Enduring Courage

Making sense of tragedy and disaster.

This is a hard newsletter to write, because there is no sugarcoating it. Yesterday was the worst day of the Biden presidency, but that’s not really the point, is it? Or, at least it shouldn’t be. The bombing in Kabul was a national and a human tragedy. Some of you may actually be old enough to remember when the shock of losing the lives of 13 American servicemen would have brought us together, if only briefly, as a nation.

No longer.

As far as I can remember, Democrats did not demand GW’s resignation (or impeachment) after 9/11. Nor was there a clamor for Reagan’s head the day that 241 Marines were killed in Lebanon. There was fierce criticism, but no one discussed the 25th Amendment. The Bay of Pigs was an epic disaster, but Republicans did not (as far as I remember) immediately call for JFK’s resignation.

But here we are. Via Politico’s Playbook:

Some [Republicans] called on Biden to resign as president in the wake of the attack — and not just conservative darlings like Sens. JOSH HAWLEY (R-Mo.) and MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-Tenn.), but also Rep. TOM RICE (R-S.C.), one of only 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach DONALD TRUMP. Sen. RICK SCOTT (R-Fla.) has floated invoking the 25th Amendment, which won’t happen. There’s already talk about impeaching Biden over the ordeal if, as many expect, the GOP flips the House.

It all signals Republicans’ eagerness to capitalize on this crisis and potentially hammer it into a Benghazi-style scandal. On a House GOP conference call Thursday night, the ranking members of several committees — who could wield gavels and subpoena power in 2023 — said they’ve already sent document preservation requests to the administration.


A brief thought about the tragedy and the mission.

Perhaps it’s simply a sign of getting older that these deaths seem to hit harder every year. Maybe it’s knowing how much pain there is, and the hole it leaves. The reality of tragedy is not like movies where everyone moves on and the endings are usually happy and uplifting. Real tragedies cut deep and linger for years, even lifetimes. And, as you get older, you realize how much is lost when a young life is cut short.

But let’s also take a moment to talk about courage and meaning.

We will continue to debate the wisdom of the 20-year war, and we are likely to remember the retreat from Afghanistan as a fiasco. We’ll continue to ask, “Was it worth it?”

But no one will doubt the courage of the servicemembers who were in Kabul yesterday. They knew what this particular mission was. They understood the risks. And they gave their lives to save the lives of untold thousands of Americans, Afghans, and coalition partners. Since last month, 110,600 people have been evacuated, many of them saved from almost certain death.

Whatever we think of the war or the withdrawal, this mission in Kabul was not futile and their deaths were not meaningless. None of their families should wonder whether they died in vain.

Whole worlds have been rescued because of their courage. Generations unborn will live in freedom and safety because of their sacrifices.

If only we could take a moment from the finger-pointing to honor them.

Sgt. Isaiah Campbell / Reuters

Don’t miss this amazing story. Via ABC: “US special operations vets carry out daring mission to save Afghan allies.”

With the Taliban growing more violent and adding checkpoints near Kabul's airport, an all-volunteer group of American veterans of the Afghan war launched a final daring mission on Wednesday night dubbed the "Pineapple Express" to shepherd hundreds of at-risk Afghan elite forces and their families to safety, members of the group told ABC News.

Moving after nightfall in near-pitch black darkness and extremely dangerous conditions, the group said it worked unofficially in tandem with the United States military and U.S. embassy to move people, sometimes one person at a time, or in pairs, but rarely more than a small bunch, inside the wire of the U.S. military-controlled side of Hamid Karzai International Airport.

The Pineapple Express' mission was underway Thursday when the attack occurred in Kabul. Two suicide bombers believed to have been ISIS fighters killed at least 13 U.S. service members -- 10 U.S. Marines, a Navy corpsman and an Army soldier and one to be determined -- and wounded 15 other service members, according to U.S. officials.

There were wounded among the Pineapple Express travelers from the blast, and members of the group said they were assessing whether unaccounted-for Afghans they were helping had been killed.

As of Thursday morning, the group said it had brought as many as 500 Afghan special operators, assets and enablers and their families into the airport in Kabul overnight, handing them each over to the protective custody of the U.S. military.

That number added to more than 130 others over the past 10 days who had been smuggled into the airport encircled by Taliban fighters since the capital fell to the extremists on Aug. 16 by Task Force Pineapple, an ad hoc groups of current and former U.S. special operators, aid workers, intelligence officers and others with experience in Afghanistan who banded together to save as many Afghan allies as they could.


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So. Many. Bad. Takes.


“Christian” commentator (since deleted):

“Trump suggests Osama bin Laden wasn’t ‘a monster’ and had ‘only one hit’ in new interview.”

Mr Trump, in an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Thursday, boasted about operations in which the US took out “nastier” terrorists during his time at the Oval Office.

“Isis is tougher than the Taliban, and nastier than the Taliban. And Isis was watching, and then they were, they didn’t exist anymore,” Mr Trump said in the interview.

“And we took out the founder of Isis, al-Baghdadi, and then of course Soleimani. Now just so you understand, Soleimani is bigger by many, many times than Osama bin Laden. The founder of Isis is bigger by many, many times, al-Baghdadi than Osama bin Laden,” he added.

Only one hit. If you forget the second tower…. and the Pentagon. And Flight 93…

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Backing the Blue?

Last month, I wrote about the incoherence of “conservative thought” on display at CPAC:

They “back the blue” except, of course, for the jack-booted thugs who assaulted the brave patriots of 1/6.

Over the weekend, TFG himself accelerated the Horst Wesselization of Ashli Babbitt, an “innocent, wonderful, incredible woman” who was shot by police merely for trying to hang Mike Pence. (Every revolution needs a martyr, and Trump thinks he’s found his woman.)

There was, of course, no pushback from anyone in the GOP, which has now gone full-Snowflake Cult.

Last night, we heard from the Capitol police officer who has been under attack from TFG and his acolytes. Make sure you read Amanda Carpenter’s piece in today’s Bulwark:

Over the following months, the January 6 mob became a digital mob, hunting the officer’s identity and whereabouts. Donald Trump accused him of committing murder and described Babbitt as an  “innocent, wonderful, incredible woman.” Accordingly, MAGA made her into a martyr and depicted the unnamed officer as a criminal. But this week, the officer chose to face them once again, this time on video showing his full face. After months of keeping his identity secret for the sake of his and his family’s safety, the officer felt compelled to out himself on national television in an NBC interview with Lester Holt that aired on Thursday night.

“I believe I showed the utmost courage on January 6 and it’s time for me to do that now,” Lt. Michael Byrd, a 28-year veteran of the Capitol Police force, told Holt.

Quick Hits

1. Afghanistan and the Anti-Liberal Right

This piece by Cathy Young is definitely worth your time:

Fox News host Tucker Carlson, a major voice of the illiberal right, has also pushed the idea that American failure in Afghanistan was due in large part to the attempt to impose feminism on the Afghan population—and has been quite explicit about his view that Afghans rightly rejected this attempt:

It turns out that the people of Afghanistan don’t actually want gender studies symposiums. They didn’t actually buy the idea that men can become pregnant. They thought that was ridiculous. They don’t hate their own masculinity. They don’t think it’s toxic. They like the patriarchy. Some of their women like it too. … So maybe it’s possible that we failed in Afghanistan because the entire neoliberal program is grotesque. It’s a joke. It’s contrary to human nature. … It’s ridiculous. And ideas that ridiculous can only be imposed by force, only by armed men at gunpoint. The moment those ideas are not mandatory—the second troops withdraw, in fact—people tend to revert to the lives that they prefer to live.

There is, of course, no indication that any American program in Afghanistan included any discussion of pregnant men. What Carlson doing here is a bait-and-switch: “men can become pregnant” symbolizes the absurdity of modern gender studies, and that absurdity is then projected onto a broad concept of “feminism” that refers simply to women’s essential rights. (Gender quotas for legislatures and other political bodies are certainly not something I’d support in the U.S., but I can understand why such measures would be seen as necessary in a country like Afghanistan. They’re also not particularly “woke”: Saudi Arabia has them, for instance.) Carlson’s rant—which, by the way, disregards the fact that the Taliban can definitely impose its ideas only at gunpoint!—comes awfully close to suggesting that Afghan-style patriarchy is “human nature” and the way things should be.

2. Killing the Kraken: Federal Judge Sanctions Trump’s Big Lie Lawyers

Kim Wehle in today’s Bulwark:

Judge Linda Parker’s 110-page tome is already being circulated among law faculty colleagues as a textbook introductory lesson for our first-year law students, many of whom come to law school with the mistaken assumption—fueled by social media, television, and film—that a lawyer’s job is to singlemindedly win at all costs. To the contrary, the drafters of the federal rules—and Congress, which effectively blesses the rules—were well aware of the human penchant for mischief. Rule 11 is designed to stave off those worst instincts for the sanctity of the judicial system as a whole.

From her opening line, the judge does not mince words:

This lawsuit represents a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process. It is one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election. It is another to take on the charge of deceiving a federal court and the American people into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated. This is what happened here.

3. Not My Party: Reject the Refugee Race Baiters

Make sure you watch Tim’s latest here:

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