New Jersey (where I live) has had the most Covid cases and most deaths per capita of any state, mainly because it hit northern NJ and New York City hardest early on, when nobody had experience treating it and there were no vaccines.

12,200 cases per 100,000 residents

302 deaths per 100,000

Mississippi, home to lots of Republicans and poor people, is now in 2nd place with 278 deaths per capita, even though few people got it there early on. (Paul Krugman)

Far from New Jersey, the total evacuated by US/coalition partners since August 14: 111,900

When the effort began, US officials estimated there were 6,000 Americans and up to 65,000 Afghan allies they wanted to get out. (John Harwood/CNN)

The Former Guy’s Agreement

Because his predecessor made a deal with the Taliban, Biden had a choice: either leave or escalate. Here’s some context necessary for understanding what’s happening in Afghanistan (The Washington Post):

With the withdrawal from Afghanistan turning deadly for U.S. troops, President Biden faces new criticism for a situation that he argues presents him few options.

The deal that President D___ T___ cut last year with the Taliban forced Biden to choose between a withdrawal now or an escalation of the war, Biden said Thursday, as he addressed the nation after at least 13 members of the U.S. military were killed in Kabul.

He choose to withdraw.

“I had only one alternative,” he said, “to send thousands more troops back into Afghanistan to fight a war that we had already won, relative to the reason why we went in the first place.”

When the deal was cut in Doha, Qatar, in February 2020, it wasn’t treated as huge news, because the war itself wasn’t big news. So many people don’t actually know its contents.

Here is what’s in it and how it has been perceived.


When T___ came into office, he was pretty transparent — he just wanted out of Afghanistan. “T___ had no real sense of what was at stake in the war or why to stay,” writes Georgetown professor Paul Miller in a digestible history of the 20-year war.

So T___ took a swing at something his predecessors hadn’t: a full-bore effort to strike a deal with the Taliban. It took nine rounds of talks over 18 months. At one point, T___ secretly invited the Taliban to the presidential retreat at Camp David on the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But he shut that down . . . after an American service member was killed and there was bipartisan backlash over the invitation.

Talks continued in Doha, and in February 2020, T___ announced that there was a deal. The basic contours: The United States was to get out of Afghanistan in 14 months and, in exchange, the Taliban agreed not to let Afghanistan become a haven for terrorists and to stop attacking U.S. service members.

The Taliban also agreed to start peace talks with the Afghan government and consider a cease-fire with the government. (The Taliban had been killing Afghan forces throughout this, attempting to use the violence as leverage in negotiations, U.S. intelligence officials believed.)

The deal laid out an explicit timetable for the United States and NATO to pull out their forces: In the first 100 days or so, they would reduce troops from 14,000 to 8,600 and leave five military bases. Over the next nine months, they would vacate all the rest. “The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will complete withdrawal of all remaining forces from Afghanistan within the remaining nine and a half (9.5) months,” the deal reads. “The United States, its allies, and the Coalition will withdraw all their forces from remaining bases.”

The United States would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners; the Taliban would release 1,000 of its prisoners.

The Taliban’s end of the deal asked a lot from the group — too much to be realistic, critics said. In addition to making sure nowhere in the country harbored a terrorist cell, the Taliban agreed to be responsible for any individual who might want to attack the United States from Afghanistan, including new immigrants to the country.

The Taliban “will send a clear message that those who pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies have no place in Afghanistan,” the deal read. And the Taliban agreed to “prevent any group or individual in Afghanistan from threatening the security of the United States and its allies, and will prevent them from recruiting, training, and fundraising and will not host them in accordance with the commitments in this agreement.”

This deal required taking the Taliban’s promises on faith.

“I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show that we’re not all wasting time,” T____ said as he announced the agreement. He added as an aside: “If bad things happen, we’ll go back with a force like no one’s ever seen [of course, whatever he’ll do will always be the greatest ever].


One gaping problem, say scholars (including some from the T____ administration): The peace agreement came with no enforcement mechanism for the Taliban to keep its word.

The Taliban basically had to sign a pledge saying it wouldn’t harbor terrorists. . . . 

The biggest tangible commitment from the Taliban looked like this: For seven days before the deal was signed, its leaders significantly reduced their attacks on Afghan forces to show they were capable of controlling the group across the country. But the deal didn’t require that the Taliban stop its attacks against Afghan security forces.

. . . “T____ all but assured the future course of events would reflect the Taliban’s interests far more than the United States,” Miller writes. H.R. McMaster, T____’s second national security adviser, has recently called it “a surrender agreement with the Taliban.” Another member of T____’s National Security Council said it was “a very weak agreement.”

As The Fix’s Aaron Blake notes, former T____ officials are suddenly and conspicuously scrambling to distance themselves from that deal.


A few months after the agreement was signed, there was plenty of evidence that the Taliban wasn’t as sincere as it appeared about peace. The United Nations said it had evidence that the Taliban and al-Qaeda still had ties. U.S. intelligence warned that al-Qaeda was “integrated” into the Taliban. The Taliban launched dozens of attacks in Afghanistan, ramping up its violence.

“The Taliban views the negotiations as a necessary step to ensure the removal of U.S. and other foreign troops under the U.S.-Taliban agreement, but the Taliban likely does not perceive that it has any obligation to make substantive concessions or compromises,” a U.S. inspector general report read.

It was all enough that when Biden came into office, U.S. officials questioned whether the Taliban was breaking its side of the deal.


And he had bipartisan support for it.

It’s important to remember that by the time T____ came into office, the public debate about whether to stay in Afghanistan was largely over. Most Americans were done with the war. Even the military realized it couldn’t effect much more change on the current course. “The only way forward was going to be a political agreement,” Mark T. Esper, T____’s former defense secretary, said recently. “Not a military solution.”

To a number of those who were paying attention, the whole deal felt like a naked attempt to just get out of Afghanistan. It was a campaign promise of T____’s to be the president who finally ended America’s longest war. It would be something no other president had been able to accomplish.

Before the peace talks really got going, T____ had already started withdrawing thousands of troops, and he fired his defense secretary, Esper, after he wrote a memo disagreeing. (Esper later said that T____’s withdrawing too many troops too soon contributed to what we see now in Afghanistan.)


When Biden took over, there were just 3,500 U.S. troops left in the country (from a high of 100,000 during the Obama years). He pushed back the date of the planned withdrawal from May 1 to four months later, but he kept the deal intact. U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

“It’s time to end America’s longest war,” he said.

The Taliban didn’t even wait for the Americans to completely leave before it took over the country in a matter of days. As the world watched Kabul fall, Biden has defended his decision not to stay and fight by saying T____’s deal required him to either maintain the withdrawal or escalate fighting.

“When I became president, I faced a choice — follow through on the deal, with a brief extension to get our forces and our allies’ forces out safely, or ramp up our presence and send more American troops to fight once again in another country’s civil conflict,” he said in a statement.

On Thursday, he credited the deal for the fact that the Taliban hadn’t attacked Americans during the withdrawal. “The commitment was made by President T____: I will be out May 1st. In the meantime, you agree not to attack any Americans. That is the deal. That’s why no American was attacked.”

. . .  Given that Biden shared the goal to withdraw, it left him little leverage to renegotiate with the Taliban.

For both presidents, the peace deal with the Taliban presented a good opportunity to pursue their own agendas with regard to America’s longest war. And neither has seemed particularly regretful about doing so. . . . [although the former guy and his minions claim he would have carried out the evacuation perfectly, just like he dealt with COVID-19, health insurance,  infrastructure, North Korea and the wall Mexico built].

Afghanistan Update

From Crooked Media‘s daily political newsletter:

Islamic State terrorists carried out a deadly attack in Kabul in the final days before the U.S.’s scheduled completion of its troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, to the horror of millions around the world, and to the barely concealed glee of Republicans hoping to wield it as a political cudgel against Joe Biden.

>>> Two suicide bombers struck amid dense crowds outside the airport in Kabul on Thursday, killing 13 U.S. servicemembers and wounding 18 more. Dozens of Afghan civilians trying to flee the country were killed, including children, and more than 100 were wounded. The first explosion took place outside Abbey Gate, one of the airport’s main entrances, and the second at the nearby Baron Hotel. ISIS-K, the Islamic State’s Aghan affiliate, has claimed responsibility for the attack, which marked the first U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan since February 2020, when the ceasefire the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban took effect.

>>> The explosions came after repeated warnings from the Biden administration and other western governments that ISIS could pose a serious threat to the evacuation process. Late on Wednesday, the U.S. embassy in Kabul warned Americans to avoid traveling to the airport and to leave the perimeter immediately, citing security threats. The U.S. Marines at Abbey Gate had been briefed on the possibility of a suicide bomber, but continued to process people for evacuation. “Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement on Thursday.

>>> Austin also indicated that the military would continue its evacuation efforts: “We will not be dissuaded from the task at hand.” President Biden echoed that sentiment in an address on Thursday evening, and pledged to retaliate against those responsible for the bombings: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” Biden reiterated that he stands by his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, and took a moment to give Fox News’s Peter Doocy a well-deserved wedgie: “I bear responsibility for, fundamentally, all that’s happened of late. But here’s the deal: You know, I wish you’d one day say these things, you know as well as I do, that the former president made a deal with the Taliban.”

To nobody’s surprise, conservatives have wasted no time in dishonestly painting a foreseen terror attack on foreign soil as an egregious Biden administration goof-up.

>>> As the scope of the tragedy was still becoming clear, Rep. Troy Nehls (R-TX)—who tried to overturn the 2020 election—piped up to claim that “Biden has blood on his hands,” and House Republicans dutifully retweeted him on their conference’s official account. Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) have called for Biden’s resignation, based on the very simple premise that Biden has proven himself unfit by withdrawing U.S. troops from a war zone and also by allowing U.S. troops to get hurt in a war zone. Anyway, here’s Hawley back in April revealing August Hawley to be full of shit: “President Biden should withdraw troops in Afghanistan by May 1, as the Trump administration planned, but better late than never.”

>>> The “late” August 31 deadline is fast-approaching, with more attacks still potentially ahead. Several U.S. allies announced over the last day that they were halting evacuation efforts from the Kabul airport, some even before the explosions took place. The State Department said on Thursday that it was in contact with the roughly 1,000 U.S. citizens believed to still be in Afghanistan, and that roughly two-thirds said they were taking steps to leave. (Some could be sticking around by choice.) Another 500 Americans were evacuated in the last 24 hours. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of the U.S. Central Command, warned that the danger isn’t over: “We have other active threats against the airfield.”

Thursday’s attack was a heartbreaking preview of the threats and instability that lie ahead for Afghans who aren’t able to leave, but disregard those who frame it as an indictment of the Biden administration’s withdrawal strategy: Biden has repeatedly cited the high risk of terror attacks as a reason to stick to the August deadline, under enormous pressure from the GOP and the press to extend it. The situation could deteriorate further in the next few days, but there are still ways to help Afghan refugees and those still in the country—if you’re able, here’s where you can donate.

The Airport Bombing. He Sums It Up.

From Charles Pierce of Esquire:

“I Find It Hard to Care About the Domestic Political Fallout of Today’s Bombing in Kabul”

I really thought I’d asked this question for the last time, or at least for the last time for the foreseeable future, but what in the hell are we still doing in Afghanistan? Twelve more American servicemen dead. Fifteen more wounded. “Scores” of Afghan civilians, too, although they apparently don’t rate a precise published body count. From The New York Times:

One Afghan health official said at least 60 people were confirmed dead and at least 140 wounded. Another health official said at least 40 were dead and 120 wounded. Both officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Taliban told them not to brief the press, they said. The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, condemned the attack, and said that at least 13 civilians had been killed and 60 wounded. In one part of one hospital alone, a New York Times journalist saw dozens of severely wounded or killed people.There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts. But the night before, a senior U.S. official warned of a “specific” and “credible” threat at the airport by an affiliate of the Islamic State, the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, and Western governments began urging people to leave the area. Even with such a specific warning, military officials said, it would be very difficult to pick out a suicide bomber with a concealed explosive vest in a huge throng of people, like that at the airport.

The courage of the American soldiers and sailors doing this duty is almost beyond comprehension. To screen people headed for the evacuation aircraft properly, they have to get within arms length—to “look them in the eye,” as General Kenneth McKenzie said mournfully in his press briefing Thursday afternoon. It is possible that the last thing that an American soldier will see on earth is the wiring of a suicide vest. For that matter, the courage of the people trying to evacuate is not to be minimized either. They are sitting out there in the open, many of them with their families and their children, old and young. They are risking it all out there in what is essentially an open field of fire. They are not out there out of their own careful choices, many of them. They are out there because there’s no place else to be in that country.

At his briefing McKenzie was asked if he “trusted” the Taliban and if he was sure that the Taliban wasn’t ultimately behind Thursday’s attacks. McKenzie allowed that trust “was not a word” he would necessarily use in this context, but he did mention that the Taliban would like to eliminate the ISIS franchisee—“ISIS-K” as it seems to be known—that allegedly carried out the attacks. At the moment, from what we know, an alliance between the Taliban and ISIS-K seems unlikely. Which means that, by historical precedent, we ought to watch out for the people who are peddling the notion. One of them was retired General H.R. McMaster, who was all over TV mongering endless war on Thursday, accusing Biden of having surrendered to terrorists, and failing to mention that, on his watch, hundreds died in ISIL-sponsored bombings, including 150 people in one shot in 2017 when a truck bomb detonated in front of the German Embassy. Oh, beware of anyone pitching this line. They’ll be mumbling about aluminum tubes and yellowcake from Niger next.

As far as domestic political fallout, I find it hard to care a great deal about it since we all know what’s going to happen. The Republicans are going to barbecue the facts and fillet history to score points out of pure mendacity. The Democrats are going to have just enough ambivalence in their ranks that they won’t be able to respond in kind, and the elite political press will waver between I Told You So and Biden Doomed. The president, I hope, sticks to his guns, not simply because millions of Americans agree with what he’s doing, but also because of those people waiting out at the airport and the troops guarding them. Their courage demands a coherent plan of action, and not some ill-considered blathering from retired brass hats in the peanut gallery. Lord, we seriously need a new national-security establishment.


American casualties have been light recently because the former president made a deal with the Taliban, which included us leaving by March 31 and setting free 5,000 of their fighters. But somebody didn’t agree that we and our associates should be allowed to leave peacefully.

Two comments I left elsewhere:

Even commentators who recognize the insanity of a 20-year war that was destined to be lost say the situation in Kabul is chaotic and the evacuation has been a catastrophic debacle. We’re going through a mainstream media freakout. What would a successful evacuation have looked like? A million Afghans and westerners each given a plane ticket and calmly taking their place in line, while the previous Afghan government remained in power and the Taliban coolly observed from outside Kabul’s city limits? Everyone who thinks evacuating 100,000 people with so little loss of life has been carried out so badly, even with today’s bomb going off, should be required to explain just how they would have done it and why it all would have worked out so well.

A quote from one observer: “This was the 25th terror attack in Afghanistan since the beginning of last year and the first that is getting more than passing mention in the US press. They included an attack on a maternity ward that killed 24 and another attack on a school that killed 90”. Today’s attack was horrendous, but how many Afghan civilians and American soldiers have died while we tried turning the country into a western democracy? How many more would die or be maimed if we stayed? If only we’d made Afghanistan the 51st state, all would have been fine.

An Excellent Appraisal of the Afghanistan Situation

David Roberts produced a Twitter thread last night that’s one of the best analyses of the situation I’ve seen:

. . . I’m going to do a thread on Afghanistan, because something about the current discourse is baffling me. I’ll lay out the situation as I see it & then hopefully someone smart can answer my question. 

We’ve been in Afghanistan for 20 years. At first it was to diminish terrorist capacity, but that pretty quickly faded & the new mission was state-building: building a gov’t & a military that could prevent the Taliban from taking back over. 

Through all those 20 years, all the surges & drone strikes & wasted money & lost lives, we have failed utterly in that mission. The gov’t was weak & lacked support outside Kabul. The military was a [disaster] (often responsible for its own atrocities). 

We’ve known for a while that the state-building is futile (Biden told Obama when he was VP), but in US politics, sticking w/ a disastrous military intervention is less politically risky than ending one, so no one actually did it until Biden. 

More or less everyone knew that, when the US finally left, the Taliban would take back over. Worth repeating: EVERYONE KNEW THIS. No one knew or proposed any way of avoiding it, other than staying there forever. Some hawks would be fine w/ that, but the US people weren’t. 

Now, Biden — along with *everyone else*, including US intelligence agencies — believed that, while the gov’t & military were weak, they would, at least, fight off the Taliban for a few weeks or months. Everyone thought that Taliban takeover would take a while. 

It is obviously clear now that the Taliban was more prepared, and the gov’t & military even weaker, than anticipated. The takeover happened much faster than anyone (again: ANYONE) predicted. It made for some ugly imagery, though things have proceeded fairly well since. 

So, here are some possible criticisms of Biden:

1. He should have prevented the Taliban takeover. But the only way he could have done that is by staying forever. Unless you support that, you’re acknowledging that the harms of Taliban takeover were inevitable. 

2. He should have evacuated Americans & allies before announcing the withdrawal. But as Biden has said, doing so would have been waving a giant red flag — an unmistakable signal to everyone that the gov’t & military were going to collapse. He didn’t want to signal that.

Now in retrospect, given how rapid the takeover was, it probably wouldn’t have made much difference. But again, no one knew it would be so fast. The admin wanted to give the gov’t & military a sporting chance. That made sense given the info they had at the time. 

3. Biden should have slowed down the Taliban takeover, to give more time for orderly withdrawal of Americans & allies. But the only way to do that would have been yet another “surge” of troops. As Biden asked, would you want your kid to be the last one to die in a futile war? 

4. Given how rapid the Taliban takeover turned out to be, Biden should have evacuated more … competently. But what does this mean? There have been comparatively few lost lives. People are getting out now. [note: 37,000 as of the last count] How, *specifically*, should Biden have evacuated differently? 

The characteristic feature of Afghanistan discourse among pundits & Very Serious People is that virtually no one grapples with these questions honestly. You’ve got pundits who haven’t said shit about a disastrous waste of money & lives for 20 years suddenly caring. 

You’ve got Republicans who wouldn’t piss on a refugee if they were on fire going on TV to weep crocodile tears about the Afghanis left behind. You’ve got people waving their hands around “competence” while refusing to say what could have been done differently. 

You’ve got people still putting “Biden’s catastrophe” in their headlines when, after one chaotic/ugly day, we’ve had five days of relatively orderly withdrawal, with very few casualties. You’ve got the Republican architects of this whole epic fuckup on TV backseat driving (?)! 

Here’s what happened: we got hit on 9/11, it activated all our worst impulses, we lunged into an endless war with no chance of success, we predictably failed, and now an elite class with a lifetime of American-exceptionalism delusions just can’t fucking deal with it. 

It is tragic what’s happening in Afghanistan. It’s tragic what’s *going* to happen, especially to women & girls, especially to Afghanis who put their lives on the line to help us. It’s absolutely awful. But after 20 years, we have to accept: there’s not much we can do about it. 

Turns out we’re not the world’s Superman, just a blundering, violent oaf, stepping on rakes. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially for a relatively insular US population that has had nationalist mythology blown up its ass for as long as it’s been alive. 

But it is dysfunctional & dishonest to take all that negative feeling, all that humiliation & impotence & rage, & channel it into bashing Joe Biden, the president who finally had the gonads to end this thing. Ending it was always going to be ugly. The choice was an ugly ending or staying there forever.

Just once, I’d like to see this country grow the fuck up & take responsibility for its mistakes & acknowledge the limits of its power, to see itself from the outside rather than from within a haze of self-serving mythologies. 

As it is, looking around at the way US elites have responded to this, I have no faith that we won’t do something equally stupid in response to another attack. We refuse to learn.


Mark Harris added:

The journalistic notion that we could lose a 20-year war in a country we don’t understand, blunder at every turn, and yet pull off a withdrawal/mass evacuation with clockwork precision needs elaboration. What did anyone imagine losing to the Taliban would look like?

I suppose people thought that getting thousands of people out of Afghanistan in a few days should be as easy as getting thousands into Afghanistan one day at a time for twenty years.

Unfortunately, that first day at the airport created the impression, magnified by overheated, often self-interested commentary, that it was the fall of Saigon all over again, or worse. It’s the power of photographs and video to define a moment without providing any context.