New DMZ Podcast: After Afghanistan, Another War? And: What Are Our Values, Anyway?

President Joe Biden delivers his first speech to the United Nations, prompting political cartoonist Ted Rall and Scott Stantis to ponder what comes next in foreign policy under Biden and for the foreseeable future? Ted pushes back against Scott’s description of China as a “threat.” Scott surprises with his updated take on 1930s-style isolationism. Border patrol goons use whips to control Haitian immigrants at the border with Mexico; can we really say at this point that, as the secretary of homeland security argued, this is against American values?

Taliban Cops Aren’t as Bad as American Cops

            Journalism needs a new rule. Are you reporting about a human rights violation in another country? If the United States commits the same offense, you should be required to refer to that fact in your article or broadcast.

Criticizing how a nation treats its prisoners or responds to internal dissent implies that the behavior being discussed falls outside international norms. If your own country does the same thing and you don’t mention it, your lie of omission strips your story of context.

There have been many examples of such journalistic malfeasance in coverage of the Taliban since their takeover of Afghanistan.

“Taliban fighters used whips and sticks against a group of women protesting in Kabul,” CNN reported September 9th. “The fighters also beat a number of journalists covering the demonstration, according to witnesses.”

This is terrible. Violent suppression of peaceful protests should be covered and widely circulated, as was this story—although it’s hardly surprising that a brand-new revolutionary government might not be terribly tolerant of criticism less than two weeks after seizing power. The same goes for the brutal mistreatment of reporters.

Compared with the terrifying arsenal of devices wielded by the police and other officials against peaceful marchers who dare to protest the policies of the two-centuries-old United States of America, those Afghan women got off easy. Weapons deployed by U.S. authorities against peaceful Black Lives Matters marchers include pepper spray, pepper balls, blast balls, paintballs, tear gas, sting-ball and flashbang grenades, sponge rounds, rubber and wooden bullets and beanbag rounds, tasers, and Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs), a.k.a. sound cannons.

            “Horrible, nauseating pain hit my body,” journalist Cory Choy, who was covering the 2014 BLM protests when he was attacked by a sonic weapon deployed by the NYPD, told Popular Mechanics,“and then I realized it was sound. At first you just think, ‘What’s happening to me?’ Your body goes into complete pain and panic mode. It’s the sound equivalent of looking into the sun.”

            In 2020 Buffalo police gratuitously shoved a 75-year-old attending a BLM protest to the ground, leaving the man unconscious and bleeding from his ear, without calling an ambulance. That same year mounted police in Houston used horses to trample demonstrators. I would rather face sticks and whips than a weaponized horse.

            The fact that American cops treat protesters more viciously and more violently than the Taliban in no way excuses the brutality of the Taliban. But news consumers need and deserve context. In this example, beatings of the Kabuli women should probably have run under the headline “Compared to Americans, Taliban Response to Protests is Restrained.”

Western media outlets responded with similarly context-free outrage to the Taliban’s announcement that demonstrators would have to apply for a permit before they were allowed to protest on streets in Afghanistan. “The interior ministry of the new Taliban government is seeking to end protests in Afghanistan after days of demonstrations that have brought heavy-handed assaults on protesters,” reported the Associated Press. But their lede was belied by the second sentence of their coverage: “The minister has issued an order to end all protests in the country—unless demonstrators get prior permission, including approval of slogans and banners.” You can protest. But you need permission.

Which is appalling. The right to peacefully petition the government over grievances goes back thousands of years and has been honored by absolute monarchs. No one, anywhere, should have to apply for a protest permit.

As everyone who has ever been involved in street activism knows, however, Americans do not enjoy significantly more rights than the people of Afghanistan when they decide to pick up signs and march down a public street. Like the Taliban, American cops require that you file for a protest permit. If you ignore the requirement, they crush you like a bug.

On the weekend of August 28, National Parks police issued six protest permits to the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, a commemoration of the first March on Washington, a march in favor of D.C. statehood, another for criminal justice reform and, ironically, a march for the First Amendment. These protest permits allowed these groups to walk on the National Mall, which is public property. I say the First Amendment is my protest permit.

            Philadelphia, cradle of American liberty, requires a protest permit for any gathering involving more than 75 people. These rules are commonplace throughout the United States, as are the notorious “free speech zones” that place demonstrators so far away from the targets of their complaints that they had might as well be on the moon.

            Perhaps someday outrage over oppression in places like Afghanistan will prompt Americans to take note of, and do something about, suppression of dissent here at home.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)











Democrats Share the Blame for Afghanistan

Arthur Cyr: Disaster in Afghanistan – what next?

           Joe Biden is taking heat from Democrats, not for his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan—that’s popular—but for his haphazard pullout that, self-serving Rumsfeldian stuff happens, wars end messily platitudes aside, could have been executed more efficiently. They blame George W. Bush for starting America’s longest war, arguing that what he began inexorably led to our most shocking military defeat and its humiliating aftermath.

            I am sympathetic to any and all criticism of our intervention in Afghanistan. I was an early critic of the war and got beaten up for my stance by media allies of the Bush administration. But the very same liberals who now pretend they’re against the Afghan disaster stood by when it mattered and did nothing to defend war critics because Democrats—political leaders and voters alike—went far beyond tacit consent. They were actively complicit with the Republicans’ war, at the time of the invasion and throughout the decades-long occupation of Afghanistan.

Now the deadbeat dads of defeat are trying to stick the GOP with sole paternity. This is a ridiculous attempt to rewrite history, one that damages Democratic credibility among the party’s progressive base, which includes many antiwar voters, and risks the possibility that they will make the same mistake again in the future.

            Twenty years later, it is difficult for some to believe that the United States responded to 9/11 by cultivating closer ties to the two countries with the greatest responsibility for the attacks, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, and attacking a country that had nothing to do with it, Iraq and another one that had tenuous links, Afghanistan. Yet that’s what happened. And Democrats participated enthusiastically in the insanity.

The sweeping congressional authorization to use military force against Afghanistan and any other target chosen by the president (!) was introduced in the Senate three days after the attacks by Tom Daschle, the then-Democratic majority leader. Every Democratic senator supported destroying Afghanistan. So did every Democratic member of the House of Representatives except for one, Barbara Lee, who was roundly ridiculed as weak and naïve, received death threats and was denied leadership posts by her own party to punish her for refusing to play ball. The legal justification to attack the Taliban was a bipartisan affair.

            Democratic support for Bush’s war reflected popular sentiment: voters of both parties signed off on the Afghan war by wide margins. Even after weeks of bombing that featured numerous news stories about innocent Afghan civilians being killed willy-nilly, 88% of voters told Gallup that they still approved of the military action. Approval for the war peaked at 93% in 2002 and started to decline. Nevertheless, popular support still hovered around 70% throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, a number that included so many Democrats that then-Senator Barack Obama ran much of his successful primary and general election campaign on his now-obviously-moronic message that we “we took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan” when Bush invaded Iraq. “Our real focus,” Obama continued to say after winning the presidency, “has to be on Afghanistan.”

            Nine months into his first term, Obama felt so confident that Democratic voters supported the war that he ordered his surge of tens of thousands of additional soldiers above the highest troop level in Afghanistan under the Bush administration. 55% of Democrats approved of the surge. Domestic support for the war only went underwater after the 2010 assassination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. troops in Pakistan seemed to render the project moot.

            There was a strong antiwar movement based on the left throughout the Bush and Obama years—against the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched against the Iraq war. Opposition was sustained over the years. Far fewer people turned out for far fewer protests against the Afghanistan war. It’s impossible to avoid the obvious conclusion: even on the left, people were angry about Iraq but OK with Afghanistan.

            There is nothing wrong with criticizing the Republican Party and President George W. Bush for the decision to invade Afghanistan. The war was their idea. But they never could have started their disaster, much less extended and expanded it under Obama, without full-throated support from their Democratic partners and successors.

This story has few heroes.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


Episode 9 | September 6, 2021: Is It Too Late to Save the Planet from Climate Change Apocalypse?

It’s another free-wheeling discussion between right-wing cartoonist Scott Stantis and left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall. It’s another 9/11 week—what, if anything, have we learned? Scott responds to a listener. Ted and Scott clash on climate change: Ted thinks we’re doomed because it’s probably too late to save ourselves and Scott supports incremental action based on self-interest: pollution sucks for all concerned.


20 Years After 9/11, We’re Still Morons

USA No Forgetting 9-11 Flag - 9-11 Flag - We won't Forgetting Flag -  FlagsFlagpoles, Flags, Mounts, Lights, Motorcycle Accessories

           If crisis creates opportunity, we couldn’t possibly have squandered the possibilities presented by 9/11 more spectacularly. We certainly couldn’t have failed its tests more completely. Twenty years after 9/11, it is clear that the United States is ruled by idiots and that we, the people, are complicit with their moronic behavior.

            We had to do something. That was and remains the generic explanation for what we did in response to 9/11—invading Afghanistan and Iraq, directing the CIA to covertly overthrow the governments of Haiti, Venezuela, Belarus, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and a bunch of other countries, lamely legalizing torture, kidnapping via extraordinary rendition to Guantánamo and other concentration camps, building a drone armada and sparking a drone arms race.

            Acting purely on speculation, news media was reporting as early as the afternoon of September 11 that Al Qaeda was responsible. That same day, Vice President Dick Cheney argued for invading Iraq. We began bombing Afghanistan October 7, less than a month later, without evidence that Afghanistan was guilty. A week later, the Taliban offered to turn over bin Laden; Bush refused. Before you act, you think. We didn’t.

            What should we have done—after giving it a good think?

            A smart people led by a good president would have had three priorities: bring the perpetrators to justice, punish any nation-states that were involved, and reduce the chances of future terrorist attacks.

            The 19 hijackers were suicides, but plotters like Al Qaeda’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who lived in Pakistan, were not. Since we have an extradition treaty with Pakistan, we could have asked Pakistani authorities to arrest him and send him to face trial in the U.S. or at the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague. Instead, we kidnapped him to CIA “dark sites” including Gitmo and subjected him to waterboarding 266 times. Because of this and other torture, as well as his illegal detention in violation of habeas corpus, KSM can’t face trial in a real, i.e. civilian, court. Not only will 9/11 families never see justice carried out, we’ve managed to turn KSM into a victim, just as he wanted.

            The Inter-Services Intelligence agency, Pakistan’s CIA, financed and provided intelligence to Al Qaeda. Pakistan harbored bin Laden. Pakistan played host to hundreds of Al Qaeda training camps. Pakistanis I talked to after 9/11 were shocked that the U.S. didn’t attack their country, instead giving its Taliban-aligned dictator General Pervez Musharraf billions in military and financial aid.

            Evidence linking top Saudi Arabian officials to 9/11 has been scarce. But 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi, several are reported to have met with mid-level Saudi intelligence agents before the attacks, and, most notably, Saudi Arabia exports its radical brand of Sunni Islam, Wahhabism, all over the world. The Taliban and Al Qaeda initially recruited many of their members from Wahhabi madrassas financed by the Saudis in Pakistan and Central Asia.

            We should have treated 9/11 for what it was: a crime. Policemen, not soldiers, should have tracked down the perps. They should have been given lawyers, not torture. They should have faced fair trials. But if we had to go the military route, we should have invaded Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the two countries responsible, not Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries that had nothing to do with it. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were and remain far more dangerous to their neighbors than Afghanistan or Iraq.

            Occupying Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter of Islamic extremism and global terrorism, would have done a lot to reduce the threat of another 9/11. But the most effective way to make us less of a target is to make the rest of the world look upon us with favor. Some people will always hate us. That’s inevitable. Our goal should be to reduce their number to as close to zero as humanly possible.

            We can’t eliminate anti-Americanism by killing its adherents. We’ve been trying to do that for 20 years using drones and missile strikes; all we’ve accomplished is killing a lot of innocent people and making the rest of the world look at us with disgust and contempt. You kill anti-Americanism by treating people everywhere with respect and kindness. That includes those we suspect of doing us harm.

            Unfortunately for us and the world, we learned nothing from 9/11. Not even losing Afghanistan back to the Taliban in the most humiliating U.S. defeat since Vietnam, having nothing to show for 20 years of war, has taught us a thing. We’re still a hammer that sees everything as a nail, a blunt, stupid people whose idea of a plan is to keep indiscriminately bombing innocent civilians.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Order one today. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

The Collapse of the U.S. Government

Taxes are the price we pay for government. But a government that doesn’t provide basic bureaucratic services is no government at all—and it doesn’t deserve our tax dollars.

Afghan translators, and others who worked for the U.S. military and American journalists and NGOs, aren’t Americans and don’t pay taxes. But the U.S. government’s failure to process their applications for Special Immigrant Visas in a timely manner highlights the breathtaking scale of dysfunction, or non-function—to which too many Americans have become accustomed.

When the Biden Administration took over in January, it inherited a backlog of 18,000 SIV applications filed by Afghans who wanted to leave before the scheduled U.S. pullout on September 11. Biden’s folks managed to process 100 a week, before stopping entirely because of a spike in Covid cases in Afghanistan (though no one has explained what the novel coronavirus has to do with immigration given the existence of vaccines and quarantines). Even if they hadn’t quit, at that rate the State Department would only have processed 3,200 applications by 9/11/21, leaving almost 15,000 Afghans out of luck. And that’s not counting the additional 70,000 applications that came in after January.

We discovered water on Mars. We beat Nazi Germany. The IRS processes 240 million returns a year, many of them complicated. If we left the Afghans hanging as the Taliban closed in, it’s because we—well, Biden and his administration—wanted to.

The president’s eviction relief package is another example of bureaucratic no-can-do.

Anyone could see the right way to pay off back rent for Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own but rather because they or their employers complied with the government’s orders to stay home and away from work: administer the program federally under HUD, keep paperwork simple, set up a fully-staffed 1-800 number to help distressed tenants, and wire money directly to landlords so the dough doesn’t get diverted to other bills. These days, however, the last thing anyone, including the government, wants to do is to hire full-time employees—an attitude that is, of course, a big part of the joblessness problem. So Congress outsourced Biden’s $46.5 billion federal rental aid program to the states. Because the feds didn’t offer to compensate them for the extra work, many states didn’t bother. As a result, only about 10% of the rental assistance funds have been disbursed. Now the Supreme Court has stopped the CDC’s eviction moratorium—and Americans who should have received help will lose their homes.

Even the IRS, an organization whose mandate is to extract cash from companies and individuals, has collapsed. Millions of people are waiting for refunds because the agency has a backlog of 35 million unprocessed returns, a fourfold increase over a year before.

Government doesn’t work. Contact a Congressman or Senator via their official website and you may not even receive an automated acknowledgment, much less actually hear back about your concern.

Call a government office—local, state, federal—and, if they’re not closed for some obscure holiday, you’ll wind up on permahold. Or they’ll hang up on you after ages on permahold.

Americans are self-reliant. If you want something done, do it yourself. I’m fine with that.

What I’m totally not fine with is paying good money for a service I don’t get. That’s a ripoff. If you advertise that you perform a service and I pay for that service, you had better give me what I paid for. To do otherwise is fraud.

Our government commits fraud every day.

Congressmen promise to serve their constituents. Their websites say they reply to queries. If they don’t, why are we paying their salaries?

I don’t want to hear excuses about being short-staffed. Early American politicians like Thomas Jefferson set aside hours a day to reply to letters from citizens. “From sun-rise to one or two o’clock,” our third president noted, “I am drudging at the writing table.”

You know neither Ted Cruz nor AOC spends 15 minutes a day doing that. It’s a bigger country now, but computers and freelancers easily make up for the higher volume of correspondence.

About Afghanistan again, what’s the value of American citizenship if your passport doesn’t get you out of a war zone? Many Americans were stuck in Kabul, unable to get to the airport due to large unruly crowds and Taliban checkpoints. Yet the military refused to leave the airport to escort them from their places of shelter. Only when news accounts emerged about other countries like France and the United Kingdom, real countries with actual governments that work sometimes, sending their troops into the streets to rescue their nationals, did the U.S. order a few desultory forays into Kabul which, by the way, the Taliban had no objection to.

Oh, and State Department officials: there is no excuse for leaving the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the biggest consular operation in the world, empty. The Taliban didn’t ask us to do so; to the contrary, they’re guarding the compound in the hope that we’ll return. Abandoning that facility is a cowardly abdication of our duty to U.S. nationals and allied Afghans who need diplomatic assistance and representation. It is absurd that, if I return to Afghanistan, there will be no U.S. presence in a country that actually wants it. There’s danger—but many career diplomatic corps types would gladly accept the risk. I’m not a tax resister, but why am I paying taxes?

For Christ’s sake, hire some staff!

Ronald Reagan campaigned on the joke that some of the scariest words in the English language are, “I’m from that government and I’m here to help.” That joke would fall flat now. No one from the government promises anything; assuming they exist in the first place, they don’t even bother to return your phone call.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of a new graphic novel about a journalist gone bad, “The Stringer.” Now available to order. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)