The Big Story Excerpts from an exclusive Scroll interview with U.S. Congressman and army veteran Peter Meijer (R-MI). (Disclosure: I was an instructor at a writing workshop for veterans that Meijer attended in 2013.)\n\nOn the timeline to get the thousands of remaining U.S. citizens out of Afghanistan.\nI’m incredibly worried that the August 31 deadline, which as best as I can tell is a Taliban-imposed deadline—if the administration sticks with that, then we will be abandoning tens of thousands of people, including American citizens, with no plan to get them out to safety. To the extent that I know what the timeline’s going to be apart from what’s been announced, it’s trying to read between the lines at press conferences. There’s been very little communication with Congress about this. And, frankly, President Biden and his senior leadership seem to be a bit paralyzed by this turn of events.\n\n“Faulty intelligence.”\nThe important thing to consider is, in all of the conversations about how quickly the Afghan government fell, initially it was like six to nine months, then it was like 30 to 90 days—but that was all post-American-withdrawal, so the clock started on August 31. We didn’t even make it to August 15. It wasn’t 30 to 90 days, as they were saying at the beginning of August; it was negative 15 days.\n\nWho was responsible for planning the withdrawal of embassy personnel and other U.S. citizens still in Afghanistan?\nFrom what I understand, it seems to have been Secretary of State Blinken in the driver’s seat on a lot of this, along with Ambassador Khalilzad. The biggest question that we don’t have a lot of fidelity on right now—and hopefully will in the short term—is, what the hell happened in Doha? ['Doha' is the name of the city in Qatar that hosted negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban - ed.] What was the status of those talks? What had been negotiated as we were moving toward a transitional power-sharing government, and did that impact things on the ground? That’s where the real disconnect seems to have taken place, and I suspect that the Biden administration, as they were getting increasingly dire intelligence assessments, thought that it was just folks trying to sabotage getting out rather than trying to make sure that the latest information was there.\n\nRead the full interview in today's Back PagesThe RestPresident Biden said Wednesday that U.S. troops in Afghanistan would be extended beyond their current Aug. 31 withdrawal deadline if needed to assist with evacuations. “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay till we get them all out,” Biden said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. But after the press conference Wednesday with the United States’ top military brass—at which Defense Secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin said that the military does not have the ability to retrieve U.S. citizens stranded in Taliban-controlled Kabul beyond exceptional rescue circumstances—it’s not clear exactly how far the president’s pledge could extend. “I don’t have the capability to go out and extend operations currently into Kabul,” Austin said.\nRead more here: https://www.militarytimes.com/flashpoints/afghanistan/2021/08/18/biden-troops-will-stay-in-afghanistan-to-evacuate-americans/\n\nSeveral buildings on Capitol Hill were evacuated Thursday after a man who claimed to be carrying a bomb and demanded to speak to President Joe Biden parked his pickup truck outside the Library of Congress. “The revolution is on,” said the man. “I’m ready to die for the cause.” In videos that the man uploaded to Facebook live from outside the Capitol, he appears to be white and middle-aged, and speaks with a Southern accent. The man was communicating with law enforcement negotiators by Thursday afternoon and claimed to have planted another bomb inside Washington, D.C. Politico reports that “earlier Thursday, the U.S. Park Police discovered an abandoned vehicle with a propane tank inside near one of its stations. The vehicle was towed to a storage lot, and officials are now trying to determine whether it was associated with the incident.”\n\nAt least 12 people have died in Kabul since Sunday, either killed by gunfire or in stampedes in the chaos around the Kabul airport. Thousands of Afghans have rushed to the airport in the days since the Taliban takeover of their country. Despite early pledges to allow anyone who wants to leave the country access to the airport, the Taliban has since established checkpoints and other movement restrictions to prevent that from happening. Video footage from the airport, reportedly taken on Thursday, shows a chaotic and desperate scene with armed men in camouflage uniform—presumably members of the Taliban—shooting into the air as a panicked crowd, including children, attempts to disperse. \n\nThe scene outside the Kabul airport:NEW - Toddler pulled over wall by U.S. soldiers as desperate crowds gather outside #Kabul airport.pic.twitter.com/NUDYAViOcb\n\n— Disclose.tv (@disclosetv) August 19, 2021\nIsrael, one of the world's most vaccinated countries against COVID-19 and an early model for competent coronavirus pandemic response, now has the third-highest number of cases in the world per capita. The dramatic spike is driven by the more transmissible yet less deadly Delta variant of the virus. Israel’s experience suggests that the full protective benefits of COVID-19 vaccinations wear off before a year, which has led a number of countries, including both Israel and the United States, to push additional booster doses.GET THE SCROLL DELIVERED DAILY American-born Yeshiva of Flatbush alumnus Justice Neal Hendel, who moved to Israel at 31, was sworn in as the deputy president of Israel’s Supreme Court. The ceremony took place at the residence of Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, who pointed out that it was his father, the former president of Israel Chaim Herzog, who swore in Hendel, now 69, to his first judicial appointment in the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court.\nRead it here: https://www.jpost.com/opinion/grapevine-august-20-2021-pride-in-one-of-their-own-677200\n\nThe leader of Germany’s green party, Annalena Baerbock, is setting herself apart from both outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel and other center-left politicians by taking a more hawkish stance on security issues. In a recent interview, Baerbock endorsed placing tariffs on Chinese imports to Germany and sanctioning the real estate holdings of Russians tied to Vladimir Putin. The foreign policy toughness is coupled with a policy of “root-and-branch transformation of the German economy to achieve carbon neutrality within 20 years,” writes the Financial Times.\n\nA high-profile marketing campaign during the pandemic presented OnlyFans as the Uber of pornography, just with more glamour. But the company, which now has 130 million users and a reputation built on the idea of amateur porn as a liberating work-from-home alternative to the pre-pandemic 9-5, announced Thursday that it will ban pornography starting in October—due to what the company says was “mounting pressure from banking partners and payment providers.”\nRead it here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-19/onlyfans-to-block-sexually-explicit-videos-starting-in-october?sref=ExbtjcSG\n#BPThe Back Pages The following interview with U.S. Congressman and army veteran Peter Meijer (R-MI) has been lightly edited for clarity.\n\n\nIs there a timeline from today to get to mission completion of the evacuation?\n\nI’m incredibly worried that the August 31 deadline, which as best as I can tell is a Taliban-imposed deadline—if the administration sticks with that, then we will be abandoning tens of thousands of people, including American citizens, with no plan to get them out to safety. To the extent that I know what the timeline’s going to be apart from what’s been announced, it’s trying to read between the lines at press conferences. There’s been very little communication with Congress about this. And, frankly, as you know, President Biden and his senior leadership seems to be a bit paralyzed by this turn of events.\n\n\nWe’re now in a predictable phase where the Biden administration is blaming the generals and intel, and the generals and intel people are blaming the Biden administration. Who was responsible for the planning of the withdrawal? Was that a joint State Department and military effort? Was it the military largely in charge? Who was responsible for coming up with this plan?\n\nFrom what I understand, it seems to have been Secretary of State Blinken in the driver’s seat on a lot of this, along with Ambassador Khalilzad. The biggest question that we don’t have a lot of fidelity on right now—and hopefully will in the short term—is, what the hell happened in Doha? ['Doha' is the name of the city in Qatar that hosted negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban - ed.] What was the status of those talks? What had been negotiated as we were moving toward a transitional power-sharing government, and did that impact things on the ground? That’s where the real disconnect seems to have taken place, and I suspect that the Biden administration, as they were getting increasingly dire intelligence assessments, thought that it was just folks trying to sabotage getting out rather than trying to make sure that the latest information was there. The important thing to consider is, in all of the conversations about how quickly the Afghan government fell, initially it was like six to nine months, then it was like 30 to 90 days—but that was all post-American-withdrawal, so the clock started on August 31. We didn't even make it to August 15. It wasn’t 30 to 90 days, as they were saying at the beginning of August; it was negative 15 days.\n\n\nIt’s possible that the Biden administration thought that by offering the Taliban money as well as the prospect of international recognition through the Doha negotiations, the Taliban could be incentivized to not take over the country right away, at least giving the U.S. time to complete the withdrawal. But the Taliban recognized they had an opportunity because their relations with other regional powers had improved and—as I’ve seen you point out—they were able to strike a lot of deals with Afghan security forces and other leaders over the past month. So with all that, they made the calculation, “Why wait and do what the U.S. wants? We’ll go with our own timeline.” Do you think that’s right about the administration’s sense of its leverage over the Taliban?\n\nI think the one thing that you didn’t mention in terms of those points of leverage was an intact Afghan government and Afghan security force—that however weakened, there still was some fight. My base case was that you’d have some provincial capitals fall and that the Taliban would consolidate down there, you’d go to maybe something not dissimilar to pre 9-11 bounds of who is controlling where, because nobody wanted an extended siege of Kabul—that’s not in anyone’s best interest. Then, from there, we agree to these concessions, they agree to concessions, and you kind of have that negotiated settlement with the U.S. also predicating ours on either presence of military force or some type of limited counter-terrorism mission.\n\nIt would be that sort of delicate “we’re getting out, but we’re keeping a little bit of military pressure” [situation]. Meanwhile, they’re rising but also legitimized, and then at a certain point, you say, “Okay, here’s the new arrangement: Power-sharing government in Kabul, greater autonomy at the regional and provincial level … ” Maybe there’s some ministerial posts held by the Taliban, some held by former members of the government, reflecting the balance of power in the country and key constituencies. You kind of subtly shift into that.\n\nBut once the ball started rolling and provinces started to fall, others started freaking out and lost confidence in Ghani’s ability to lead, lost confidence in any modicum of U.S. support. Instead, on both the governmental side and on the Afghan security forces side, it just disintegrated in days. It disintegrated also because of what you alluded to, which was my strong belief and expectation that, going into that withdrawal, there were a lot of side deals being made, a lot of individual terms being made. And so the Taliban didn’t have to take by force—they just preempted. They weren’t trusting what was going on at Doha.\n\n\nI know we’re still in the evacuation phase, but it’s obvious that there were significant mistakes and oversights that need to be reckoned with. Is there a procedure in place for that already?\n\nThat gets into the broader war powers component. In my mind there are three main issues if we’re looking not just at the withdrawal but extending that to the 20-year failure of the post-9-11 national security push. I firmly believe that Congress needs its own intelligence analysis bureau similar to the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] as a way to be solely reliant, frankly, on assessments coming from individuals who are appointed by and responsible to the president. We’ve seen time and again how those assessments may overplay information that is favorable to their narrative or to their objective and downplay dissenting views.\n\nThe second component is just getting Congress to take more agency and responsibility over the wars that we’re fighting. That gets into the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) reform. It’s a very, very small number [of currently serving members of Congress] who actually voted to affirm the post-9-11 AUMF, so the rest have just been able to take their hands off and not have to cast a hard vote or ask hard questions. Fighting on autopilot leads to this disconnect, and disengagement and has made Congress essentially irrelevant in much of this. We need to prize that relevancy back.\n\nAnd the third component—and this gets at the other half of the 20-year conflict—is looking at how our intelligence community, our defense department, and our State Department are creating and sustaining and working toward strategic objectives. The conflict in Afghanistan is just a wonderful illustration of how futile it is when you don’t actually have a sense of why you are doing what you’re doing when there’s no end-state you’re working toward, no elucidated objective. One day it’s counter-narcotics, the next day it’s counter-terrorism, the next day it’s economic assistance, the next day it’s security assistance. This sort of multiheaded Hydra that we created made it impossible to actually consistently drive toward a defined mission. And that, I think, requires a significant hard look at our national security and foreign policy establishment writ large.\n\n\nOkay, so let me give you the last question, because that leads right into it. There’s a widespread feeling right now—maybe not the majority, but a significant feeling—that the people responsible for Afghanistan are irredeemably corrupt. A deep roiling sense that the only way to deal with it at this point is to clean house. That’s more a statement than a question, but how do you respond to that?\n\nIt’s less the fault of the people in those positions than it is of the incentive structure and institutional organization. The incentive in most of government is inaction, and there’ll be a bias toward inaction because if you don’t put your fingerprints on something, if you don’t try to change it, then you can just wipe your hands of it. So we have a fundamental accountability problem where individuals are not held to a standard on things they inherit. I mean, it took an army captain to send someone to Guantanamo Bay and a president to release them. It’s easy to start something up—it’s really hard to change it once it’s going along. And you can always wash your hands of something that’s ongoing and blame it on somebody.\n\nIt’s hard to hold someone accountable if you don’t actually have defined performance objectives, right. If you have no key KPIs [key performance indicators] that you have set out and an objective sense of an end-state you’re driving toward … If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.\n\nIt’s interesting right now watching a lot of generals trying to say, “Oh, well, we knew that’s what would happen.” It’s like, well, why weren’t you saying that? And you also hear from a lot of ground-level soldiers who are by no means surprised because this was always sort of the assumption. And then you see senior leadership, you see the president, secretary of defense, you see secretary of state, and then you see the American public kind of in the wilderness. There’s clearly a disconnect that is the product partially of an all-volunteer force, partially the dereliction of duty by Congress to take back control of our conflicts, partially our media being completely disengaged.