necessary supplies on time, and in many cases the willingness of units to fight is questionable.”\n\nThis was all a matter of public record, documented in thousands of news articles and hundreds of Congressional reports. And yet a bipartisan coalition of generals and elected officials routinely misled the American public by insisting that progress was being made and that the war remained vital to U.S. national security. Just last month, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley disputed claims that the Taliban was “winning” in Afghanistan. “A negative outcome—a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan—is not a foregone conclusion,” Milley said on July 21. He added that “the Afghan security forces are consolidating their forces to protect population centers.”\n\nMost Americans, it has to be said, appear to have accepted the accounts that anything was still possible in Afghanistan. This was not because they necessarily believed them, I would wager, but because people preferred the comforting illusion that the status quo could go on forever to the reality that when it inevitably fell apart, there would be hell to pay.\n\nWhich brings us back to the present. There are two distinct disasters occurring right now under the shared heading of Afghanistan—one may not be as bad as some are assuming, and one may be much worse.\n\nThe first is the collapse of the American-made governing structure and security forces and the resurgence of the Taliban. Without at all downplaying the brutality of the Taliban, the situation may actually be less dire in the near term than is indicated by U.S. press reports. In fact, it’s both remarkable and telling how little bloodshed there has been so far—a sign that many Afghan officials and members of the security forces had already cut deals or made arrangements with the Taliban before the group’s campaign of the past few weeks. For now, Afghans appear to be engaging in internal political negotiations that the U.S. presence had preempted. The longer the Taliban remains in power and the more it rules as a centralized absolutist authority, the more violent resistance will result.\n\nBut the second Afghan disaster is the calamitous defeat and humiliation of the United States. We now have wall-to-wall assertions beaming through everyone’s phones showing the United States to be inept, weak, and naive, while competing powers such as China swoop in to conclude deals with the new Taliban regime that they have been preparing for years. Having spent its power in a futile exercise with nothing now to show for it, the United States may find it is not so easy to recover when a more urgent cause comes calling.