Today’s read: 8 minutes.
We’ll cover some wild news about the Taliban, a source on the ground in the Bahamas and lots of good tweets.
A group of Taliban insurgents. Photo: Flickr / ResoluteSupportMedia
Tangle is an independent, ad-free, non-partisan politics newsletter where I answer reader questions from across the country. You can subscribe below.
What D.C. is talking about.
The Taliban. On Saturday night, President Trump disclosed that he was canceling a previously unknown meeting that was scheduled between his administration, leaders of the Taliban and the President of Afghanistan, which he planned to attend in person. His announcement came after 12 people, including one American soldier, were killed in a suicide car bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, which the Taliban took credit for. Negotiations have been ongoing with the Taliban since last winter. U.S. officials are trying to bargain for a ceasefire in exchange for a U.S. troop withdrawal (as many as 5,000 troops initially leaving, with the remaining 8,600 leaving over time). That withdrawal would dovetail into the U.S. mediating a deal between the Taliban and Afghan government officials on how to share power, along with assurances the Taliban would cease terrorist activities.
What Republicans are saying.
Most Republicans are not happy. For some, the idea of pulling troops out of Afghanistan is not tenable, as they think it will lead to more instability. For others, it’s the optics. Camp David, where the negotiations were apparently going to happen, is a sacred retreat location in Maryland for presidents and high-ranking politicians. For Trump to invite Taliban leaders to the U.S. on its own is shocking and offensive to a lot of people in conservative D.C. circles. But to invite them to Camp David on the same week of the Sept. 11th anniversary? That’s just wrong.
Rep. Justin Amash, a conservative and former Republican who recently announced he was leaving the party, also blasted Trump. Amash said on Twitter that we could end the war without “inviting the Taliban to dinner on the week of 9/11.”
“We’ve been at war in Afghanistan for 18 years—the longest war in U.S. history,” he added. “Nearly three of those years have been under President Trump. If he wanted to bring our troops home, he could. He doesn’t want to. It’s that simple. The rest is just political theater.”
Other, more loyal Trump supporters took news of the meeting as proof Trump is attempting to fulfill his promise of ending wars overseas. Trump’s unorthodox style lends itself to breaking D.C. “norms” like bringing the Taliban onto U.S. soil, but POTUS is willing to do it if it means following through on his promises.
What Democrats are saying.
None of this is adding up. Democrats share the Republican disappointment in the optics, and leading Democrats have advocated for ending the war in Afghanistan. But President Trump claims he cancelled the meeting because the Taliban committed a suicide bombing in Kabul. No matter how tragic, did the president not realize this is what the Taliban does? They were a terrorist organization when he set the meeting up and they remained one afterward. Others are pointing to The New York Times, which has been all over the reporting of this story. In their detailed re-tellings of how it went down, the Times says that Taliban leaders had agreed in principle to terms laid out by U.S. negotiators. They were willing to make the trip to Camp David so long as it came after the deal was announced. But President Trump did not want Camp David to be a celebration, he wanted to “be the dealmaker who put the final parts together himself, or at least perceived to be.” These details immediately led to speculation this was all POTUS vying for a shot at the Nobel Peace Prize, which he’s repeatedly said he has earned. Others are asking a simple question: Could you imagine if Obama did this? If he invited the Taliban to Camp David the week of a 9/11 anniversary? Conservative heads would explode.
Trump’s desire to end the war in Afghanistan is one of the few things that can unite most Republicans and Democrats. The war has been a disaster, and after 18 years — with American soldiers still dying regularly — I’m all for bringing the troops home and negotiating a peace deal on the way out. It’s worth noting that John Bolton, Trump’s hardline national security advisor, and Mike Pompeo, the director of the CIA, were at odds on this. Bloomberg reported that Bolton wanted Trump to stay in Afghanistan and may have won the argument behind the scenes, which was the real reason POTUS called the deal off (this would make more sense, given the Taliban’s actions or demands haven’t changed much). If The New York Times reporting on how the deal fell through is accurate, Trump’s team set him up for a rare win: there was a window to make a deal, bring home thousands of troops, move the ball on peace negotiations and keep remaining troops there as leverage for a ceasefire. But instead of taking the ball and running with it, Trump sensed he wouldn’t get full credit and blew the whole thing up. It’s a disheartening story.
P.S. There’s always a tweet.
Your questions, answered.
Reminder: Tangle is about answering reader questions. To ask a question, all you have to do is reply to this email.
Q: Is the situation in the Bahamas worse than it seems?
- Darren, Boca Raton, FL
Tangle: Yes. Much, much worse. Right now, the “official” death toll in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian is still hovering around 43. Last night, I heard from a source on the ground who said the media — and Americans at large — haven’t totally comprehended how bad it is. He described a primary school shelter where the walls collapsed and children were washed away in a storm surge. In contrast with the 43 dead, some Bahamians expect the number to be in the thousands. Bodies are floating amongst the rubble and the government seems totally overwhelmed. It may be months until there is an accurate death toll or accounting for the damage, but Bahamians are certain it will be far worse than what we think now. Along with the many dead and injured, the infrastructure that has made the area a popular tourist destination has been completely annihilated. It could be decades before the island recovers to what it was just two weeks ago.
Even worse, the Bahamians trying to flee the wreckage to safety in the U.S. are running into unexpected problems. Last night, hundreds of survivors were instructed to get off a ferry from Freeport, Bahamas, headed to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, if they didn’t have a U.S. visa. Bahamians don’t normally need a visa to get into the U.S., all they need is a passport and a printout of a clean criminal record. Republican senators have urged President Trump to bypass all visa requirements for Bahamas survivors and allow the refugees into Florida. U.S. Customs and Border Protection said no rules have changed, and the captain of the ferry instructed non-visa holders to get off of the boat without consulting immigration officials. The CBP maintains that any survivors would be processed and vetted within the framework of current U.S. laws. Still, it’s an ugly reminder that even the people trying to find food and power by coming to the U.S. might run into unexpected problems and remain stranded on the island.
A “rut roh” poll for Dems.
Amongst black women aged 18-34, the top Democratic candidate choice is “other” and “prefer not to answer.”
A telling number.
A story that matters.
One of the most important stories in America is how we are going to care for our elderly. Millennials are strapped with debt, have lower rates of home ownership and skyrocketing health care costs. In the past, the children of the elderly have typically taken care of them — but it’s unclear whether millennials will have the means. Not only that, but in the age of the internet, the elderly have become victims of constant telemarketing scams, online disinformation and fraud. A shocking new study from the United Kingdom might point to the root cause: “According to the survey of 1,896 seniors over 65 in the United Kingdom, more than one in five (22%) will have a conversation with no more than just three people over the span of an entire week!” That means about 2.6 million elderly in the UK don’t have human contact on a daily basis. Another 225,000, according to the poll, go entire weeks without talking to anyone face-to-face. You can read more here.
Have a nice day.
The race to sustainability is getting more inventive by the day. This week, EcoWatch is reporting on a new idea to build islands of solar panels that will use their electricity to convert carbon dioxide from seawater into methanol (which can be used for airplane and truck fuel). One floating solar farm could produce 15,000 tons of methanol a year, enough to send a Boeing 737 on a round-trip flights between New York and Phoenix 300 times. You can read more here.