Tag Archives: afghanistan

A Joe Biden Empathy Tour We Could All Get behind

Joe Biden scores big points for appearing to be empathetic with victims of tragedy. Considering all the tragic wars to which he contributed, perhaps he should go on an empathy tour of the over 1 million survivors of the people he helped kill in Iraq and Afghanistan.

High Crimes against Journalism and Decency: Jeffrey Goldberg’s Insane “Trump Called Troops Suckers” Piece Is a New Low

9-11-97

Jeffrey Goldberg wrote an article for The Atlantic that could harm Donald Trump’s chance to win re-election. Setting aside the controversial content of the remarks attributed to the president, it is important to note that this is an atrocious example of journalism.

You could almost call it “fake news.”

And corporate media is taking it at face value.

You may think Trump is a turd—I do. You may want him to lose the election—I do. (I also want Biden to lose, but that’s another column.) You may believe that Trump probably said what Goldberg reports—I think there’s a good chance. But everyone who cares about journalism ought to be deeply disturbed by the nonexistent sourcing for this story and its widespread acceptance by media organizations that ought to know better.

It’s easy to see why Democratic-leaning media corporations jumped all over Goldberg’s piece: it hurts the president and it reinforces militarism. But they’re degrading journalistic standards to manipulate an election.

According to Goldberg, four anonymous sources told him that Trump called American marines who died in World War I “losers” and repeatedly questioned why anyone smart would join the military or be willing to risk their life by fighting in one of America’s wars.

Anonymous sources have their place. I have used them. But basing a news story entirely on accounts of people who are unwilling to go on the record is journalistically perilous and ethically dubious. There are exceptions, as when a Mafia source fears physical retribution.

There is no such claim here. Most media organizations’ ethical guidelines are clear: news without attribution is not news. It is gossip.

            The Los Angeles Times, a publication my readers know that I hold in low regard, nevertheless takes a stance against anonymous sources. “When we use anonymous sources, it should be to convey important information to our readers. We should not use such sources to publish material that is trivial, obvious or self-serving,” the paper’s ethical standards say. “An unnamed source should have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity, such as fear of retaliation, and we should state those reasons when they are relevant to what we publish.”

            The Atlantic piece falls way short.

Likewise, writing that strips statements of necessary context is anti-ethical. Trump, writes Goldberg, “expressed contempt for the war record of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. ‘He’s not a war hero,’ Trump said in 2015 while running for the Republican nomination for president. ‘I like people who weren’t captured.’” He goes on to note that Trump wanted to deny McCain the honor of lowering flags to half-mast after McCain died.

Goldberg frames Trump’s comments as part of a general bias against the military and portrays his attacks as unprovoked. Truth is, long before Trump made those comments he had been engaged in a well-documented, long-running feud with the Arizona senator. McCain based his political career on his military service and the five years he spent as a POW in Vietnam. McCain was Trump’s enemy, and there is considerable evidence that McCain—known for a sharp tongue—started the war of words. Trump gave back in kind.

“Nor did he set his campaign back by attacking the parents of Humayun Khan, an Army captain who was killed in Iraq in 2004,” Goldberg continues in another context-free passage. Khan’s father famously spoke against Trump at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” Khan said. In Trumpian terms, Khan started it. But Goldberg’s omission makes it look like Trump attacked a fallen soldier out of the blue.

Goldberg does this a third time: “When lashing out at critics, Trump often reaches for illogical and corrosive insults, and members of the Bush family have publicly opposed him.” Both sides have insulted each other; as far as the record shows, Trump is usually running offense, not defense—but Goldberg falsely portrays the enmity as a one-way street.

One of the praiseworthy aspects of this president is his relatively restrained approach to military interventionism, coupled with his willingness to directly engage adversaries like North Korea and the Taliban in Afghanistan, the latter which recently signed a peace agreement with the United States. It is logical for Trump, who is skeptical of illegal wars of choice like Afghanistan and Iraq, to question why people would volunteer to fight and possibly die in such a pointless conflict. For Goldberg, militarism is a state religion. Questioning it is intolerable.

Goldberg’s piece, the tone of which reads like the pro-war hysteria following 9/11, reflects the aggressively militaristic neoliberalism of the Democratic Party in 2020.

Goldberg references Trump’s 2017 visit to Arlington cemetery with then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. “A first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Robert Kelly was killed in 2010 in Afghanistan … Trump, while standing by Robert Kelly’s grave, turned directly to his father and said, ‘I don’t get it. What was in it for them?’ Kelly (who declined to comment for this story) initially believed, people close to him said, that Trump was making a ham-handed reference to the selflessness of America’s all-volunteer force. But later he came to realize that Trump simply does not understand non-transactional life choices.”

            Joining the military, of course, is hardly a non-transactional decision. Soldiers get paid. They get medals. They get free college. They are revered and thanked for their service. Military service gives you a leg up when you run for political office.

Moreover, Trump’s question is one Americans should be asking more often. Why would a 29-year-old man volunteer to travel to Afghanistan in order to kill the locals? No one in that country threatened the United States. No one there did us any harm. Afghans don’t want us there. Why did Robert Kelly go?

Goldberg seems obsessed with Trump’s description of fallen soldiers as suckers. “His capacious definition of sucker includes those who lose their lives in service to their country, as well as those who are taken prisoner, or are wounded in battle,” Goldberg writes. But is he wrong?

            LBJ suckered us into Vietnam with the Tonkin Gulf incident, which historians of all stripes accept was a lie.

            George H.W. Bush suckered us into the first Gulf War with a tale of Iraqi soldiers rampaging through a Kuwaiti hospital and pulling babies out of incubators. Another lie.

            After 9/11 George W. Bush suckered us into Afghanistan by saying Osama bin Laden was there—he was not.

            Of course Bush lied about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. More suckering. (At the time, Goldberg spread the lie that Saddam Hussein was allied with his enemy Al Qaeda.)

            Assuming that anything in Goldberg’s piece was true, Trump was right.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

Trump and Biden: Equally Awful

Trump, Biden in virtual tie in Texas in new poll - HoustonChronicle.com

Front and center in the raging debate among liberals and progressives over whether they should support Joe Biden or opt out of the two-party trap by voting third-party or not at all is the assumption that Biden would do less harm both to the world and to American leftism than Trump.

Even many hard-core Bernie-or-Busters accept the premise that Biden wouldn’t be as bad as Trump. They believe the additional damage that would result from a second Trump administration is an acceptable price for teaching the DNC a lesson and building a progressive movement.

But it’s not true that Biden wins the harm mitigation sweepstakes.

For every respect in which Biden would be better than Trump—or less awful—there is a compelling counterfactual that carries equal or greater weight.

If Trump wins, for example, we can count on his uniquely toxic combination of anti-science propaganda and organizational ineptitude to unnecessarily prolong and increase the body count of COVID-19. The WHO says that millions could die in the dreaded second wave; a disproportionately high number of those people could be Americans. Let’s guesstimate half a million dead here in the U.S.?

The net cost of Trump is equal to the total number of deaths here under his second term, minus the number that would occur under Biden. Since Biden can’t do anything about the pandemic until late January when he takes office and herd immunity appears to be closer than we previously believed, whether a ridiculously incompetent Trump or a refreshingly competent Biden is president after January probably doesn’t make a big difference. There’s a chance we have seen the worst of COVID-19. Still, it’s fair to say that thousands more Americans will succumb to the coronavirus under Trump and Biden.

On the other hand, Biden is likelier to start wars than Trump and Trump is likelier to end them. Biden voted to bomb Bosnia and invade Afghanistan. He was a big cheerleader and enabler for the Iraq war. Currently he’s threatening to start a hot war with Venezuela and new cold wars against China and Russia. He also promises to keep increasing the defense budget. Donald Trump was the first American president in decades to directly negotiate with the Taliban, with whom he signed a peace agreement to bring home all American troops from our longest war.

When we assess which candidate would do the most harm, even the breathtakingly disgusting body count from COVID-19 doesn’t come close to the over 1 million people who died in the Iraq war alone. Will Biden go to war against Iran? North Korea? Anything is possible. Biden’s record is clear; he is an extremely dangerous man. And even if you don’t care about all the brown people he would kill as president, remember 9/11. Our wars come to our shores sometimes.

Despite the usual election year hysteria, there is no daylight between Trump and Biden on most major issues. Neither old white man promises to restore the $600 a week supplemental unemployment insurance. Neither is in favor of the Green New Deal. Neither wants student loan forgiveness. Neither would sign Medicare For All. Both prioritize corporations over individual citizens. Neither would significantly liberalize immigration policy.

Even on the issue of the year, police violence, Trump and Biden are competing to see which one is more palatable to the Blue Lives Matter crowd. “You know me,” Biden assured the far right in a recent speech, referencing his authorship of the notorious mass incarceration crime bill and the USA-Patriot Act that destroyed fundamental privacy rights. “You know my heart, and you know my story, my family’s story. Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?” When someone tells you they are an authoritarian, believe them.

The real difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump has nothing to do with policy. No matter which evil man wins, we are in for a lousy four years.

This election comes down to personality. How do you like your monsters? Obnoxious and buffoonish? Or polite and affable? I prefer truth in advertising: Americans are up in arms about crappy American policies precisely because Donald Trump puts an appropriately nasty face on them.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

 

Delay the Election? Presidents Often Do Things They Can’t Do

Trump Won't Steal the Election, but Your Governor Might | The NationThe stock response to President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the general election might be delayed because voting during a pandemic would involve a record number of mail-in ballots, a format he argues is unreliable and susceptible to fraud, is that he doesn’t have that power.

NBC News is typical: “The president has no power to delay an election.” [Emphasis is mine.]

What the president understands, and most mainstream commentators fail to accept, is that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission. That goes double when the powers in question are limited by a document that lies in tatters, repeatedly ignored.

            Liberal politicians and news outlets point out that the Constitution assigns the scheduling of elections exclusively to Congress. Republicans tepidly (and troublingly) stopped short of denying Trump’s power to push back the big day, while insisting that the election ought to take place on time. “Never in the history of this country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time. We will find a way to do that again this November 3rd,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

In an era of rampant cynicism it is sweetly naïve and the amusingly charming to see Americans put so much faith into the constitutional checks and balances they learn about in high school civics class. “‘Trump can’t delay the election,’ experts say,” reads a headline in The Washington Post.

            Since when has a 221-year-old piece of paper stopped presidents from doing anything?

I think first of war powers. Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that the right “to declare war” resides exclusively with Congress. Such key founders as George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton—men whose right to define original intent can hardly be questioned—believed that presidents could not dispatch troops without legislative approval except in cases of immediate self-defense. Congress signed off on sending soldiers and sailors to the Quasi-War with France in 1798, naval conflicts with the Barbary States of Tripoli and Algiers, and clashes with Native American tribes in the West.

Congress has since abdicated its war-making powers to the executive branch. Congress hasn’t issued a formal declaration since World War II. Yet we have fought countless wars. Presidents have launched military attacks against Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Serbia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these wars of aggression were legalistically constructed as “police actions” or “peacekeeping missions” under the aegis of the UN. The fact remains, this is not what the drafters of the Constitution intended. And it has never been amended. Presidents do what they want; lawyers twist logic to justify their illegal slaughters.

President Abraham Lincoln earns democracy points for holding the 1864 election during the Civil War. Yet he suspended habeas corpus and ignored a ruling by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court saying that he didn’t have the power to do so. George W. Bush’s Military Commissions Act of 2006 also suspended habeas, for anyone the U.S. government arbitrarily defined as an “enemy combatant.” Until the Supreme Court ruled against him two years later, Congress was complicit with the MCA. Even after the court ruling, the internment facility at Guantánamo Bay remains open; 40 men remain there, not one of whom has ever been charged or tried under basic constitutional standards.

FDR almost certainly didn’t have the constitutional right to send 127,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II. Yet he did.

From domestic surveillance by the NSA that violates the agency’s founding charter to asset forfeiture programs that allow the police to seize money and property from people who have never been charged, much less convicted of a crime, Americans live in a society oppressed by a political class that takes no notice of constitutional limits it deems inconvenient.

Does the president have the legal right to delay an election? No.

Does he have the power? Yes, unless We The People refuse to accept it.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Trump Tries to End the Afghanistan War, Democrats Want to Keep Killing

What you need to know about the U.S.-Taliban peace deali - The ...

Pollsters have observed a consistent enthusiasm gap between supporters of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Any factor that dampens Democratic turnout could contribute to a second come-from-behind victory for the GOP.

            Adding to liberal voters’ ambivalence over Biden is a rarely-discussed aspect of Trump’s presidency. Trump’s skepticism of foreign military entanglements places him to the left of mainstream Democrats like Biden. His foreign policy aligns more closely to those of the progressives who are licking their wounds from the primary defeat of Bernie Sanders—and who are considering whether or not to vote at all.

            In 2016 Trump upended traditional right-wing politics by campaigning against the Iraq War—during the Republican primaries, where candidates usually compete to look tough. This year the surprise dove can take credit for extricating the U.S. from its longest war, the 18-year-old meatgrinder of Afghanistan. Not only was Trump the first post-9/11 president to hold direct talks with the Taliban, he concluded a peace deal with the insurgency that leads to a total American withdrawal by April 2021 if the Taliban uphold their commitments. Now he is even considering an accelerated timetable that would bring back the last American soldier before Election Day.

            Enter the war pigs.

            Trump’s peace initiative is under attack by an odd coalition of neoconservative Republicans including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and a group of Democratic hawks who inserted an amendment to the latest National Defense Authorization Act. The add-on denies the president funding to bring back the last 8,000 troops. In order to get the money the Defense Department would have to certify that pulling out would not increase the chances of Afghanistan ever becoming a safe haven for terrorists in the future. How could they promise that? 

            “There were elements of the progressive left and the pro-Trump right who supported these withdrawals,” Glenn Greenwald noted in The Intercept, but they lost the House fight.

            Trump is no one’s idea of a pacifist. He expanded the drone assassination program he inherited from Obama and reduced its already low transparency. He supports Saudi Arabia’s vicious proxy war in Yemen. He has engaged in old-fashioned gunboat diplomacy against China.

            Even so, many progressives find more to like in Trump’s willingness to engage with the leaders of countries like North Korea and Iran. Prior to Trump, high-level negotiations were positioned by the U.S. as rewards for improved behavior; Trump talks without preconditions. Progressives prefer diplomacy to war.

            Biden, on the other hand, voted to bomb Serbia, invade Afghanistan and Iraq. He has never apologized—so it’s reasonable to assume he’d commit the same crimes again. He sat at Obama’s side as that administration armed and funded radical jihadis in Libya and Syria, expanding regional conflicts into all-out civil wars, one of which created the vacuum filled by ISIS. American leftists support Nicolás Maduro, a socialist, in Venezuela; Biden backs Juan Guaidó, who failed to seize power in a military coup last year. These are Hillary Clinton’s politics, an approach left-leaning voters despise.

            “The liberal establishment is desperate to return a centrist to the White House in November and reestablish the country’s more stable military dominance of the world order, disrupted only briefly by Donald Trump. Joe Biden’s terrible track record on foreign policy — including his championing of war in Iraq — suggests a return to Obama-style strong military interventions abroad,” David Davison and Alex Thurston wrote recently in Jacobin.

            “Biden represents the return of the classical foreign policy establishment,” Alan Minsky, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America, told The Progressive magazine. “Biden is running a campaign as a restoration candidate.”

            And while Biden has made overtures to the progressive wing of his own party on such domestic issues as healthcare and the environment, he has expressed no willingness to compromise on foreign policy.

            Last week a coalition of progressive groups wrote to Biden to demand that he appoint anti-interventionists to his cabinet and as top officials in the State Department. “Without national security and foreign policy personnel who are willing to learn from the mistakes of the past and understand the need for change this moment presents, we fear our country—and the world—risk descending into climate and economic chaos fueled by further corruption and authoritarianism. We expect a potential Biden administration to reflect the urgency of this moment in its personnel appointments,” the letter read.

I would not hold my breath.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Whatever Happened to Basic Standards at Newspapers?

It’s just like the Ukraine story that failed to impeach Donald Trump. Anonymous sources tell major newspapers that second hand or thirdhand source is based in the intelligence community, which is tasked with lying, that Russia may be paying bounties to the Taliban in order to kill United States troops in occupied Afghanistan. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but why pay attention to a story that has no evidence or sourcing?

What Happens Next in Afghanistan? The Neo-Taliban

The Taliban is on the move – Kabul stands in the line of fire ...

            I shouted the text of my latest story on the invasion from a Palm Pilot into a balky Iridium satellite phone. It was at least my third attempt and the battery was dying. A Village Voice employee assigned to take dictation on the other side of the world interrupted me.

“I don’t understand,” she said, irritated. “Why don’t you just go to Kinko’s and email it to us?”

I stood shindeep in the pitch dark of a muddy rut in northeastern Afghanistan and scanned pockmarked mudbrick walls. I was on a street but it was 2001 so there wasn’t any pavement there—or anywhere else in the country. There were buildings but no lights because decades of civil war had left the nation without an electrical grid. There were no bridges that hadn’t been blown up, no phone lines, no running water, no sewers.

No Kinko’s.

Motorized transport belonged to the privileged: NGOs, warlords, invading armies and journalists like me. People wanted me to take their picture, not to be photographed but to see themselves in my camera’s viewfinder for the first time in their lives. There weren’t any mirrors.

Minus a central bank, rival warlords printed banknotes from identical plates with ink of varying color. Most people preferred barter.

Afghanistan during the U.S. invasion was the 14th century plus mines and AK-47s.

The land of the Taliban was bleak and desolate. America bombed them out of Kabul after 9/11 they fled into the dusty countryside and rugged mountains that became staging grounds for attacks against U.S. and NATO forces for more than 18 years. Thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans lost their lives in a war that, in a poignant echo of Vietnam, lost its purpose. “What were we trying to do here?” General Douglas Lute, who led U.S. forces under Bush and Obama, recalled asking. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

On February 29th the U.S. tacitly conceded defeat. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar of the Taliban signed a deal as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo witnessed the ceremony in Doha.

They called it a peace agreement. But it didn’t guarantee that fighting would stop (and it hasn’t), only that the U.S. will withdraw within 14 months.

Under the Doha agreement the Taliban will now negotiate terms with the Afghan government that the U.S. installed in early 2002. The expectation is that the Taliban will recognize the regime of President Ashraf Ghani and lay down their weapons. It’s far more likely that they will wait for Ghani’s NATO protectors to leave. Vietnam again: this is “peace with honor.”

This fig leaf allows us to withdraw with our pride intact. And that’s fine. 58% of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan think the latter conflict was a waste. They’re right. We were never going to win. President Trump gets credit for ending America’s longest war.

So what happens next?

The Taliban will grant us a grace period of relative calm while we turn our focus to other issues and places. Ultimately they will seize power with surprising speed and ferocity. This, dating back to the First Afghan War against the British from 1839 to 1842, is the way of Afghan guerilla warfare: wait, observe, probe, swarm.

Then the Taliban will be back in Kabul.

But they won’t be the Taliban—not the Taliban with whom we went to war in 2001. The Ur Taliban are dead and gone.

The bearded fighters to whom the Trump Administration has turned over the future of Afghanistan are not your father’s Taliban. South Asia experts call these fellows the “Neo Taliban.” Formerly based in the former Tribal Areas of Waziristan in western Pakistan along the Afghan border, Afghanistan’s Neo Taliban are a pastiche of radical volunteers and recruits from jihadi hot spots throughout Asia: Kashmir, the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, eastern Iran and Pakistan proper. Many of these young men were orphans of the refugee camps and madrassas that sprung up around the Afghan diaspora of the 1990s and post-9/11 era. Modern and tech savvy, they carry smartphones to coordinate attacks, often on motorcycles. They earn money from kidnapping and the drug trade.

The original Taliban who ruled 90% of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 were a simpler, indigenous, more homogenous breed. Veterans of the anti-Soviet resistance, they began as vigilantes against bandits and rapists. Befitting the devastated hellscape of the failed state they terrorized with the whip-wielding goons of the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, they were ascetes. When American soldiers entered the abandoned home of Mullah Mohammed Omar, they were surprised to discover that the Taliban head of state had lived modestly, even primitively.

The Neo-Taliban are nominally religious but their primary devotion is to leveraging their power into income. They are far more interested in making money than in policing women’s hijabs. They are not feminists. They would oppress women. But they wouldn’t be as thorough or ruthless as the Taliban of the 1990s.

I returned to Afghanistan nine years after I covered the war for the Voice. The difference was staggering. The U.S. and NATO occupation has radically modernized the nation’s infrastructure.

High-tension power lines run alongside smooth new highways. Conditions remain primitive in the countryside but even smaller cities have electricity most of the day. Formerly ubiquitous donkey carts have been replaced by cars, wells by water pipes, empty skies by billboards advertising soft drinks and candidates for parliament. Stores bustle, homes and big buildings are constantly going up. There are credit cards, banks and ATM machines, guarded by AK-toting private security guards in flak jackets. There are fewer dropped cellphone calls in Afghanistan than in Los Angeles.

If and when they take over, the Neo-Taliban won’t want to destroy this nascent, violence-prone, bustling capitalist state. They will seek to control, protect and tax it.  

Afghanistan under the Neo-Taliban will look something like other Islamic developing nations in the region like Pakistan or Bangladesh. Political and financial corruption will be endemic. Out in the sticks, away from the eyes of the few foreign journalists still in the country, there will still be an occasional stoning. Overall this new regime will be more modern, more corrupt and, to Western eyes, more tolerable than the Taliban who blew up the Buddha statues in Bamiyan.

There still aren’t any Fedex Offices (formerly Kinko’s) in Afghanistan. But there are plenty of cybercafes—and at least one for women only.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie,” updated and expanded for 2020. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Think, Don’t Hoard: How to Survive the End Times

Image result for afghanistan 1999

It feels like the end times. A mysterious invisible killer stocks the land. Wild rumors abound. The government is useless. There’s no sense that anyone knows anything, much less is in charge. Could America become a failed state?

Yes, but not yet. Yes, but not because of coronavirus. Late-stage capitalism will ultimately destroy the current sociopolitical governmental system, not COVID-19. A vaccine will come online either later this year or early next year; that will be the beginning of the end of this scourge. Before then, many if not most Americans will have contracted the disease and recovered from it. Businesses will reopen. People will go back to work. The stock market will resume its climb.

In the meantime, many of us are wondering: how would/will we survive in an apocalyptic scenario without a somewhat benevolent government to run things?

I have good news for you: it is possible. Not easy. Not fun. But it can be done.

I know because I have seen it.

For decades Afghanistan was the epitome of a “failed state,” a nation whose government is no longer able or willing to supply essential services to its citizens. The 1978 CIA-backed overthrow of a Russian-supported regime prompted the Soviet invasion of the 1980s, which was followed after withdrawal by a brutal, grinding civil war partly resolved by the victory of the Taliban in 1996. They ruled until 2001 but didn’t built much infrastructure before being themselves driven out of power by the United States after 9/11. I was there under the Taliban, long before the U.S. and NATO began reconstruction in the mid-2000s.

Afghans were utterly dependent on themselves. Not only did the Taliban government fail to provide services like mail delivery and garbage collection, the Taliban made people’s lives miserable through arbitrary edicts and a psychotic religious police force that beat Afghans in the streets willy-nilly.

Try to imagine, if you can, what it would be like to live in a country that didn’t have a single inch of paved road, just muddy ruts. No one has a phone. There are no newspapers. Radios and televisions are banned, which is fine because you have no electricity and no stations are broadcasting.

Inside your house, there’s no running water. You have to walk to a communal well if you are lucky enough to have one nearby that isn’t polluted. There’s a good chance that a local thug controls the well and forces you to pay for water. It gets blazing hot in the summer, but there’s no air conditioning. It’s freezing cold in the winter but there’s no heat. You could burn some wood but you can’t find any because everyone has already chopped down all the trees.

Under the Taliban you can’t send your daughter to school. But you can’t send your son either because there probably isn’t a local school at all. No one has work as we know it. You exchange odd jobs in a 100% unemployment economy where cash has stopped circulating; everything relies on barter.

There is a certain freedom. Without a public records office you don’t need a deed to move into an empty house. But of course you can’t sell it if you leave. There’s no DMV so if somehow do you acquire a car you can drive it regardless of your age. On the other hand, if someone steals it, there’s no police to report it to.

If you did get that car, you probably would only want to drive it around your neighborhood. If you tried to drive to a different town, you would almost certainly be robbed and killed.

Sounds like it would be impossible to survive, right? But millions of Afghans did. Some of them even had children. Life went on. How? It’s almost unfathomable for us Americans, so accustomed to our creature comforts, to imagine.

Not that they could have afforded to anyway, but Afghans did not hoard. Situations in which survival is precarious require you to be nimble. That includes being able to pack up and leave at a moment’s notice. If you manage to accumulate some possessions, you want something highly portable: cash (in Afghanistan, that meant US dollars), jewelry, gemstones. A year’s worth of toilet paper weighs you down.

I have met more than my fair share of survivalists in the United States. Typically their instinct is to hunker down on a remote plot of land, stockpile weapons and supplies, fortify a perimeter and arm up to fend off potential marauders. They are foolish. When the crap hits the fan, the best armed man will not be able to fight off a dozen invaders. It’s smarter to pack up and go if your area turns into a battle zone.

What you really need to stock up on are two items: personal relationships and IQ points. Both make the difference between life and death.

Good friends welcome one other into their homes. If one home is lost, they can squeeze together into a second one. A good friend might have a skill or a possession that you might need—they can stitch up a wound or drive you somewhere in their car.

You make yourself useful in a failed state by exactly the opposite means you would use in ours. In the United States in 2020, it pays to have excellent skills in one or two areas, to be the best at what you do in your specialty. Not in Afghanistan in 2000. Dangerous places work best for people who are renaissance men and women, those with a wide variety of skills. Learn to do a lot of things fairly well. Shoot a gun, drive a car, cook, sew. Translate a foreign language, ride a motorcycle, fish, hunt. You can sell those skills to people who don’t have them.

Most of all, stay sharp and think nimbly. Hone your instincts. Watch for changes that might affect you and the people you care about. Prepare to drop everything you are doing at a second’s notice and take off if need be. We are all descended from people who lived this way. Those who didn’t died. Survival is in your DNA.

I don’t think you’ll need raw survivalism for the coronavirus apocalypse. But it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind.

 (Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Bernie.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

In Some Weird Countries, Elections Depend Entirely on Religious Fanatics

There is a Civil War between Christian evangelists in the United States over whether or not to support Donald Trump. Some Christians point to his moral degeneracy. Others say that God often works with flawed people. I just wonder, why do we have to care about what these crazy people think?

Remember When Military Veterans Ran on Actual Records of Accomplishment?

He was a difficult personality and his policy toward Native Americans was atrocious, but Andrew Jackson had an actual record of military accomplishment when he ran for president. No one could argue that Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t ready for the presidency when he ran. Dwight Eisenhower led the biggest naval armada in human history and played a crucial role in defeating Adolf Hitler. JFK is experience as the captain of the PT 109 during World War II was a legendary example of grace, courage and leadership under terrible circumstances. Now Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, who by all accounts never experienced combat, is bragging about his desk work in Afghanistan to convince us to vote for him.