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Why Biden's Afghanistan exit wasn't about good politics – CNN

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(CNN)In ending America’s longest war, President Joe Biden did something popular. It was never going to help him politically.

That was true before damaging images of chaos and desperation filled American television screens last week. The reason is that public opinion about the Afghanistan conflict, as with most overseas events and issues, remains ill-defined and loosely held.
Even after 20 years, the conflict that ended with the lightning Taliban takeover represents a distant blur for most Americans. Only a small sliver of the US population has a personal connection to the war through service in the all-volunteer military. Its duration through years of diminishing troop levels and casualties led much of the public to tune the story out.
Pollsters who have tracked the subject describe opinions no firmer than jello. Asked whether the American military should stay or leave, majorities say leave. Asked whether the military should leave or stay to continue counterterrorism operations, majorities say stay.
Either way, voters have not counted Afghanistan among their top-priority concerns. Survey research on foreign policy, observed Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson, “is always very fluid.”
That reality means that neither side of the long-running debate on the war can unambiguously claim the upper hand in public sentiment.
“It’s a myth to say there was widespread public pressure on the administration to leave,” said Peter Feaver, a Duke University scholar on civilian-military relations. “The general public was ambivalent. This was a retreat of choice, not a retreat of necessity.”
Feaver served on the White House National Security Council under President George W. Bush, who launched the war in Afghanistan in late 2001. But Democratic opinion analysts aligned with Biden see the same ambivalence.
“If we have a big debate over who lost Afghanistan, most people aren’t going to tune in to watch,” says Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. “It’s just not an important question for a large majority of people.”
Biden’s public standing has remained remarkably stable through his first seven months in office. More Americans have approved than disapproved of his performance throughout.
But his numbers began to erode before the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in the middle of the US withdrawal. A Gallup poll completed at the beginning of last week showed Biden’s approval at 49%, down from 56% in June.
Anderson ascribes that drop mostly to the resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, which Biden has made his top presidential priority. The pandemic in turn heightens uncertainty about the economic recovery at a time Americans report growing worries about inflation.
On top of those problems, Afghanistan has now heaped nightmarish television images for any commander-in-chief: of fear, chaos, disorder, defeat. Even Americans who don’t follow news reports closely have heard about a major setback on Biden’s watch.

Much remains to be seen

The story remains far from over. Since the Afghan government and security forces gave way to Taliban control, no evidence has emerged of widespread loss of life.
US troops suffered no casualties as they regained control of the Kabul airport. If they can safely evacuate tens of thousands of American citizens and Afghan allies until, and perhaps beyond, Biden’s August 31 deadline, the White House can replace a story of initial humiliation and failure with one of competence and success.
“The impact of the images from the first day can and will recede if there’s some feeling that things have gotten better,” Garin said. “The feeling that (leaving Afghanistan) was the right thing to do will bounce back as long as nothing terrible happens.”
That sentiment resonates especially with important elements of the modern Democratic coalition, which relies on disproportionate support from younger voters. Millennials who grew up watching the agonizing struggles of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Anderson said, are significantly less likely than their elders to support the projection of American military power abroad.
Among other voters, “I certainly don’t think there’s any kind of benefit waiting,” Anderson added. With past supporters of the war warning about rising risks of terrorism, “If there’s an attack, that changes a lot.”
An AP-NORC survey released early last week underscored the hazy outlook. It showed nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth fighting. But just under half approved of Biden’s management of international affairs, and his approval rating ticked down slightly.
The Afghanistan outcome itself represents only part of the episode’s effect on Biden’s presidency. After public attention shifts elsewhere, it may influence how voters view Biden as he tackles issues closer to home.
That includes evaluations of his competence, character, judgment and reaction to adversity in the White House. In his public remarks last week, he responded defiantly to harsh criticism from the media and members of both parties.
If some observers found him excessively stubborn and defensive, the President also made clear it wasn’t polls that made him act on his long-expressed opposition to extending the war.
“It’s time to end this war,” Biden repeated on Friday. Under ferocious political attack, he left no doubt that he believes it.

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Quebec undergoes a culture shift as ‘woke’ politics is redefined in the province – The Globe and Mail

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Quebec Solidaire Leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois questions the government during question period on Sept. 23.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

For 50 contentious years, the defining split in Quebec politics was between sovereigntists and federalists. “Should Quebec remain in Canada?” was the ideological question par excellence.

But last week, when Premier François Legault exchanged barbed words with the rising opposition star Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in the Salon bleu of the National Assembly, a new political axis was born. Call it “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes.”

This divide isn’t about economics or independence so much as issues of race and religion, whose primal importance in Quebec was once again borne out by this year’s federal election. And although the divide stems from a pair of insults hurled across the floor of the provincial legislature, it reveals a deeper realignment in Quebec’s political class that is being mirrored around the democratic world, away from traditional standards of left and right and toward a preoccupation with identity.

The fracas began on Sept. 15, when Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of the “Maple Spring” student protests in 2012 and now parliamentary leader of the left-wing Québec Solidaire, rose in the Assembly to accuse Mr. Legault of imitating Maurice Duplessis. It was meant as a bitter reproach: “The Boss” ruled Quebec for most of the period between 1936 and his death in 1959 with a mixture of Catholic piety, anti-Communism and Quebec nationalism, while openly persecuting religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and suppressing dissent. His time in power is still often called The Great Darkness.

The current Premier, Mr. Nadeau-Dubois argued, was channeling his notorious predecessor in part by conflating support for Bill 21, a contentious piece of provincial legislation that bans the wearing of visible religious symbols by certain public servants, with membership in “the Quebec nation.”

Visibly angry, Mr. Legault shot back that a majority of Quebeckers support the religious-symbols law. Duplessis, he said, had “many faults, but he defended his nation. He wasn’t un woke like the leader of Québec Solidaire.”

A surprised wave of laughter went up in the Blue Room; the Quebec media has been tittering about Mr. Legault’s choice of epithet ever since. Why was the Premier of North America’s only majority francophone jurisdiction wielding a term popularized by Black activists to describe vigilance about social injustice? Why was he using it as a put-down, not to mention a noun?

Asked to define “un woke” the following day, Mr. Legault offered an original contribution to the Quebec vernacular, saying that to him it meant someone “who wants to make us feel guilty about defending the Quebec nation [and] defending its values.” Google searches for the word exploded in Quebec.

But if the Premier’s particular gloss on the term was novel, its use by conservatives in the province was not. In the past couple of years, columnists for the influential Quebecor media conglomerate have become particularly enamoured of using “woke,” in English, as a slur for liberals and leftists who are highly sensitive about race and gender, a trend on the American right as well. Benoît Melançon, a literature professor at the University of Montreal, searched a media database to find that, since the beginning of last year, the word has appeared in francophone outlets more than 2,000 times.

The word entered Quebec’s political bloodstream purely as a pejorative; virtually no one in the province owns up to the label. While a French politician running to be the Green Party’s presidential candidate recently embraced being “woke,” Prof. Melançon noted, “that’s never done in Quebec.” Likewise, although some historians and journalists have recently begun rehabilitating Maurice Duplessis’s reputation – and Mr. Legault himself jokingly compared his party to Duplessis’s as recently as 2019 – his name remains a popular shorthand for reactionary authoritarianism.

Both political camps have begun life, then, with no self-professed members – but that does not mean they lack weight. In an unsuccessful attempt to steal back some thunder from two rival parties and reassert the importance of his political project, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon tweeted a photo of himself this week wearing a shirt that said, “Neither woke, nor duplessiste. Indépendantiste.” The provincial Liberals, meanwhile, traditional standard-bearers of the federalist cause, have stayed out of the fray altogether. Their only slight involvement in the squabble came when Mr. Legault sneeringly referred to them as one of two “multiculturalist” parties in the National Assembly.

The lower profile of Quebec’s once-dominant parties, and the issue that animated them for decades, is the result of a sea change that has sidelined the traditional debate about sovereignty in favour of lower-stakes skirmishes about immigration and ethnic diversity. The shift dates to around 2007, according to Frédéric Bérard, a political commentator, doctor at law and course instructor at the University of Montreal’s law school. It was then, he said, that the question of “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities came to the forefront of political life in the province.

Quebec has since been roiled by successive controversies around that theme, from the question of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies to the outrage that greeted a debate moderator’s question during the recent federal election campaign about Quebec’s “discriminatory” religious-symbols law.

These issues have emerged, not coincidentally, amidst the long-term decline of the Parti Québécois. Sensing the withering of its traditional goal of an independent Quebec state, the PQ embraced a program of aggressive secularism and the integration of immigrants into the francophone mainstream as an alternative form of national self-assertion, Mr. Bérard said. “It’s less trouble to ban a veil than to have a referendum on independence.”

Although Quebec’s identitarian shift had local causes, it also happened in parallel with a move away from traditional definitions of left and right worldwide. Culture and identity have replaced economics as the main vectors of politics in much of the West, said Mark Fortier, a sociologist and publisher (as well as the author of a book about reading the work of Mathieu Bock-Côté, one of the main exponents of anti-wokeism in the mass-market Journal de Montréal newspaper).

If “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes” seems like a tempest in a Québécois teapot, then, it may be part of something bigger. Consider Brexit in the U.K. and the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., Mr. Fortier said.

“It’s not just in Quebec … It’s the Quebec version of a phenomenon that traverses all liberal democracies.”

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Politics Chat: Democrats At Odds Over Government Spending – NPR

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Moderate and Progressive Congressional Democrats at odds over their party’s two big spending bills, plus a deadline for the debt limit looms this week.

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Politics Briefing: Canadian officials decline comment on resolution of Meng case, impact on two Michaels – The Globe and Mail

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Hello,

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter signup page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, is to appear virtually in federal court in New York Friday afternoon to resolve U.S. bank fraud charges against her.

But Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife and senior parliamentary reporter Steven Chase report here that it is unclear if there is a side agreement with China that would free Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have been imprisoned on charges of espionage since December, 2018.

The two men were arrested after Ms. Meng was detained at Vancouver International Airport on a U.S. extradition request.

Canadian government officials in Ottawa refused to discuss the legal development that is being handled by the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.

Reporter’s Comment, Steven Chase: “The Globe and Mail broke the story of Ms. Meng’s Vancouver arrest in 2018, a development that was followed within days by the jailing of two Canadians in China: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in what Canada has since called hostage diplomacy. The result was a deep freeze in Canada-China relations. The Globe also broke the news last week that talks had resumed with an eye to a settlement.

“A plea deal for Ms. Meng would allow her to return home but it’s far from certain China would swiftly reciprocate on the Michaels. Beijing has spent more than 2½ years arguing that there is no connection between the Meng case and the Michaels and defending the Chinese legal system as legitimate and above-board. For them to release the Michaels immediately would serve to confirm their critics’ accusations.”

This is a developing story. Please watch The Globe and Mail for updates.

There’s a Globe and Mail explainer here on China’s conviction and detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

ELECTION AFTERMATH:

O’TOOLE DEBATE CONTINUES – Some Conservatives, including former Ontario premier Mike Harris, are expressing support for federal Tory Leader Erin O’Toole, as others criticize the party’s election results. Story here.

VANCOUVER-GRANVILLE WINNER DECLARED – The race is over in the high-profile riding of Vancouver-Granville, formerly held by Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould. Her successor is Taleeb Noormohamed, for the Liberals. Story here, from CBC.

MEANWHILE

NEW DEFICIT INFO – The federal government ran a $12-billion deficit in the month of July, according to new Finance Department figures that provide a sense of the fiscal landscape as the re-elected minority Liberal government faces calls from premiers and opposition parties for billions in new spending.

CANADA STAND ON TRANS-PACIFIC TRADE DEAL – The Canadian government won’t offer any public support for applications by either Taiwan or China to join a Trans-Pacific trade agreement, saying it’s up to the 11-member pact to jointly decide on new admissions.

PROSPECTIVE NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CANADA SPEAKS OUT – Joe Biden’s choice for the next ambassador to Ottawa says the U.S. is waiting for Justin Trudeau’s long-promised update to Canada’s China policy. David Cohen’s remarks Wednesday to a Senate hearing came amid fresh questions about the depth of the Trudeau government’s engagement with the U.S. President on China-related issues. From Politico. Story here. A copy of Mr. Cohen’s opening statement to the committee is here. Video of the hearing at which Mr. Cohen testified is here.

EX-LPC MP PLEADS GUILTY – Former Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara has pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and one of being unlawfully in a dwelling house in virtual courtroom on Thursday. From Global News. Story here.

U.K MILITARY OFFERS CANADA ARCTIC MILITARY HELP – Britain is signalling its interest in working with the Canadian military in the Arctic by offering to take part in cold-weather exercises and bring in some of its more advanced capabilities – such as nuclear-powered submarines – to help with surveillance and defence in the Far North. From CBC. Story here.

A HEAD-SCRATCHING MOMENT – CTV National News journalist Glen McGregor catches a political moment, involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on video that defies easy explanation. See here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

“Private meetings,” according to an advisory from the Prime Minister’s Office.

LEADERS

No schedules released for party leaders.

OPINION

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on how the federal election revealed that Canada has never been more united in purpose: The United States has become so polarized it threatens to tear itself apart. Parties of the far right have become increasingly powerful in Europe. Canada is nothing like that, as the election proved. Our politicians howl over picayune differences. Elections are fought over the best way to deliver a new government program, rather than on whether such programs should exist. The consensus on everything that matters is deep and profound. It’s been a very long time since we were this united, if ever.”

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on why Alberta Premier Jason Kenney should resign:A change in leader is the only hope the [United Conservative Party] has of holding on to power: a new leader, a new voice and mea culpas galore for the disastrous job the party has done since winning election in 2019. That pretty much has to be the only strategy. But we can never lose sight of the real story here. The real story is all the needless death from COVID-19 in Alberta caused by a government’s selfish desire to put politics ahead of the health and safety of the public. That is a scandal that should cost the person responsible for it his job. Mr. Kenney should do the honourable thing and resign.”

Tanya Talaga (The Globe and Mail) on why all Canadians should take Sept. 30 to observe National Truth and Reconciliation Day: “This year, Sept. 30 will mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and every Canadian should observe the federal statutory holiday. Put on an orange T-shirt to honour the survivors of those 139 so-called schools. Think about how Canada can bring about change. Reflect on how to bring loving homes free of mould and with clean water and full fridges to all First Nations communities that need them. Or high schools, for that matter. But we are only sort of recognizing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, because it’s up to each provincial and territorial government, as well as individual businesses, to decide whether it will be an actual paid day off.”

Murray Mandryk (Regina Leader-Post/Saskatoon StarPhoenix) on Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s failure to explain issues in his eagerness to bash Justin Trudeau: “About the only things surprising in Moe’s Tuesday morning Trudeau bashing is: (a) we didn’t hear more of it during the campaign and; (b) there is a legitimate beef here, if you can get past Moe’s politicking and incoherent messaging.”

Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop

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