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Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
The Wall Street Journal on top generals, Senate hearing and Afghanistan:
President Biden hopes the political fallout from his botched Afghanistan withdrawal will fade quickly, but Tuesday’s Senate hearing with the secretary of Defense and two top generals doesn’t cast his decisions in a better light.
The hearing underscored that the President acted against the advice of the military in yanking the residual U.S. force from the country. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie both made clear in their testimony that they recommended that about 2,500 U.S. troops stay in Afghanistan to delay a Taliban takeover.
That’s not what Mr. Biden said he was told. Asked in an ABC News interview days after the August fall of Kabul if his military advisers urged him to maintain America’s small footprint in the country, Mr. Biden said, “No one said that to me that I can recall.”
The scandal isn’t that the President ignored military advice — he’s the decision-maker. It’s his refusal to own his decision. Mr. Biden wants political credit for ending America’s involvement in Afghanistan, but he’s not willing to take the political risk of admitting he overruled the brass in the process.
The generals also undercut Mr. Biden’s spin about their advice as the chaotic withdrawal was underway. He said the generals unanimously supported his Aug. 31 deadline for the departure of U.S. troops. But as Gen. Milley confirmed in questioning by Sen. Tom Cotton, that advice was given on Aug. 25 — 10 days after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban.
Waiting that long essentially presented the generals with a fait accompli, since the Taliban were already entrenched in Kabul. It didn’t have to unfold that way. Once it became clear Kabul was going to fall in mid-August, the U.S. could have told the Taliban that it was going to secure a wide perimeter around the Kabul airport and control the city until the withdrawal of Americans and Afghan allies was complete.
That would have allowed a more orderly departure, and potentially less loss of life, even if it meant extending the Aug. 31 deadline. But Mr. Biden wanted out immediately, so he cast another rotten tactical decision as the result of military advice rather than his own willfulness.
The Administration’s sunny assurances about the impact of the withdrawal on U.S. national security were also undercut by the brass. When Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona asked Gen. McKenzie, “are you confident that we can deny organizations like al Qaeda and ISIS the ability to use Afghanistan as a launchpad for terrorist activity?” the general said, “I would not say I am confident.”
Gen. Milley similarly called the outcome in Afghanistan a “strategic failure” as “the enemy is in charge in Kabul” — a break in tone for an Administration that has been casting the Taliban as a potential partner. He still insisted it was a “logistical success” — a dubious designation of an operation that, despite an impressive number of flights from Kabul, saw 13 U.S. deaths and a mistaken drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians, including seven children.
Gen. Milley was also in the hot seat for the reports of his actions late in the Trump years as relayed in a book by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The book paints a picture of a general freelancing on national security during and after the 2020 election, reviewing nuclear protocols and calling his Chinese counterpart to say he’d warn him if President Trump started a war.
Gen. Milley confirmed he spoke with Mr. Woodward, as well as other journalists writing books about the last days of the Trump Administration. Yet he said his communications with China were standard practice, and he wouldn’t say whether his portrayal in the books was accurate as he hadn’t read them.
That’s a dodge. Gen. Milley has surely seen the Washington Post report on the book that portrays him as undertaking extraordinary efforts to circumvent a President. Even if that portrayal was sensationalized by the authors — as we’ve warned might be the case — it has damaged Americans’ perception of civilian control over the military.
Yet Gen. Milley didn’t take responsibility for that entirely predictable outcome any more than Mr. Biden has the consequences of his Afghanistan retreat. The Afghan withdrawal is the greatest U.S. foreign-policy humiliation in decades. The damage is made worse by the failure of accountability, starting with the Commander in Chief.
The Dallas Morning News on Biden administration treatment of Haitian migrants:
The most important leadership skill for any administration is to be frank, direct and purposeful — to say what they mean and mean what they say.
In its response to the crisis of Haitian migrants at the border, the Biden administration has misled the American people. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has talked tough, suggesting the border with Mexico is closed and that the United States would deport Haitian migrants back to the island nation.
Instead, the administration also was quietly releasing thousands with a summons back to a court in 60 days, information that came to light through reporters on the ground in Del Rio.
There is no other way to put it. The administration is playing both sides against the middle and sending jumbled messages to the American people, to Mexico and Central American governments and mostly to desperate migrants seeking refuge in the United States.
What the Biden administration fails to admit is that the surge in Del Rio is the result of an embarrassing diplomatic failure. In April, the Biden administration struck an agreement with Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to temporarily deploy troops to increase border security and prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.
Then in June, the Biden administration formally ended the Trump-era policy of returning asylum-seekers to Mexico until their court dates in the United States, according to a memo from Mayorkas.
Earlier this month, however, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador indicated that he wanted Biden to address the root causes of migration, something we thought Vice President Kamala Harris had been tasked to do, and offer temporary work visas to Central Americans.
The surge of Haitians began a few days later, and this week, López Obrador said Mexico will continue to help the United States slow illegal immigration. “We have tried to keep migrants in shelters, above all to protect minors, women,” López Obrador said. “But this can’t go on forever; we have to get to the bottom of the issue and that means investing in the development of poor countries.”
The U.S. policy of sending Haitians to Haiti has caused some to turn around and others to stay in Mexico or return to Central or South America, where many had lived since an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010.
A policy of contain and detain is not a solution. Most asylum-seekers aren’t Mexican, and Mexico is under no legal obligation to accept non-Mexican asylum-seekers back across the border to wait for hearings on their claims. As López Obrador says, “You can’t open the border and let everyone freely cross.”
Yes, that is true, and it applies to Mexico’s northern and southern borders, too.
The Biden administration continues to send mixed messages to migrants, neighboring countries and the American people. There will be other surges of distressed migrants willing to attempt the hazardous journey from the Northern Triangle and beyond across México to the United States. Del Rio was the entry point this time. But the Rio Grande Valley remains a major crossing point, too.
Slowing the surge of migrants depends on several factors. Congress and the administration must be willing to secure the border and provide swifter processing of asylum claims. And this effort also requires regional cooperation to rebuild economies and suppress criminal cartels to reduce the incentive for families and individuals to migrate northward.
Vice President Harris has expressed concerns about the treatment of Haitian migrants by border patrol agents on horses, a tone echoed in the resignation letter of Daniel Foote, the Biden administration’s special envoy to Haiti, who characterized the expulsion of Haitians from Del Rio to Haiti as “inhumane.”
Any valid allegations of mistreatment deserve investigation, but we also urge the president and vice president to engage more productively through diplomacy. The State Department had reached out to Chile and Brazil to take Haitians who were previously residing in those countries. Long-term solutions will be tougher to achieve unless existing agreements to slow surges northward hold up.
The Philadelphia Inquirer on ‘The Big Lie’ and dangers to voter privacy:
After this summer’s schoolyard shouting match between Republican State Sen. Doug Mastriano and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman over Mastriano’s attempt at a go-it-alone investigation of the 2020 election results, we all might have hoped that the debate had finally gone away for good. Alas, the Big Lie is back, and it’s more outlandish than ever.
This time, instead of simply undertaking a quixotic quest to find nonexistent voter fraud, Harrisburg Republicans have stumbled onto a tactic that would be dangerous even without its connection to a conspiracy that undermines democracy: Instead of requesting access to voting machines, election fraud truthers are now demanding the Social Security numbers, driver’s license information, and full names and addresses of every single Pennsylvania voter.
This information, beyond the obvious risks to the privacy rights of individual voters, can be used by bad actors to initiate changes to their current voter registration status. According to experts, accessing private voter information like this actually increases the potential for fraud. Furthermore, the nonsensitive and relevant portions of this data are already available publicly, so there seems to be no practical need for this request.
The plan is part of the state GOP’s paradoxical pro-Trump makeover. Typically, when a presidential candidate loses an election, their influence over their political party wanes. But efforts like this underscore the lengths to which Republicans will go to mollify supporters of former President Donald Trump. It might also help Trump remain relevant as he plans another run for president in 2024, but some Republicans have begun to wonder whether these efforts might prevent the party from moving forward. At least one member of the GOP in Harrisburg, State Sen. Dan Laughlin, has begun to realize that the paranoia and fact-free turn into electoral fraud theatrics hurts the commonwealth and may also damage the long-term prospects of his party.
The Big Lie poisons our politics and distracts us from the real problems in Pennsylvania. Thanks to the likes of Mastriano and Republican leaders, belief in the Big Lie, and doubt in our electoral system, is growing. Their refusal to acknowledge basic realities, done in order to avoid alienating the former president’s political base, is to blame for this phenomenon, not any lack of scrutiny during the election process itself.
Our Inquirer colleagues who report on Harrisburg have chosen not to call this process an “audit,” a prudent decision, and this board does not want to give the issue any more attention than it deserves. By demanding sensitive information from Pennsylvania voters, Republicans have made their obsession too dangerous to ignore.
This board applauds the efforts of Attorney General Josh Shapiro, State Sen. Tony Williams, and others who have pledged to go to the state Supreme Court if necessary to stop GOP attempts to violate the privacy of voters. We also recognize the efforts of lonely Republicans like Laughlin and Philadelphia’s own City Commissioner Al Schmidt, who have been honest about the election. Ultimately, though, the end of this fever dream will only come when Republican leaders stop lying to their constituents.
The Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier on Greenland's melting ice and S.C. coastline:
As those of us in Charleston and other coastal cities gradually brace for rising seas, heavier rains and other challenges posed by climate change, it’s important to bear in mind that we can control only so much. That’s not to say we shouldn’t work urgently to adapt as best we can; just the opposite. We have to work even harder on the strategies we have because there are still so many things we don’t know — many of which could make our situation even more dire.
Ice melting hundreds or even thousands of miles away can have a big impact here in the form of rising sea levels, and our warming planet is speeding up all this melting. A 2019 study of 19,000 glaciers worldwide that tracked measurements over the past several decades found that ice is melting almost everywhere, generally more quickly than previously thought; the world is losing an estimated 369 billion tons of glacial ice each year, a rate five times faster than what was recorded in the mid-20th century.
But the story is actually much more complicated than the bathtub concept expressed in this simple formula: warming air + glaciers = more ocean water and higher seas.
As Post and Courier reporter Tony Bartelme explains in a special report on Greenland, the climate and geological changes on the world’s largest island (Australia is larger but is considered a continent rather than an island) can be expected to have an outsized impact on South Carolina’s coast, compared to other parts of the world.
That’s partly because Greenland’s massive ice sheet, which covers 80% of the country’s land mass about a mile deep on average, has its own gravity, which pulls water in the North Atlantic toward it. This actually increases the current sea levels near it but lowers them farther away, in places such as Charleston, which is about 3,000 miles to the south. So its melting glaciers not only add more water to the ocean but also reduce the island’s gravitational pull that draws water away from Charleston (much like the moon draws it away, except Greenland’s pull isn’t cyclical).
Unfortunately, that’s not all. The warming planet actually causes ocean water to expand, so there’s not only more water in the ocean, but it needs more room and climbs up shorelines.
And Greenland’s heavy ice sheet not only exerts gravity, but the sheet’s meltwater also affects the massive ocean currents that scientists call the AMOC, short for Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. The AMOC includes the Gulf Stream, which flows past the East Coast so forcefully that it actually pulls water away from our beaches, keeping our current sea level about 3 feet lower than it otherwise would be. Or at least that’s normally the case. As Mr. Bartelme explains: “Greenland’s massive ice melt has tossed a giant wrench into this important system. In 2009, when the AMOC slowed, sea levels in New England suddenly rose 5 inches for about a year. Scientists say the AMOC system has slowed by 15%, and by some measures is at its weakest point in 1,600 years.”
So Greenland’s near-term fate will greatly affect us, much more than we realized only a few years ago.
As Josh Willis, a climate scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory who has been working in Greenland, told Mr. Bartelme: “The gravity issue may represent a small increase in Charleston’s sea level, let’s say 20%, and ocean currents might be another 20%, and thermal expansion (of the oceans) another 20%, but once you add up these and other 20 percents out there, you have a problem.”
These findings, most made or confirmed during the past decade, should humble us in several ways, beginning with the reality that we don’t know what else scientists might discover in the coming years. And while these findings certainly paint a more dire portrait, it likely will take a long time before a majority of us embrace them, especially given how divisive our nation has become. As much as we’re learning, researchers still have no consensus on one of our biggest questions: Exactly how fast will the sea rise here before this century’s end?
That answer will clarify the extent to which we in South Carolina should defend our coast and the extent to which we should retreat. Until we know, we must trust in our best guess, and prepare for the worst.
Charleston rightly deserves credit for recognizing it has a problem — a recognition fueled not only by scientific research but even more so by several years of significant storms and ever-present flooding since 2015. While we also will need national and global action to prevent the worst climate change scenarios and mitigate the impacts of global warming, all we can truly count on is what we do ourselves.
Understanding more about what’s happening in Greenland should bolster Charleston leaders’ determination to pursue their multi-prong efforts to adapt to living with more water. We also will need national and global action to prevent the worst climate change scenarios and mitigate the impacts of global warming — efforts that some have projected will cost $3 billion, perhaps more, in Charleston alone. It won’t be easy to come up with that money, and we can’t be sure exactly how effective our efforts will be. But we have no choice: The alternative is simply too horrible to contemplate.
The China Daily on Huawei CFO's release from Canadian custody:
The great attention given to Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou’s return to China on Saturday speaks volumes about the magnitude of the incident’s influence, which has in essence been a political abduction of her by the United States, with Canada as its accomplice.
The heartfelt thanks Meng extended upon her “release” to the Chinese people for their support and assistance, as well as the effusive, warm responses she received in return from the nation, bear testimony to her gratitude that the motherland was always “a ray of light” that was never extinguished even in the “darkest moments.”
Since she was detained by the Canadian police at the behest of the US while changing flights at Vancouver airport on Dec 1, 2018, the motherland has left no stones unturned in its efforts to support her in her fight against the unfounded charges and to help her regain her freedom.
Having been detained in an illegal manner by the Canadian police, she was then subject to judicial investigations, hearings and trials, none of which lived up to the claims they were independent and impartial. And none of the so-called evidence Washington and Ottawa cobbled together has ever held water.
Her release, which has not been obtained in exchange for an admission that she was guilty as charged, shows her ordeal has never been anything other than a dirty give-a-dog-a-bad-name-and-then-hang-it trick of the US, which wanted her as a political hostage as part of its efforts to break Huawei, the leading player in the global 5G market.
Those making the political abduction possible have every reason to feel ashamed of the fact that it was not brought to an end and corrected even after the whole world recognized it for what it was. And even after China did all it could to create opportunities for them to put a stop to it.
China’s resolve to help protect Meng’s legal rights and interests has never faltered, and has ensured she can make “the sweetest journey,” returning home safe and sound.
The US likes to portray itself as the “beacon of freedom”, and Canada presents itself as a model of human rights and judicial independence. But the incident speaks for itself — neither is true. The incident has already been recorded by history as a marker of how low the two countries are willing to stoop in their efforts to contain China.
And this is not the first time the US has resorted to such a dirty maneuver to hobble a technology enterprise. Any senior executives of non-US companies leading their US counterparts in their respective fields should be wary of the risks of being taken political hostage by the US.
Whether China-US and China-Canada relations can now take advantage of what is a clear opportunity for a reboot depends on the extent to which Washington and Ottawa are willing to heed the lessons of their rash ploy.
If they are, then hopefully the two sets of relations can be put back on a more amicable track. That would be of benefit not just to Canada, the US and China, but also the world, which desperately needs greater stability and a concerted focus on addressing the grave global challenges that are becoming ever more acute.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on climate change and ... woolly mammoths?
The late author Michael Crichton would’ve loved the scientists and entrepreneurs at Colossal, the American company that wants to repopulate the Siberian tundra with herds of woolly mammoth-like creatures, ostensibly to help combat climate change.
There’s an area in the remote Russian territory where imported bison currently roam, but there aren’t nearly enough of them to efficiently break up the moss that dominates the terrain and contributes to the build-up of carbon dioxide.
Russian ecologists working with Colossal want to revive the wild grasslands that covered the land eons ago when the now extinct mammoths pulverized the encroaching moss, clearing the way for grass to spring up.
The theory is that the return of grasslands to the Siberian tundra via mammoth herds and the tons of digestive waste they would produce would help keep carbon dioxide at bay.
According to the scientists, the presence of more mammoth-feces-enriched grass on the tundra would stop the rapid soil erosion that now threatens the Siberian ecosystem, which has been undergoing unprecedented warming for decades.
Colossal is raising money to develop the technology it needs to reconstruct the genomes of woolly mammoths by adding the genes for dense hair and thick fat to the embryos of Asian elephants. The company already has $15 million in initial funding and would like to produce its first woolly mammoth in a few years. It will take many more years on top of that to produce a herd, but once the first woolly mammoths are produced using artificial mammoth uteruses, they believe they can scale up the operation. This technology is expected to lead to profits on multiple fronts.
If this scenario sounds vaguely familiar and sends a chill down your back, it should. The area where Colossal wants to introduce this artificially bred species of woolly mammoths has been dubbed Pleistocene Park — an homage to “Jurassic Park,” Michael Crichton’s famous thriller about scientific hubris that leads to the resurrection of several species of dinosaurs, so you know where this story is headed.
Ethical concerns are already being raised about genetically resurrecting a species that was partially hunted into extinction between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago by humans. The creatures were also plagued by a smorgasbord of genetic mutations, thanks to inbreeding, disease and reproductive difficulties.
Technically, the creatures Colossal wants to create in its labs aren’t reanimated from the ancient DNA of fossils like the dinosaurs in Crichton’s book. These creatures who are expected to look and perhaps act like woolly mammoths will have never been seen in the world before. This is a major part of the objection to the project. Scientists won’t know anything about the genetic limitations of the creatures. Is it fair to bring them into existence without a training manual?
It is assumed that if woolly mammoths are anything like elephants today, they form intense bonds with their mothers after they’re born and are mentored by them for years. The first generation of Colossal mammoths will be motherless and will not have learned how to navigate the environment they’ll inhabit.
Man-made mammoths roaming the Siberian tundra may not want to break up moss, eat grass or defecate all day. They might be several tons of craziness. Despite having created them, we won’t have a 100% understanding of their biological and mental needs without the benefit of observing them for years. Will their existence trigger the appearance of new diseases that can migrate to humans? Will they be treated like an invasive species by the current inhabitants of the tundra?
“Jurassic Park” comparisons aside, we’ve encountered these questions before in other contexts. Just because we have the theoretical ability to build an atomic bomb, should we? What could possibly go wrong when mammoths walk the Earth again?