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What Happened: August 31, 2021

Tablet’s afternoon news digest: The war ends but some Americans stuck behind; Israel’s vaccine puzzle

The Scroll
August 31, 2021

The Big Story

The war in Afghanistan is over. Major General Chris Donahue, the commander of the 82nd Airborne Division who had been leading evacuation missions in Afghanistan, was the last American soldier left in the country when he boarded a C17 transport plane just before midnight local time on Monday night. All military and diplomatic personnel have now been evacuated, according to Pentagon officials, bringing an end to the United States’ longest war but leaving an unknown number of citizens stuck in the Taliban-controlled country. “If there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay to get them all out,” President Biden told ABC News less than two weeks ago. That has not been the case. “We did not get everybody out that we wanted to get out,” CENTCOM commander General Kenneth McKenzie told reporters on Monday. U.S. officials acknowledge that both American citizens and some Afghan nationals who worked with the American military and were granted special visas to immigrate to the United States were left behind. On Monday night, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that a small number of Americans—“under 200 and likely closer to 100”—remain in Afghanistan and want to leave. Other sources, including a number of military veterans, claim the total is considerably higher.

Taliban members posed for photos Tuesday inside the Kabul airport, where only hours before the United States completed its withdrawal under their security watch. Bursts of gunfire could reportedly be heard in the city throughout the day to celebrate the Americans’ departure and the Islamist group’s victory. American taxpayers were almost certainly billed for some of the gunfire at the party celebrating their country’s defeat. Out of a total of more than $80 billion spent equipping the Afghan security forces since the start of the war, the United States, starting in 2003, purchased at least 600,000 infantry weapons for Afghan soldiers. In total, the United States spent close to $30 billion just on weapons and equipment that fell into the Taliban’s hands in a matter of days when the Afghan military disbanded itself.

Today’s Back Pages: The Lebanonization of Afghanista

The Rest

Being one of the most vaccinated countries in the world has not protected Israel from breaking its record for the most COVID-19 cases recorded in a single day. With almost 11,000 cases reported on Monday, according to data released by the Health Ministry, Israel now has the highest rolling average of new daily infections per capita in the world. How could that happen in one of the most vaxxed countries in the world? Part of the answer may lie in Israel’s aggressive testing regimen, which means the country identifies more infections but doesn’t necessarily have a higher rate of infected residents than other places that do less testing and identify fewer cases. But it also points to the fact that the COVID-19 vaccines are in some ways more like medical treatments than traditional vaccines. They’re highly effective as protection against severe infections—meaning vaccinated people who contract COVID-19 will almost certainly live—but not nearly as good as advertised at *preventing* infection, which is the claim commonly used to justify vaccine mandates. 

Nearly 2.6 million kids left traditional schools and entered homeschooling since the start of the pandemic, almost doubling the number of homeschooled children in the United States, Axios reports. Another million families moved their children from public to private schools over the same period.
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Heavy fighting in the northeastern Afghan province of Panjshir—the only province that has not yet fallen under Taliban control—resulted in approximately seven Taliban fighters being killed Monday night, according to local news reports. As a province made up by a majority of ethnic Tajiks, Panjshir has become the site of anti-Taliban resistance, drawing in a disparate group of Afghan factions united in their opposition to being ruled by the Taliban, an Islamist group dominated by ethnic Pashtuns that is preparing to form a new government in Afghanistan. As of Tuesday, Panjshir residents said that the Taliban had cut off phone and internet access in the region.
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As protestors in New York call for the extension of the state’s eviction moratorium, which is set to expire Tuesday at midnight, New York’s largest landlord group is threatening to sue the state legislature if that happens.

Yesterday we reported on a new policy in China prohibiting online gaming companies from allowing minors to play more than three hours per week, and how this fits with China’s general approach to social regulation of the internet. Today Ben Thompson argues in his subscriber-only newsletter, Stratechery, what the Chinese restrictions mean: 
“Now, more than ever, is the time for the U.S. to go in the opposite direction, with more openness, and more reliance on private sector ingenuity and competition. If it wasn’t clear before it should be clear now that we will never have it within us to regulate and control individuals to this degree; why would we want to pursue a pale imitation instead of purposely doing the opposite?”
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Almost a year after the signing of the Abraham Accords promised “normalization” between Israel and the Arab world, Bahrain’s first-ever ambassador to Israel arrived in the country on Tuesday. Prior to the trip, Ambassador Khaled Yousef al-Jalahmah tweeted in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, “The opportunity to fulfill His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa’s vision of peaceful coexistence with all nations is a privilege that I will hold in high regard.”

Jury selection began today in the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes, who pumped her company, Theranos, up to a valuation of $9 billion based on bogus claims about a product that could do at-home genetic testing.

Kanye West, a brilliant songwriter, producer and arranger, subpar rapper, avant-garde Christian humanist cultural visionary, and ex-Mr. Kardashian, finally released his long-awaited album Donda this week. The 27-track album, named for West’s deceased mother, is loaded with features from artists including Jay-Z, the Weeknd, Pop Smoke, and Marilyn Manson.

The Back Pages

The Coming ‘Lebanonization’ of Afghanistan

Joe Kent, a former Army Ranger and Special Forces veteran with extensive service in Iraq and other outposts of the Global War on Terror, is now running for Congress in Washington state. On his Twitter account today, he made a series of very astute observations predicting how the U.S. defense establishment would evolve now that the war in Afghanistan—which virtually no one in the Beltway national security community wanted to see end—is finally over.

“The natsec establishment will try to sell us on rebranding the TB as a legit gov we MUST support to fight ISIS-K,” he wrote, using TB as an abbreviation for “the Taliban.” 

The tweet continues: “The playbook is established from Iraq, the Iraqi army we bled for & trained crumbles, we rearm & support Iranian backed militias that killed US troops to fight ISIS.” Kent is pointing to the inconvenient fact that the Obama administration’s counter-ISIS strategy in Iraq relied on partnering with Iranian-backed militia groups that were notorious for killing American soldiers during the Iraq War. The result of “success” in that campaign is that those same Iranian-aligned groups, such as Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, became part of the formal structure of the Iraqi government. In other words, instead of fighting our enemies, we turned them into “official” members of “the state,” making it so that we now supposedly have to deal with them on “urgent” security matters.

“The trap,” according to Kent, is “acknowledging a gov, we should pay off rivals to keep each other busy & do limited strikes vs. terrorists w/ external aspirations. 

But that’s the rub, there’s no $ for the [military intelligence community] in that model, it’s too cheap & effective.

The [military intelligence community’s] cash cow is building armies & govs.”

I have tried to make a similar point here on a number of occasions in regard to Afghanistan specifically, but Kent’s critique also fits within a broader framework that has been developed by Tablet’s Levant correspondent, Tony Badran, who has been warning for years about not falling for the “Lebanon model” of foreign policy.

I asked Tony what he thought of Kent’s tweets. He responded:

This is precisely the model we should end. It’s the model I’ve been screaming about, with total futility, for years in regard to Lebanon because it captures everything that’s wrong in the security establishment’s thinking: the corruption, the emotional impulse, the sociology, the stupidity, and, importantly, the example of a fake state.

The United States now has 20 years of experience with backing a fake state in Afghanistan. We can see how that ended. Now the same foreign policy gurus who sold the first disaster are preparing to demand that the ISIS-K—a group no more than a dozen people had heard of a week ago—is such an urgent threat that it requires the United States to back another fake state, but this time one run by the Taliban, a group responsible for killing countless Americans. In a better functioning society, these “experts” would be tried and sent into exile. They have no sense and no shame.

Tablet’s afternoon newsletter edited by Jacob Siegel.

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