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Wake Up To Politics - August 25, 2021

Wake Up To Politics: How did we get here in Afghanistan?
Wake Up To Politics - August 25, 2021

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, August 24, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 441 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,169 days away.

In today’s newsletter: The latest on President Biden’s domestic spending agenda and on evacuation efforts in Afghanistan.

But first... How did we get to where we are in Afghanistan? I’ve asked Miles Hession, author of WUTP’s weekly “Global Roundups,” to write a deep dive offering some context and background to get you up to speed on what led to the current situation in Afghanistan.

Miles delves into the history of the Taliban and the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and explains how other countries are acting in the region. So here’s Miles with today’s lead story, and then I’ll be back to recap the latest headlines in “The Rundown”:

Deep Dive: How the Taliban never lost its grip on Afghanistan

By Wake Up To Politics global affairs contributor Miles Hession.

While the Taliban has asserted itself as a potent military and political presence in Afghanistan, its origins paint a very different picture than what we are familiar with today.

  • The translation of Taliban, meaning “students of Islam”, point to the militant group’s more inconspicuous beginnings.
  • Initially, they provided religious services like hospice comfort and education, and were a nationalist presence for the Pashtun people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Changes began to emerge after the formation of the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1978. The new government began a communist crackdown on religious leaders in the country, preventing the services and practices of many who identified with the Taliban and Pashtun nationalism.

  • At the same time, the Iranian Revolution was underway, which exported and spread tenets of militant Islamism.
  • While the government crackdown on traditional Islamic ideas continued, Islamic guerilla fighters, known as mujahideen, began an insurgency against the government with many Taliban members in their ranks.
  • It was common for mujahideen forces to receive backing from the U.S. government who were keen to engage in a proxy war with their Soviet rival, and the mujahideen fought fiercely against Afghan and Soviet forces.
Taliban fighters at the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul earlier this month. (Zabi Karimi / AP)

Facing instability at home, the Soviets withdrew their forces from Afghanistan in 1989 and the country quickly descended into a civil war.

  • Many former mujahideen fighters coalesced under the banner of the Taliban; by 1994, they had seized control of nearly three-fourths of the country.
  • A new penchant for militancy and an old emphasis on Islamic values and teachings led to the formation of a totalitarian government in 1996 that adhered strictly to Sharia law, the group’s strict interpretation of Islamic law.
  • While there existed a formal government, much of the governing was left to the whims of local leaders and there was a severe crackdown on the rights of women as well as other civil liberties.

After the September 11th attacks, American forces invaded Afghanistan, blaming the Taliban for enabling the attacks by housing and protecting Al-Qaeda and enabling the attacks. The regime was quickly toppled.

  • The Taliban was forced into exile in Pakistan as the U.S. sought to introduce Western democracy in the country and liberate Afghan women.
  • Quickly, however, with support from the Pakistani military, who themselves were receiving aid from the U.S., the Taliban began a guerilla insurgency in Afghanistan.

The American presence in the country has varied from administration to administration. In all, the protracted war has lasted two decades and cost more than 2,000 American lives, as well as tens of thousands of Afghan military and civilian lives.

  • After taking Kabul, Bush promised a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan, but resources were quickly diverted to the war in Iraq, leaving the newly formed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on shaky ground.
  • Under President Obama, there was a troop surge in 2009 that attempted to finally drive out the Taliban, but the group was able to weather the increased presence through the withdrawal of surge troops in 2012.
  • President Trump wanted a hasty exit from the country and made the controversial decision to meet with Taliban leaders to negotiate a truce, legitimizing them further and striking a peace agreement.
  • President Biden, though delaying Trump’s May withdrawal date, followed through on Trump’s plans and began a hasty withdrawal. With the Afghan government already unstable, and with American troops leaving quickly, Afghan forces were quickly overwhelmed and the Taliban took Kabul once again earlier this month.
U.S. forces in Afghanistan. (Getty Images)

While Biden has sought to leave Afghanistan, other countries began cozying up to the Taliban or urged a more cautious withdrawal.

  • Russia began diplomatic and cultural missions with the Taliban after souring relations with the West following the 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
  • China, looking to “hedge its bets” and expand its sphere of influence began outreach to the Taliban in the leadup to the troop withdrawal, expecting the possibility of a swift Taliban victory.
  • Meanwhile, NATO nations like the U.K. and France urged Biden to delay the withdrawal to ensure evacuations would go underway, a call that Biden has ignored as he reaffirmed his August 31 withdrawal date.

The Taliban’s return to power has been swift, a result of its effective military offenses and the fact that the group never lost a foothold in Afghanistan despite nearly 20 years of facing the most powerful militaries in the world.

  • As in its first government in the 1990s, Taliban rule in Afghanistan means a dangerous new future for women across the country as the repressive regime seeks a return to Sharia law.

The Rundown

More news you should know.

IN THE HOUSE: After days of intraparty squabbles, House Democrats united on Tuesday to approve a budget resolution calling for adoption of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion domestic spending package.

  • The 220-212 vote on Tuesday does not automatically lead to the package’s enactment: instead, passage of the resolution (which was already approved by the Senate) allows Democrats to jumpstart the budget reconciliation process, the legislative manuever that will allow them to pass the spending bill without Republican support.
  • Democrats will now begin drafting the final package, which is expected to include sweeping investments in the party’s top economic priorities, from education to health care to raising taxes on the wealthy.
  • In exchange for supporting the budget resolution, moderate Democrats extracted a promise from the party’s leaders to vote on the bipartisan infrastructure package by September 27.

Just after the budget vote, the House voted along party lines to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 struck down by the Supreme Court.

  • The voting rights bill, another one of Democrats’ top priorities, has little path forward in the Senate.
Democratic leaders introduce the John Lewis voting rights bill in 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

AFGHANISTAN: Despite pressure from world leaders, the intellgence community, and members of Congress, President Biden announced Tuesday that he planned to stick to his August 31 deadline to completley withdraw the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.

  • Biden said that the U.S. is “currently on a pace” to evacuate all Americans and American allies from Aghanistan by the end of the month, but lawamkers briefed on the intelligence have said it is highly unlikely that the U.S. will be able to get all Americans out by the deadline.
  • According to the White House, the U.S. evacuated approximately 19,000 people from Kabul in the past 24 hours, bringing the total since August 14 to 82,300. The total number of people needing evacuation remains unclear; the Taliban has also complicated the efforts by promising to block Aghans from leaving the country.
  • Breaking overnight: Two lawmakers, Reps. Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Peter Meijer (R-MA), made a controversial, unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Tuesday to survey the evacuation efforts.


What’s happening in Washington today. (All times Eastern)
Executive Branch
President Joe Biden will receive his daily intelligence briefing at 9:30 a.m. and meet with his national security team to receive an update on Afghanistan at 10 a.m. Later, at 2 p.m., he will meet with members of his Cabinet, his national security team, and private sector and education leaders to discuss improving the nation’s cybersecurity.

At 4:30 p.m., Biden will sign H.R. 1448, the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act, into law. At 5 p.m., he will sign H.R. 3642, the Harlem Hellfighters Congressional Gold Medal Act, into law.

Vice President Kamala Harris is in Hanoi, Vietnam, as part of her second foreign trip since taking office. Overnight and early this morning, Harris held meetings with Vietnam’s prime minister, president, and vice president, and also delivered remarks at an event on U.S. health security engagement in Southeast Asia and participated in a lease signing for the new U.S. embassy lease compound in Hanoi.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff is in Tokyo, Japan, as head of the U.S. delegation to the Paralympic Games. Overnight and early this morning, Emhoff attended table tennis, wheelchair rugby, and swimming events, met with various Japanese officials, and departed Japan for Honolulu, Hawaii.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold her daily press briefing at 1 p.m.  Legislative Branch
The Senate is on recess until September 13.
The House is on recess until September 20.
Judicial Branch
The Supreme Court is on recess until October 4.

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