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Today’s read: 8 minutes.
Trump begins pullout from America’s longest war, a very important immigration bill and a Fox News segment worth watching.
Pvt. Zakery Jenkins, front, with Charlie Troop, 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, provides security in Mush Kahel village, Ghazni province, Afghanistan, July 23, 2012. Photo by Spc. Andrew Baker
Super Tuesday II.
Today is the second-biggest voting day of the primary season so far, and Bernie Sanders could have a vastly different fate tomorrow morning. Six states vote: Michigan, Washington, Missouri, Mississippi, Idaho and North Dakota. Michigan is the big delegate prize, and extra-important given that it’s a crucial swing state where Sanders was once in control. But recent polls have Biden cruising to a victory. That was the case in 2016, when Sanders upset Hillary Clinton there. A win for Sanders keeps his campaign alive and would blunt Biden’s momentum — a loss would be devastating. Washington is also going to be a good test to see how Sanders can fare against Biden in a very blue state.
What D.C. is talking about.
Afghanistan. Last night, the U.S. began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan as part of its deal with the Taliban. The U.S. agreed to reduce its troops from 12,000 to 8,600 within 135 days of signing the agreement. It also negotiated a massive prisoner release — about 5,000 Taliban prisoners total — as part of the deal. In exchange, the Taliban promised to cease violence in the region and to stop allowing al-Qaeda or other extremist groups it operates in the areas it controls. The Afghanistan government did not take part in the negotiations and Afghanistan’s president has refused to release the Taliban prisoners as any pre-conditions for talks, though there are reports he will partially succumb to international pressure and issue a decree to release 1,000 prisoners later this week. History lesson: U.S. forces ousted the Taliban after 9/11, which was perpetrated in part by al-Qaeda (who were then based in Afghanistan). By 2018, the Taliban had completed a resurgence and are now active in two-thirds of the country. 2,300 U.S. troops have been killed in the conflict, we’ve spent nearly $2 trillion dollars and the war has lasted almost 20 years. It’s the longest war in American history. Amidst all this, Afghanistan’s government is also reeling from contested elections where an incumbent is celebrating victory while the challenger claims the results are fraudulent.
What the right is saying.
It depends on which right. The loyalists are making it simple: President Trump is fulfilling his promise. After 18 years of war, he promised on the campaign trail to start bringing troops home from faraway places in the Middle East where we had no business being. The U.S.-Taliban deal was signed on February 29th and last night began the White House’s attempt at holding up its end of the bargain. Are things perfect? No. Folks on the right recognize that peace is fragile, especially as two “presidents” backed by heavily armed militias are being sworn in simultaneously. But hanging in there isn’t a reasonable option either. Fox News’s Jim Hanson said “we have not been able to impose our will on them using military force” so it is time to move on. Charles Hurt wrote in the Washington Times that “Presidential candidates won the past three elections by promising to end the longest war in American history. Only President Trump has taken concrete efforts to make to make good on that promise.” Daniel DePetris said in The Washington Examiner that “The sooner Afghanistan is left to the Afghans, the better off the U.S. will be.” However, never-Trump Republicans like David French have blasted the White House for agreeing to a prisoner release when they could have just left without one. And plenty of folks on the right recognize that things could get worse for Afghans — and U.S. troops or the region — before they get better.
What the left is saying.
There’s cautious optimism and there’s heavy criticism. As per usual, there are plenty of people wondering, “What if Obama did this?” What if Obama negotiated the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners without including the Afghanistan government? What if Obama drew a red-line about violence only for the Taliban to immediately violate it, then moved forward anyway? The single most important goal of the war in Afghanistan was to ensure al-Qaeda did not have a safe haven there. But the deal has no specifics or details that give the U.S. anything enforceable. “A good test of the agreement is to ask: What exactly do the Taliban have to do to fail at their obligation to deny safe haven to al-Qaeda” Paul Miller wrote in Lawfare Blog. “Under what conditions would the United States halt or reverse its withdrawal? The agreement does not say.” Sen. Chris Murphy said the more he learns, the more concerned he is that “Trump got fleeced.” He added that the “Taliban's security guarantees are so vague as to be effectively void. It's not clear how we will track whether they are indeed renouncing terrorist groups.” Still, plenty on the left have been supportive of Trump. The New York Times editorial board called the withdrawal “the right thing to do” and said, “Americans have long run out of good reasons to continue dying and killing in a land whose many tribes make it notoriously difficult to govern and whose mountainous terrain renders it all but impossible to conquer.”
When it comes to U.S. foreign wars, I think it’s always worth starting by looking at them through the lens of the nation where the war is being fought. Afghanistan is in crisis right now. The contested election is very likely to lead to violence. And U.S. troop withdrawal almost certainly means the Taliban will fight to take back Kabul. As The Week’s editor Theunis Bates wrote, “The women the U.S. encouraged to leave their homes, attend schools and work will be forced back into the Middle Ages.” Many will feel betrayed that we’ve left, and they’re going to be left with a divided, broken, corrupt and unpopular government. And while the tragedy of 2,300 American troops dying and $2 trillion dollars being spent (or wasted) is at the center of much coverage, I feel it’s necessary to remind you that 143,000 people have died in this war. Almost all of them were Afghans. 43,000 were civilians. That’s to say nothing of the maimed, the psychologically injured, the public spaces and buildings and homes that have been annihilated.
There will be no good time to leave Afghanistan, or at least there hasn’t been in 20 years. And it’s absolutely true that this moment may be one of the worst. But if we keep waiting for the right moment we may never actually leave — and there’s a strong case to be made that our presence is prohibiting peace, not encouraging it. Plenty of groups in Afghanistan have found a common enemy in America. As life sometimes goes, there really is no good move here. Despite the widespread belief that Americans want the troops home, there actually isn’t much data to support that. 38% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans favor maintaining troop levels in Afghanistan, compared to just 21% of Democrats and 23% of Republicans who want to reduce troops. In 2019, Gallup found that 42% of Americans thought the war was a mistake while 52% said it wasn’t. But more of the same doesn’t seem like a reasonable option to me, given everything above. There’s at least some hope that a different tact will be worthwhile, and Trump deserves credit for taking it — regardless of how ham-handed it is.
Five Republican congressmen have are now in self-quarantine after coming in contact with someone who was infected with coronavirus at CPAC. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) and incoming White House chief of staff, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) are all in self-quarantine. Each lawmaker has said they’ve shown no signs of the virus and some are awaiting test results. Both President Trump and Vice President Pence attended CPAC and Trump was also captured in photographs shaking hands with several members of Congress who are now in self-quarantine.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Tangle is all about reader questions. To ask something, all you have to do is reply to this email and write in.
Q: I was wondering if you are aware of immigration bill S-386. Senator Mike Lee from Utah is trying to pass this bill through unanimous consent. This bill lifts the country cap of 7% so that thousands of Indians who are in green card backlog and are waiting for years can get their permanent residence. Problem is, if you lift the country cap without increasing the number of total green cards that are allowed each year, no person from any other country of the world except India will get an employment-based green card for the next decade. This will devastate all research sectors in the U.S. as for the next decade or more. Highly skilled people and researchers from other countries won't think of coming to the U.S. anymore. I am genuinely amazed why this is not getting coverage in any news media.
- Nafiz, Seattle, WA
Tangle: Hey Nafiz — thanks for writing in with this question. This is the kind of sticky legislative stuff that makes a huge difference in our country and I’m glad you called attention to this bill. I think you’re right that this bill could be hugely significant, with serious negative consequences, even if it also seems like there would be some benefit to passing it.
First, the outlines: this bill is happening because so many Indians have been completely blocked out of immigrating to the U.S. There are about 140,000 employment-based green cards available annually (and one million green cards overall) in the U.S. A green card is a permanent resident identification and means someone has been granted the right to live and work in the U.S. on a permanent basis. Right now, the current system allows for 7% of green card holders — and no more — to come from one single country. That has left India, which has more green card applicants than anywhere else, sitting out in the cold. An estimated 800,000 immigrants who are working legally in the U.S. are waiting for a green card. 75% of them are Indian. An Indian national who applies for one today can expect up to a 50-year wait to ever get one. That’s not really sustainable.
The annual per-country quota began in 1990. After the tech boom, which sent thousands of Indian workers to the U.S. for IT jobs, India became the top source of employment-based green card seekers. What’s sad about the situation we’re in now is that bills like S-386, which are meant to address this problem, have really just created an immigrant vs. immigrant environment that has fostered a lot of racism and division politically and culturally amongst green card seekers.
As you noted, Sen. Dick Durbin stepped in to block S-386 from becoming law, and his reasoning was sound: if you lift the country quota without increasing the overall number of green cards, the backlog will worsen for everyone else (some estimates say wait times will extend to 17 years for all nationalities) while blocking out working professionals from anywhere besides India. On the other hand, supporters of this bill make two good points: 1) If you do nothing, or change nothing, then Indian workers are going to just start going somewhere else for work, which could devastate many U.S. businesses that rely on them. 2) This bill proposed by Sen. Mike Lee has strong bipartisan support, an unusual success story on immigration in the Trump era. If you don’t pass it — nothing about the immigration system will change.
Things get more complex in the bill, though, like the fact Indians are already accounting for more than 7% of allotted green cards (a provision says unused green cards roll over to those in line, and Indians have collected something like 20% of the employment-based green cards in the last decade). The thing that would be my top priority is fixing how this impacts families. Right now, family members stuck in the employment-based green card backlog can be torn apart by the system. If the family member “in line” dies, then the family loses its spot. If the child of a family member in line turns 21 and doesn’t get a job, they lose their spot and can get deported. That has led to some heartbreaking stories, like the widow of an aviation system engineer whose husband was killed in a 2017 hate crime, which nearly led to her deportation. Or the 23-year-old U.S.-educated mechanical engineer who has lived in Kentucky since he was 3 but because he aged out of eligibility could be deported while he struggles to find a job.
Durbin proposed a solution to this: make it so spouses and minor children do not count against the total quota. Right now, that’s a huge reason for the backlog. All kids and spouses count towards the annual cap of 140,000 employment green cards. The Cato Institute, a liberterian think tank, said Durbin’s bill was “the best legal immigration reforms overall” and noted that it’d double the total number of legal residents receiving permanent residence in the next decade. It’d also reduce overall wait times for everyone to less than a year.
The reason his bill has been so roundly protested, though, is not because of what it does: it’s because of how small the chance is it gets passed in a Republican-led Senate or signed by President Trump. And I think it’s fair for Indian nationals to feel that way. I agree with you that this solution is not the right one, though I also think it’s idealistic and detached from reality to think a different, better solution could get done under this administration. This is why our immigration system is in a crisis: there’s been no real immigration reforms or fixes in decades. Now we’re at a crisis point and, much like the Afghanistan War, I can’t say there is a clear good solution that’s visible to me.
A story that matters
Last night, Fox News’s Tucker Carlson told his audience that the coronavirus was going to get a lot worse before it gets betters. He told his audience the disease may cause “economic damage whose effects may dog us for years. People you know will get sick, some may die. This is real.” The segment “matters” because it diverges from Fox News’s coverage thus far: the network — the most-watched in America — has mostly framed the coronavirus as an overblown issue being stoked by Democrats and media to destroy the stock market and scare Americans. In fact, Trish Regan used her competing segment on Fox Business to tell viewers, “This is yet another attempt to impeach the president.” She ran the segment with a giant “CORONAVIRUS IMPEACHMENT SCAM” chyron on the bottom of the screen. Carlson told his millions of viewers that leaders should stop telling people everything will be fine “and start telling the truth,” which sounded an awful lot like a jab at Trump. Carlson’s show is one of the most-watched on any news network and it’s sure to help change the conversation about the coronavirus on the right. You can watch his segment here or read The Washington Post’s coverage of the Fox News coverage here.
- 58-34. The percentage of support for Trump vs. Biden, respectively, amongst white men.
- 60-32. The percentage of support for Biden vs. Trump, respectively, amongst everyone else.
- 62%. The percentage of Republicans and Republican leaners who think the threat of the coronavirus is being generally exaggerated.
- 31%. The percentage of Democrats and Democratic leaners who think the threat of the coronavirus is being generally exaggerated.
- 56%. The percentage of Democrats and Democratic leaners who now view Mitt Romney favorably.
- 39%. The percentage of Republicans and Republican leaners who now view Mitt Romney favorably.
- 24%. The percentage of Democrats and Democratic leaners viewed Mitt Romney favorably in 2012.
- 84%. The percentage of Republicans and Republican leaners who viewed Mitt Romney favorably in 2012.
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Federal regulators are finally taking action against scam products advertising unproven coronavirus treatments, Axios reports. For decades, every time there is a major disease outbreak, fraudsters have used the fear to sell unproven treatments and cash in. But yesterday, the FDA and FTC actually stepped in to issue a warning letter — leading to several online marketplaces removing over 30 listings for products like teas, oils and colloidal silver that were falsely claiming to prevent coronavirus. Similar products were sold during Zika and Ebola outbreaks. When it comes to the role of government, this is one of the few areas where overreach should be encouraged — and I’m glad to see it. Click.