BAGHDAD — Rival protesters took to Iraq’s streets Friday as their leaders vied for political dominance, just 10 months after a U.S.-backed election that was meant to heal the country’s fractures left many more exposed.
The Taliban are once again in control of Afghanistan. The U.S. has little to show for nearly 20 years of military involvement, trillions of dollars spent and over 2000 American lives lost.
The U.S. gave the Afghan government all the resources it needed to defeat the Taliban. The tragedy is that the U.S.’s willingness to give so much incentivized ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, to do so little. For them good politics meant bad policy. Insecurity and dependence on the U.S. gave them ample cash with which to buy political support. For Afghan leaders it was better to wager that no U.S. President would being willing to pull the plug on their watch. That gamble paid handsomely for 20 years and many in Washington argue that the cycle of dependence should have continued.
The U.S. pumped over $116 billions of aid into Afghanistan since 2002. The $88 billion spent to train and equip the Afghan army that failed to stabilize the security situation. These numbers clearly support President BidenJoe BidenHenri downgraded to tropical depression as it dumps rain on northeast Britain to urge G7 leaders to consider adopting sanctions against Taliban: report Five lawmakers to watch ahead of key House budget vote MORE’s recent statement, : “We gave them every tool they could need. … We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future.”
The sad reality is that, in providing the means to make Afghanistan succeed, the U.S. took away all incentive to produce good policy. Rather than security and prosperity, the U.S. wealth allowed corruption to flourish and political elites to grow rich. Transparency International ranked Afghanistan as 165th worst of 180 nations in terms of corruption. With so much money flowing in and the international community providing so many services and so few checks on how our money was spent, the Ghani government could buy political loyalty through graft and corruption.
Fixing Afghanistan’s security situation would have vastly improved the life of the average Afghan citizen, but it would have been a path to political ruin for its president. If the Ghani government had decisively defeated the Taliban, then the U.S. would have withdrawn its presence — and, with it, the money that made it so easy to buy domestic support at home.
That’s what the U.S. gradually did in Egypt following the Camp David Agreement and in Pakistan after Osama Bin Laden was killed. Without foreign governments to pay their bills, the Afghan government would have had to breach the gap between tax revenue (8 percent of GDP) and government spending (24 percent of GDP). Balancing the books would mean cutting the bloated spending that bought the support of political cronies.
Ghani made himself dependent on the U.S. and that gave him leverage. If the U.S. tried to get Afghanistan to stand on its own two feet, then the Afghan government could be expected to allow the Taliban to get stronger. The U.S. response would then be more support. The U.S. put itself in a no-win situation where its partner could, but never would, deliver what it sought.
The U.S. went through the same dance with Pakistan in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The U.S. paid billions and Pakistan pretended to search but was careful never to actually find him. Bin Laden was of course eventually found by U.S. forces. He was living in a compound less than a mile from a military academy.
The rapidity with which the Afghan government collapsed should come as no surprise. In addition to military withdrawal the U.S. had sharply reduced aid: from $4.7 billions in 2019 to only $1.1 billion in 2020 and less than $200 million in 2021. With Ghani no longer a reliable source of graft, supporters had no reason to back him. Army commanders were then more interested in looking for their next meal ticket than fighting those likely to be in charge in the near future.
A similar desertion took place a decade ago in Egypt. With U.S. aid on the decline, other revenues dwindling and Mubarak ailing, staying loyal looked like a poor gamble. When protestors took to the streets the army chose to let the Arab Spring succeed. Afghan military commanders are no doubt hoping their futures will turn out as well as those of their compatriots in Egypt.
Through its willingness to pump vast resources into Afghanistan, the U.S. put itself in an unwinnable situation. The Afghan government had no incentive to reform or defeat the Taliban. Such good policies would have been bad politics. Ghani lasted seven years, significantly longer than most political terms in office, and he left with a vast fortune. Allegedly the helicopter was not large enough to take all the cash!
For nearly 20 years, U.S. leaders maintained the fiction that victory was just around the corner rather than let the collapse occur on their watch. Biden called it correctly, “there is no chance that one year — one more year, five more years, or 20 more years of U.S. military boots on the ground would’ve made any difference.”
Policies such as U.S. support for Afghanistan or paying Pakistan to pretend to look for Bin Laden will continue to fail because U.S. policy is formulated in terms of what is best for a nation in trouble. We need to discard the rose-tinted glasses and recognize that giving assistance provides leaders with an incentive to perpetuate problems, not fix them.
Suppose instead the U.S. escrowed funds to be delivered only upon policy success. Afghan leaders might have focused more on security and less on graft. Likewise, Pakistani leaders might have handed over Bin Laden. Many leaders might still be reluctant to pursue good policies, but at least the U.S. won’t be rewarding them for bad behavior.
Taiwan blames politics for cancellation of global Pride event – CNN
(Reuters)Taiwan on Friday blamed “political considerations” for the cancellation of WorldPride 2025 Taiwan after it said the organizers had insisted the word “Taiwan” be removed.
Why Wisconsin Is the Most Fascinating State in American Politics – The New York Times
What happens there in November will offer a preview of the political brawls to come.
Wisconsin has long been a crucible of American politics. It remains so now.
It’s where two once-powerful senators, Joseph McCarthy and Robert La Follette, defined two of the major themes we still see playing out today — what the historian Richard Hofstadter called the “paranoid style,” in McCarthy’s case, and progressivism in La Follette’s.
It’s a place that has also proved time and again that elections have consequences. McCarthy won his Senate seat in the 1946 midterms amid a backlash against President Harry Truman, who was struggling to control the soaring price of meat as the country adjusted to a peacetime economy. He ousted Robert La Follette Jr., who had essentially inherited his father’s Senate seat.
Four years later, McCarthy used his new platform to begin his infamous anti-communist crusade — persecuting supposed communists inside the federal government, Hollywood and the liberal intelligentsia across the country. His rise came to an end after a lawyer for one of his targets, Joseph Welch, rounded on him with one of the most famous lines ever delivered during a congressional hearing: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”
The state’s modern political geography, which is rooted in this history, as well as deep-seated patterns of ethnic migration and economic development, is as fascinating as it is complex.
La Follette’s old base in Madison, the capital and a teeming college town, dominates the middle south of the state like a kind of Midwestern Berkeley. But unlike in periwinkle-blue coastal California, Madison and Milwaukee — the state’s largest city, which is about 90 minutes to the east along the shores of Lake Michigan — are surrounded by a vast ocean of scarlet.
Much of the state remains rural and conservative — McCarthy and Trump country.
And as in much of the United States, even smaller Wisconsin cities like Green Bay (the home of the Packers), Eau Claire (a fiercely contested political battleground), Janesville (the home of Paul Ryan, the former House speaker), Kenosha (the hometown of Reince Priebus, the sometime ally and former aide to Donald Trump) and Oshkosh (the home and political base of Senator Ron Johnson) have gone blue in recent decades.
The so-called W.O.W. counties around Milwaukee — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington — are the historical strongholds of suburban G.O.P. power, and political pundits and forecasters watch election trends there closely to tease out any potential national implications. Other portions of the northwestern area of the state are essentially suburbs of Minneapolis, and tend to toggle between the parties from election to election.
The Republican Party’s origins can be traced to Ripon, Wis., where disaffected members of the Whig Party met in 1854 as they planned a new party with an anti-slavery platform. The party’s early leaders were also disgusted by what they called the “tyranny” of Andrew Jackson, a populist Democrat who built a political machine that ran roughshod over the traditional ways politics was done in America.
On Tuesday, the state held its primaries, and the results were classic Wisconsin: Republicans chose Tim Michels, a Trump-aligned “Stop-the-Steal” guy, as their nominee to face Gov. Tony Evers, the Democratic incumbent, over Rebecca Kleefisch, the establishment favorite. Robin Vos, the Assembly speaker who has tilted to the right on election issues but who refused to help Trump overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, barely held on to his seat.
To understand what’s happening, I badgered Reid Epstein, my colleague on the politics team. Reid has forgotten more Wisconsin political lore than most of us have ever absorbed, and here, he gives us some perspective on why the state has become such a bitterly contested ground zero for American democracy.
Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity:
You started your journalism career in Milwaukee, if I’m not mistaken. Give us a sense of what’s changed about Wisconsin politics in the years you’ve been covering the state.
In Waukesha, actually. Back in 2002, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel still had bureaus covering the Milwaukee suburbs, and that’s where I had my first job, covering a handful of municipalities and school districts in Waukesha County.
A lot of the same characters I wrote about as a cub reporter are still around. The then-village president of Menomonee Falls is now leading the effort to decertify Wisconsin’s 2020 election results, which of course can’t be done. The seeds of the polarization and zero-sum politics you see now in Wisconsin were just beginning to sprout 20 years ago.
Republican voters chose to keep Robin Vos, yet nominated Tim Michels. Help us understand the mixed signals we’re getting here.
Well, it helped that Michels had more than $10 million of his own cash to invest in his race, and Adam Steen, the Trump-backed challenger to Vos, didn’t have enough money for even one paid staff member.
Vos, whose first legislative race I was there for in 2004, nearly lost to a guy with no money and no name recognition in a district where the Vos family has lived for generations. He won, but it was very close.
Behind the Journalism
How Times reporters cover politics.
We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.
What is it about Wisconsin that has made politics there so zero-sum? I’m thinking of developments like the Democrats’ attempted recall of Gov. Scott Walker in 2012, his crackdown on union power, and the Legislature’s efforts to curtail the power of Tony Evers, the current governor. What’s the deal? How did the state get so starkly divided?
The Wisconsin political and media ecosystem has long been dominated by conservative talk radio hosts. More than any other state in the country, Wisconsin’s right-wing talkers control the political agenda, and like Fox News nationally, they generate ratings by stoking outrage — usually against Democrats, but sometimes against fellow Republicans.
Scott Walker was raised in this environment. He was a backbench state assemblyman who became widely known from calling into the Charlie Sykes show on WTMJ in Milwaukee. Those shows always had a villain — usually, whichever Democrat or newspaper reporter was in the host’s cross hairs for the day.
When Sykes would spend a segment attacking one of my articles in the morning paper, my voice mail box at the office would be full of angry callers by the time I got to my desk. Imagine what that does to elected Republicans when are on the receiving end.
Skyes has since reinvented himself as a never-Trump podcast host and columnist — and he now trains his considerable rhetorical talents against the Republican Party he once enthusiastically supported. He’s traded his local influence for a national platform.
You cover a lot of the machinations over the control of American democracy. Is there anything unique about how these battles are playing out in Badger country?
Republicans have such control of the levers of power in Wisconsin that voters are almost immaterial. It is the most gerrymandered state legislature in the country — a 50-50 state where Republicans hold 61 out of 99 seats in the Assembly and 21 out of 33 seats in the Senate.
There is at the moment no functional way for Democrats to carry out any sort of policy agenda in Madison; their only hope is to have a governor who will veto things. And the Wisconsin Supreme Court has a 4-to-3 conservative majority that has, with some exceptions after the 2020 election, toed the party line for Republicans.
Some states, like Michigan and North Carolina, have managed to work through many of these same issues and create a more level playing field that reflects the real balance of power between the parties. Why hasn’t Wisconsin done so?
Wisconsin doesn’t afford its citizens the opportunity to petition things into law or the state constitution like Michigan and dozens of other states do. So the only hope is through the Legislature, where Republicans have shown no compunction about maintaining their hold on power through whatever means necessary.
What to read on democracy
Jane Mayer of The New Yorker writes that state legislatures are torching democracy.
Historians privately warned President Biden recently that the current moment in America is among the most perilous in modern history for democratic governance, The Washington Post reports.
There are now fewer competitive congressional districts than at any point in the last 52 years because of gerrymandering, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Also from the Brennan Center: Lawmakers from the whitest districts in the most racially diverse states are most likely to sponsor anti-voter bills, while racially diverse states controlled by Republicans are far more likely to pass restrictions on voting.
A ‘vote-a-rama’ in Congress
On Politics regularly features work by Times photographers. Here’s what Haiyun Jiang told us about capturing the image above:
When the Senate began its “vote-a-rama” for the Inflation Reduction Act, a marathon series of votes on amendments, I was on Capitol Hill trying to capture the mood and action as senators prepared for an inevitably long weekend.
Around 9 p.m., Senator Ron Wyden, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, walked into the press gallery for a briefing with reporters. “I heard that you all wanted a little post-dinner entertainment,” he said as he sat down.
A tall man, Wyden was visibly uncomfortable in a sofa chair that was low to the ground. As the briefing went on, he periodically stretched his legs. I decided to wait for the moment when he stretched again.
His posture conveyed the exhaustion and weariness that I hoped to capture, with a long night of debates and votes looming over everyone on Capitol Hill.
Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week.
Is there anything you think we’re missing? Anything you want to see more of? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com.
Baghdad gripped by protests as political rivals vie for power – The Washington Post
The aftermath of those polls has forced years-long tensions to the surface. In a country where elites rule by consensus, rival Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni politicians have been unable to agree on key government appointments. The election’s biggest winner, powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, has withdrawn his parliamentarians from the process, sending his supporters instead to occupy the leafy grounds of the legislature.
He is now calling for early elections, which would be the second in less than a year.
As dusk approached Friday, Sadr’s supporters gathered in provinces across the country and outside the parliament to echo his demands. But they were not alone. Several miles away, near Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, thousands of foot soldiers for the cleric’s rivals — former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and leaders of armed groups linked to Iran — gathered too, protesting what they described as a “political coup” by Sadr.
By nightfall, a crowd of hundreds was building tents in the capital, and people said they were setting up for the long haul.
“We’ll stay as long as it takes,” said Ali Hassan, a 30-year-old government employee from Baghdad. “The people know our demands, and they know that they are legitimate.”
While the politics were complicated, the core problem was simple, analysts said. Twenty years after the U.S.-led invasion, winners from the kleptocratic political system it ultimately installed are now fighting over who reaps its spoils.
Locked out of that system are millions of ordinary Iraqis who have seen little benefit from the nation’s immense oil wealth. Hospitals are crumbling, and the education system is among the worst in the region. For three days last week, as a heat wave pushed temperatures past 125 degrees, three southern provinces failed to even keep the lights on, as the extreme heat pushed an already shaky power grid to the breaking point.
Iraq’s last elections took place several months early, as a response to mass protests that demanded the overthrow of the political system. The young and mostly Shiite demonstrators were met with brutal repression, and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was forced to step down after almost 600 people were killed.
In October, fresh polls left Sadr with the largest bloc in parliament, and Maliki with the second, as historically low voter turnout left powerful parties with large bases as the biggest winners. Many Iraqis viewed the polls as an exercise in reshuffling the political deck chairs, and said that none of the major factions represented them.
But the atmosphere was festive outside Baghdad’s parliament on Friday as men in black T-shirts streamed through the streets carrying photographs of Sadr and his father, a revered cleric killed by dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, to demand more elections, and the sidelining of all the “old faces” — apart from Sadr.
A tinny loudspeaker blasted music through the air as bands of protesters sang and swayed, others enjoyed free kebabs or large chunks of melon. “We’re here to dissolve the parliament and to stand with Sayeed Moqtada’s demands,” said Hassan al-Iraqi, a religious studies student in his 30s who said that he had made the five-hour journey from the northern city of Mosul.
Sadr derives his strength in part from millions of impoverished supporters who view him as a sacred figure of storied lineage, and as someone who has resisted occupation and injustice. For weeks, he has used his Twitter account to praise his supporters’ efforts on the streets, likening their efforts to a “revolution.”
The messages have been received with a mix of excitement and reverence, as bands of teenagers pass around cellphones to read his posts.
By nightfall Friday, politicians from the opposing bloc were tweeting statements in praise of their own supporters too.
Maliki called the rallies “massive” and peaceful.
“Today you have brought joy to the hearts of Iraqis,” wrote Qais al-Khazali, a Shiite cleric aligned with Maliki. “The martyr Muhandis is all happy when he sees his sons defending Iraq and the interest of the people and the state with courage and awareness,” he wrote, in reference to a powerful militia leader killed alongside Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a January 2020 drone strike ordered by President Donald Trump.
Experts point to that drone strike as a seminal moment in Iraq’s latest unraveling — both of the slain men were pivotal figures in maintaining unity among the country’s now divided Shiite factions.
In Baghdad’s city center, another group also gathered Friday as the heat ebbed and traffic snarled the streets. They were secular activists, and they had planned their own protest in a place etched in the annals of the American invasion: Firdoos Square, where U.S. troops once pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein.
“This whole system was built on a mistake,” said Najad al-Iraqi, an activist, who said he had not voted in a single election since Saddam’s fall. “None of these parties have ever worked for us,” he said. “They’re all corrupt, every one of them.”
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