The Boston Herald on how the Afghan war has reshaped U.S., the world:
Is America safer after its 20-year war on terrorism in Afghanistan has resulted in the Taliban’s victory? The answer, like the war itself, is muddled. The lack of resolution should cause considerable discomfort to Americans who lived through the trauma of 9/11 and cheered the U.S. military’s quick routing of al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in 2001. After the World Trade Center’s collapse, Americans had every right to believe President George W. Bush’s declaration from atop the wreckage that the United States would make the terrorists pay.
Instead, radical Islamist terrorism has metastasized beyond all recognition. Extremist groups seem to be trying to one-up each other, as if they’re in competition to see who can be more devout, more oppressive or even more horrific in their zeal to impose their will on others. Hezbollah in Lebanon tried to exceed the outrages of their Palestinian mentors by using kidnappings and, in 1983, the suicide bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marines barracks in Beirut. Al-Qaeda and Taliban members found ways to exceed the outrages of Hezbollah. Islamic State founders have tried to go even further while exploiting power vacuums in Iraq and Syria to create a radical Islamic caliphate.
As Americans now know from watching the Taliban’s resurgence, sending a terrorist group into remission isn’t the same as annihilating it. Even though the Taliban is now in control in Afghanistan, it lacks aerial surveillance and eavesdropping capabilities, meaning its leaders probably have no idea what new atrocities might be hatching in the remote areas where other radical groups, such as Islamic State-Khorasan, are encamped. Al-Qaeda remains active as well. And all are vying internationally for new recruits.
The United States has learned the hard way since 9/11 to dramatically tighten its defenses and deploy more nimbly on foreign turf to hunt down enemy fighters. In sharp contrast to the current debate over the freedoms of Americans opposed to masks and vaccines, Americans have gladly ceded all kinds of freedoms to advance the anti-terrorism cause. There’s rarely a peep of protest over partially disrobing at airports or submitting to searches at government buildings, concerts and sporting events.
As a result, Americans are far safer — and smarter — than they were in 2001. But they also are more Islamophobic than before, with hate crimes against people perceived to be Muslims having risen significantly since 2001.
Hate and discrimination serve as potent recruiting tools for radical groups abroad. So do the spectacles of America’s rushed retreats from Afghanistan and Syria, along with the abandonment of those who worked with U.S. forces.
So the answer is yes, conditions are safer today at home. But the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath have given rise to a bigger, bolder, more radical Islamist threat abroad. The world out there today is a far more dangerous place.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on lessons of grief, justice, vengeance post-9/11:
By the time the sun set on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, a wounded, grieving nation wept. The full magnitude of the loss of life wasn’t yet known, but this much was certain: The United States had suffered an unprecedented attack on our own soil, with civilians, service members, and political leaders alike all targeted by a foreign enemy.
Soon, many Americans began demanding retribution — or, as the Philadelphia Daily News put it the day after the attacks, “Blood for blood.”
“Revenge,” began a Daily News editorial on Sept. 12. “Hold on to that thought. Go to bed thinking it. Wake up chanting it. Because nothing less than revenge is called for today.”
The Daily News editorial board, which has since merged with The Inquirer’s, clearly tapped into a common sentiment. The opinion and letters pages of both newspapers during the days and weeks after the attacks illustrate a pervasive sense of vengeance — “Let us flex our muscles,” “give war a chance,” “punishment without mercy,” “I don’t know why we just don’t retaliate now.”
If there was ever a time for collective outrage, it was certainly after the deaths of 2,753 people in the Twin Towers, of 184 people at the Pentagon, and of the 40 passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93, who sacrificed their lives to avert another attack.
But 20 years later, there are lessons to be learned about where an open-ended call for blood can lead — and about the role of the military, politicians, and the media in creating the conditions for a forever war.
With images of last month’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan top of mind, it’s critical for every institution — including this board — to reflect on its own role in shaping the events of the last 20 years.
Both The Inquirer and Daily News editorial boards supported the war in Afghanistan — as did eight out of ten Americans at the time and all but one member of Congress.
After American forces occupied Kabul in November 2001, an Inquirer editorial read: “The taking of Kabul presents new challenges — but the aims remain the same.” A forever war was brewing.
The temperature of editorials was lower on Iraq, but the conclusion was the same: approval of war.
We have the privilege of hindsight that our colleagues in the past didn’t have. We now know that the Bush administration misled the country about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We also know that the Pentagon misled both the American public and the White House about the progress that it said was being made in Afghanistan.
In 2008, members of The Inquirer’s board reflected on their position about the Iraq War, writing that the White House claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction persuaded them that the “invasion was the right thing to do” but that in retrospect “it looks incredibly foolish to have believed” those claims.
Those beliefs also shaped policy and changed lives. The experience of Muslims, Sikhs, and people of Middle Eastern origin in America has never been the same after the attacks and the American immigration system became more exclusionary and enforcement-driven.
It is not lost on this board that many institutions, including newspapers, have a role in that.
Surely, there are steps that can provide a measure of justice for victims of Sept. 11 that don’t require a declaration of war — and that officials have not yet taken. Dennis Baxter, the brother of Jasper Baxter — a Philadelphian who was killed in the South Tower — said that he and his family have not stopped seeking answers about the potential extent of the Saudi government’s role in the attacks. “They’re still trying to figure out who to really blame,” Baxter told this board recently, alluding to official resistance to releasing additional details about those connections.
Perhaps one lesson from 9/11 may be a collective recalibration between our competing impulses for justice and vengeance — and the importance of not conflating demands for blood with the pursuit of full accountability.
“Even after 20 years, you still feel the pain,” Baxter said. “Who knows what the next 20 years will bring?”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Congress, abortion rights and eliminating the filibuster:
The Supreme Court’s decision to let a draconian Texas law banning most abortions go into effect before the litigation over it plays out is a clear signal of what’s coming: This court is poised to eviscerate a fundamental right of women that a strong majority of the nation supports. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to codify Roe v. Wade into federal law, which may be the only way to ensure that right survives.
Pelosi may well have the House votes to do it. But it would be dead on arrival in the Senate, where the minority party can stop most legislation thanks to the filibuster, that anti-democracy anachronism found nowhere in the Constitution.
There were already myriad reasons for the filibuster to go, but this one may be the most important yet. President Joe Biden should drop his defense of the filibuster and lean on the few holdout Democrats who are preventing its elimination.
Texas’ Senate Bill 8 outlaws abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, a point at which many women don’t even know they’re pregnant. It blatantly violates Roe, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case protecting women’s right to abortion until the fetus can viably live outside the womb, generally 22 to 24 weeks.
The Texas law makes no exception for the victims of rape or incest.
The law also creates a bizarre enforcement mechanism that lets any citizen sue anyone involved in obtaining an abortion. This completely tosses the legal concept of “standing” — that is, the requirement that in order to sue someone, a plaintiff must demonstrate having been directly harmed by the defendant’s actions. Anyone off the street can claim standing to sue anyone who aids a woman in getting an abortion, including doctors, nurses and even the driver who took her to the clinic. Plaintiffs who win can collect $10,000 per case plus legal expenses. It’s effectively a bounty on women’s rights.
Chief Justice John Roberts noted that “unprecedented” mechanism in siding with the court’s liberal minority, voting to suspend the law until litigation plays out. Such suspensions are common for new laws facing legal challenges. But the high court’s conservative majority refused to grant the injunction, allowing the law to take effect last week. It’s an ominous foreshadowing of what the court might do when it is, inevitably, asked to review the law itself.
Biden rightly condemned the law for unleashing “unconstitutional chaos” against women and ordered his administration to study how the federal government might step in to protect Roe.
In fact, the solution is right in front of him. Pelosi’s plan to pursue federal legislation is the obvious route but for the Senate filibuster. If Biden is truly committed to protecting women, he will drop his support for maintaining the filibuster and push for its removal. It’s the only way to stop Senate Republicans from holding America hostage on this issue — and on many others.
The Dallas Morning News on the lies about the U.S. Capitol riot of Jan. 6:
The lesson lawmakers should have learned after the riotous attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 is that violent words can incite violent acts. When lawmakers cross this line, the rebuke should come swiftly.
With the exceptions of Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, congressional Republicans have been troublingly silent on North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s inflammatory warning that there will be “bloodshed” if elections continue to be “rigged.” Cawthorn’s comments to supporters in late August blatantly perpetuated Donald Trump’s lie that the November 2020 presidential election was stolen. And Cawthorn even suggested he might join in a violent clash if it came to that.
“I will tell you, as much as I am willing to defend our liberty at all cost, there is nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American,” he said to supporters.
Cawthorn’s bombastic remarks are disturbing, as is the timing. Later this month, the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and other extremists are expected to take part in a rally in Washington to demand “justice” for the hundreds of people who have been charged in connection with January’s insurrection.
GOP leadership has to come to grips that this isn’t benign. On Wednesday, the editorial board of The Charlotte Observer wrote that Cawthorn’s actions have “moved from awful to alarming” and that “it’s time to pay attention again.” The newspaper also called on Republicans to “join Democrats in condemning Cawthorn and, in a bipartisan effort, censuring him in the U.S. House.”
And the newspaper cut to the heart of the matter, adding that “Cawthorn can no longer be dismissed as a silly Congressman braying from the mountains of North Carolina. His rhetoric is dangerous, not only to his party but his country.” Case in point. When a supporter asked Cawthorn when he was going to “call us to Washington again,” he said: “We have a few plans in motion I can’t make public right now, but this is something that we’re working on.”
Responsible voices who know that Jan. 6 was a dangerous moment in American history and should never want to see it repeated are too few in number and conviction. Cheney, a vice chair of the select committee investigating Jan. 6, said “every member ought to condemn that, and I’d like to see Leader (Kevin) McCarthy very clearly condemn it and explain how dangerous that is.” And in a tweet, Kinzinger, the other Republican on the committee, echoed Cheney’s sentiments. “This is insane. Based on a total lie. This must stop.”
Yes, it must stop and it is dangerous. But it won’t stop until GOP leadership puts the country ahead of politics. The collective hush from McCarthy and GOP leadership is further indication that our nation’s political polarization has tongue tied those who know the truth.
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette-Mail on the centenary of a coal miners' battle:
It’s been 100 years since miners in Logan County took up arms against law enforcement, private security forces and strikebreakers in the Battle of Blair Mountain. What started as a protest march and an attempt at unionization ended in bloody conflict. It wasn’t the first time things had turned violent between coal companies and exploited workers, but it was certainly the largest labor uprising the country had ever seen.
The battle ended when federal troops were called in, and the miners laid down their weapons, not wanting to be seen as fighting their own nation.
Battles and wars typically are perceived to have decisive outcomes, but it’s often too easy to think of them as a point where something was decided, and everything remained on one course afterward.
Folding the South back into the United States after the Civil War was a long, painful process. Slavery was ended, but discrimination persisted, and those on the losing side continually looked for ways to keep minorities from gaining true equality. The effects of that rift can still be seen today across the country.
Before Blair Mountain, miners were essentially indentured servants. They lived in coal camps owned and operated by the coal companies and were paid in scrip, which was only good at the company store. Coal barons profited while workers endured dangerous conditions for wages that weren’t worth anything outside the camp. It was a brutal, inescapable loop for the miners and their families. The only way to try to break it was to unionize.
While the miners technically lost their battle in Logan County, historians point out that they didn’t surrender to the local authorities looking to put their movement down, but to U.S. troops. Many in the region and across the nation were sympathetic to the miners’ cause. Still, miners didn’t immediately gain union solidarity and better working conditions after the clash in Logan County. It took time and effort to make those gains.
And those on the other side didn’t just accept the change in public opinion or evolving regulations and worker protections. Coal barons and politicians in their pockets made unions fight for every inch of ground, while almost always looking for ways to maximize profits and minimize expenses, which often included sacrificing worker safety.
In the time since Blair Mountain, profiteers and politicians have played the long game, looking for ways to destabilize unions, whether it be poking and prodding at regulations or passing crippling laws like right-to-work and repealing worker protections like prevailing wage. In West Virginia, the battle that made national headlines and is seen as a landmark event in labor rights was left out of textbooks in schools for decades. Ignorance can be an effective weapon, too.
Even now, as coal companies file for bankruptcy left and right, they look for ways to shirk their financial obligations for things such as pensions and black lung benefits. Mining is still a hazardous operation that kills several West Virginians annually, and starts a rapid decline in the health of others because the buildup of dust in their lungs has made it harder for them to breathe. And still, the owners and their lobbyists and politicians look for ways to cut corners.
It’s been 100 years, but the battle that started in August 1921 and ended a few days later in early September continues in legislatures and courtrooms, instead of in treacherous mountain passes. As the mines and the workers dwindle in an industry that is wheezing much like a miner stricken with black lung, the workers try to get by while many on the corporate end look to get away from the table with everything they can stuff in their pockets.
The Guardian on the need for forests, not tree plantations:
People need trees. A world without ilex, cinnamon and rosewood trees, a world devoid of magnolias, hornbeams and maples would be much the poorer. We rely on trees, of course, to absorb and store carbon dioxide. They provide us with food, fuel, medicine and construction materials. They shelter us from storms; they reduce soil erosion. Without them, other plants and animals would be lost for ever – in the UK, native oaks feed and shelter about 2,300 other species. We are only beginning to fully comprehend their social nature and the “wood wide web” which connects plants together through roots, fungi and bacteria. We need them, too, because their grace and beauty lift our spirits and restore our calm.
There are almost 58,500 tree species in the world, a richness few of us can truly comprehend. But a shocking new international study has warned that between a third and half of those are at risk of extinction in the wild – posing a risk of wider ecosystem collapse. The comprehensive report by Botanic Gardens Conservation International, which was five years in the making, found that twice as many tree species are threatened as mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined.
More than 440 have fewer than 50 individuals left in natural environments. Worse, even abundant trees that survive will in many cases do so in greatly reduced numbers. In Brazil, where around one in five tree species are at risk, deforestation in the Amazon has hit the highest annual level in a decade.
The chief culprit for tree loss is the destruction of habitat by farming, grazing and logging. Global heating and its consequences, from extreme weather to rising sea levels, are increasingly taking their toll. Tropical island states are particularly affected, but the problems lie closer to home too. Just 30 Menai whitebeams remain in north Wales, the only place on earth where they are found.
Protecting such habitats must be the priority. One study suggests that global tree cover has actually increased over recent decades, but 420m hectares of forest were lost between 1990 and 2020. However important tree-planting schemes may be, new plantations are no substitute for complex and biodiverse environments that have evolved over centuries.
Richer countries must ensure that developing nations have incentives to cherish forests in a global economic system that currently rewards their destruction. More heed must be paid to indigenous communities who better understand ecosystems and how to protect them. A broader re-evaluation of the roles that trees play is needed, recognising that a mangrove swamp or woodland can be a better way to help mitigate floods or reduce heat in cities than vast concrete constructions or power-hungry air conditioning.
Where forests have been erased, natural regeneration is often best. Failing that, planting a variety of species is better than simply relying on a few fast-growing kinds of saplings. Considering human interests is important: including harvestable trees will increase the incentive to protect the land (and the Amazon of today was shaped by humans over millennia). Only by working with communities can protection be sustainable. Preserving seeds in the hope that species can be brought back to life is necessary too. But it is a last resort. A seed bank cannot replace the rich and tangled life of a forest.