Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:
As structured, the deal holds the U.S. to a sharp timeline for troop drawdowns. The U.S. is pledged to reduce its force level to 8,600 over the coming 135 days. But, if the Taliban conform with its own obligations to suspend attacks and obstruct external terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, the U.S. will follow through, withdrawing all its forces over the next nine and a half months. This adds up to a 14-month timeline for total withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. Such a rapid timeline will encourage our NATO partners to expedite their own drawdowns. It will complicate U.S. commander Gen. Scott Miller's contingency planning and freedom of action.
It is possible that the Taliban and its Haqqani network allies will abide by their obligations in the second half of this agreement. Perhaps they will pursue serious negotiations with the Afghan government, joining the political process with influence instead of trying to tear it down with bombs. But there's reason to fear an alternative outcome. Namely, that the Taliban will wait toward the latter end of the 14-month withdrawal window and then launch a campaign of limited but steadily escalating violence against the Afghan government.
The Taliban is a keen strategist and will want to maximize its leverage for the moment the last U.S. soldier leaves Afghanistan. That will become a critical issue if the Trump administration or its successor refuses to alter the withdrawal timetable, even if the Taliban breaks its word. With U.S. popular opinion increasingly opposed to our continuing presence, there's a risk that political expediency will take precedence over what is best for national security. And there are two risks in that premature, nonconditions-based approach.
First, it would allow the Taliban to realign with its ideological partners, al Qaeda. While the Taliban fight against the Islamic State, the group's affinity with Osama bin Laden's group is long-standing. If the Taliban is able to provide al Qaeda or other transnational jihadists a safe haven, it will do so. Then, we will be back where we were in the months preceding Sept. 11, with threats metastasizing in the absence of our influence. Entertaining that threat would be an intolerably idiotic dereliction of duty.
A premature withdrawal would also jeopardize the Afghan government. While the U.S. should not be operating under some delusion that Afghanistan will become a Western-style democracy, it would be a moral stain for the U.S. to give the Taliban space to defeat the government. In part, that's because Afghanistan's multisectarian society has a manifest majority opinion in opposition to Taliban dominance. But, there's a simpler reason we should want to avoid Kabul's fall: the striking dichotomy of prospective risk and reward.
The risk of that outcome is that the Afghan people and democratic government would be subsumed by a fanatically anti-American regime, a regime that would find institutions of power via which to fuel its jihadist impulses. Alternatively, the prospective reward is that the U.S. retains an ally that will help stabilize a fractious region and that is supportive of our long-term counterterrorism interests. We note with some concern that the U.S.-Taliban agreement makes prisoner release commitments with which the Afghan government is presently uncomfortable.
Trump must learn from President Barack Obama's mistake. Although popular with voters, Obama's withdrawal from Iraq led directly to an Iranian sectarian agenda ruling in Baghdad on the one hand and ISIS's bloody caliphate on the other. Numerous terrorist attacks followed from Paris to Orlando, and U.S. forces were pushed back to the battlefield.
The lesson: Any peace favorable to U.S. interests will require more than words. It will require an attention to circumstances and a dedication to national interests.
The (London) Evening Standard on Britain's handling of the new coronavirus:
The rising number of coronavirus cases in Britain isn’t a surprise: the shocking thing would be if the total didn’t go up. But the increase comes alongside something else.
This is likely to be the moment that what is called “community transmission” starts occurring.
The virus is already likely to be spreading from person to person in parts of the country, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer for England, Chris Whitty, says today.
That means people have started to become infected without having any link to cases abroad — just as happens all the time with ordinary colds and the flu. “I don’t think it is a large amount,” he adds.
But as he warns, a COVID-19 epidemic is now “highly likely” in this country. So we need to prepare to deal with it.
It’s an old rule of politics that laws made in a hurry turn out to be bad ones, but in this case emergency legislation about to be introduced by the Government is absolutely essential and should have Parliament’s full support.
As officials warned yesterday, up to a fifth of people may be off sick at any one time. Travel may become harder. Food supplies will be under greater pressure. Public services will be under strain, and not just the NHS.
So we need to allow things such as video links in court cases to limit the risk of infection; new police powers; changes in schools such as larger class sizes; and a reduction in the red tape required to register a death.
Obviously many of these dramatic changes will be short term. But one thing history teaches us is that big, sudden changes in the way we live can have an unexpected long-term effect.
If more people start working from home, for instance, the habit may stick. Employers who cut back on business travel now may make some of the shift permanent.
We can’t yet know the full effect of the virus. But Britain is about to find out.
The New York Times on how paid sick leave could slow spread of coronavirus:
The Federal Reserve did what it could Tuesday to offset the growing economic impact of the coronavirus by announcing a supersize reduction in its benchmark interest rate — the first time the Fed has acted between its regularly scheduled meetings since the financial crisis in 2008.
But the Fed is ill equipped to limit the effect of a global pandemic alone. Lower interest rates may eventually soothe financial markets and help to hold down borrowing costs, but the Fed can’t speed the reopening of Chinese factories or reverse Facebook’s decision to cancel an annual developers conference that last year brought 5,000 visitors to San Francisco.
“A rate cut will not reduce the rate of infection. It won’t fix a broken supply chain. We get that,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chairman, conceded at a news conference on Tuesday.
The real work falls on the rest of the government. The first step should have been simple: ensuring that testing for the coronavirus was readily available and, better yet, free. But even after weeks of lead time for the virus’s inevitable arrival, access to testing remains woefully inadequate as the domestic death toll rose to nine on Tuesday.
At this point, the crisis also demands unorthodox solutions. To restrict the spread of the coronavirus, the government needs to put limits on commerce. The best way to protect people, and the economy, is to limit economic activity. That is an unfortunate but inescapable truth. Public health officials will need to impose quarantines, businesses will need to cancel meetings. And most of all, the problem now and going forward is making sure that sick workers stay home. That means not forcing employees to choose between penury and working while coughing.
Congress can help by mandating that workers receive paid time off if they fall ill, or if they need to care for an ailing family member. Such a policy is necessary both to impede the spread of the virus and its economic harm. Roughly one-quarter of workers in the private sector — about 32 million people — are not entitled to any paid sick days. Absent legislation, they face a choice between endangering the health of co-workers and customers and calling in sick and losing their wages and perhaps also their jobs.
The current system is practically devised to spread infectious disease. Among the people least likely to have paid sick days, and therefore most likely to work through illness, are low-wage service workers like restaurant employees and home health care aides. (Those workers also are less likely to have health insurance, which compounds the problem.)
Most developed nations require employers to provide some form of paid sick leave, and the United States should do so, too. Some states already mandate sick leave, and a recent study found that the adoption of such laws reduced cases of influenza by 11% in their first year. Whatever the course of the coronavirus, mandatory sick leave for American workers would improve the lives of families and insulate the economy against pandemics.
If Congress cannot bring itself to do the right thing, however, it still could help by mandating sick leave specifically for this coronavirus. A 2013 study of workers in Allegheny County, Pa., estimated that allowing them to take up to two paid “flu days” would have reduced workplace transmission of the flu by roughly 39%.
Employers sometimes argue that sick leave policies encourage malingering. But studies show that even accounting for workers who play hooky, society still benefits.
The government could defray the cost of emergency sick leave for employers, for example by allowing businesses to claim a one-time tax credit. There is also a good case for providing broader help, particularly to smaller companies that cannot easily weather a loss of revenue.
The Italian government, for example, announced Sunday that it would issue tax credits to businesses that reported declines in revenue of 25% or more — in effect shifting the losses from private balance sheets to the government’s balance sheet.
Also seeking to help smaller businesses, the Chinese government has announced that banks can defer the receipt of loan payments from smaller companies that were due during the first half of the year without being required to report such loan payments as overdue. In hard-hit Hubei province, the leniency applies to larger companies, too.
The Trump administration so far has shown little interest in tailored responses. President Trump reacted to the Fed’s announcement by demanding further rate cuts. He has insisted that the United States should have the world’s lowest interest rates; the European Central Bank’s benchmark rate currently sits below zero, at -0.5%.
Mr. Trump also has said that Congress should pass a payroll tax cut.
If the federal government fails to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and the economic outlook darkens, such a broad-based stimulus may well become necessary. But targeted policies — like sick days — are likely to remain the most effective form of response.
The San Diego Union-Tribune on the Democratic presidential nomination race:
Given former Vice President Joe Biden’s decisive wins in a majority of Super Tuesday states, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ impressive victories in California and other states, the fact that the duo duked it out in delegate-rich Texas and abysmal performances by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday, history suggests Biden and Sanders will be the finalists for the Democratic nomination.
In the view of The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board, three things need to happen now to maximize the chance that President Donald Trump is defeated in November. That outcome has never seemed more important because Trump’s response to the deadly COVID-19 outbreak has been nothing short of alarming. For starters, he seems to believe stories about its spread somehow reflect a conspiracy to undermine him. His bizarre appearance on TV on Monday showed just how little he has learned about COVID-19 and its risks. And a stunning report in The New York Times revealed that Defense Secretary Mark Esper — despite his being deeply worried about the safety of U.S. troops overseas — was told “not to make any decisions related to the coronavirus that might surprise the White House or run afoul of President Trump’s messaging.”
Here’s what should happen first: Bloomberg and Warren need to follow in the footsteps of Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar and drop out.
Second? Biden, who has the best shot at beating Trump, needs to finish vetting possible running mates and announce his choice — hopefully by March 17, when Florida, Ohio, Illinois and Arizona have their primaries. As a 77-year-old white man in a party whose vigor increasingly comes from younger multiracial activists with a worldview much different than his, Biden can use this choice to make a statement about what his administration would look like and what values it would reflect.
And third? If Sanders, as seems likely, continues to be a strong challenger, former President Barack Obama should step in — to endorse and campaign for Biden, his vice president for eight years. Yes, as president in 2016, Obama waited until June to endorse Hillary Clinton — when his former secretary of state had won enough delegates to claim the Democratic nomination but before the Washington, D.C., primary had taken place. The circumstances then made that sort of conventional delay seem appropriate. The president never saw any political necessity to give Clinton a primary boost as she took an early lead over Sanders and maintained it. Few pundits thought surprise Republican nominee Donald Trump had much of a chance against Clinton.
Now the stakes are too enormous to risk Trump having as weak a general-election opponent as Sanders. A democratic socialist who has praised Fidel Castro and Cuba off and on over the years, including last month on “60 Minutes,” Sanders carries disturbing parallels to Jeremy Corbyn, the socialist who led Britain’s Labour Party to a lopsided loss to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party in December’s general elections.
Obama can attest better than anyone to Biden’s positive qualities. And while Sanders supporters may try to belittle Obama for being — gasp — a centrist in the White House, he remains an inspiring figure to millions of Americans. Obama can make no better use of this good will than helping defeat an amoral, inept president who seems more worried about what a global health threat does to his re-election campaign than to the American people.
The Los Angles Times on President Donald Trump and immigration:
Immigration was a highly contentious issue in the U.S. long before President Trump took office, but his ascension to power, his predisposition to unilateral action, and his willful ignorance about immigrants and their value to the American economy have made the discussion even more fractious, if that’s possible. The situation is especially fraught because of Trump’s racially framed view of the world, and because Congress is too ineffectual to stand up to him.
In fact, over the last three years, the Trump administration has simply ignored Congress, and in some cases, federal law, to reshape U.S. immigration policy through a series of executive orders, departmental rulings and internal directives. It has been a broad, multipronged assault on decades of U.S. policy that had encouraged immigrants from a cross-section of the world to come to this country. Among those the U.S. had encouraged were aging parents reunifying with their immigrant children, workers with in-demand skills, wealthy entrepreneurs willing to invest their money here, and the lucky — people who won visas in annual lotteries from nations underrepresented in the other immigration categories. And the U.S. lived up to a long-standing commitment to take in refugees from war zones and those who suffer persecution in their home countries.
That has all changed not because of congressional action, but because of congressional inaction. Into the void leapt Trump and his nationalistic minions, who have dramatically redefined the criteria to determine who is allowed to become an American, how they must get here, and where they must come from, and what kinds of reasons are acceptable — all without congressional input. And, in some cases, in flat-out defiance of congressional intent.
Some of the changes have been the subject of high-profile legal challenges, and in some cases, the administration has been rebuffed. But in other cases, the courts have proved willing to let Trump’s policies proceed, creating a miasma of confusion over the government’s actions. Like a massive ground war, the administration’s march against immigration continues.
For example, one of Trump’s signature issues has been his misconceived dream of drastically replacing and extending existing walls and fences along the southern border and, infamously enough, insisting that Mexico pay for it (it hasn’t, and won’t). When Congress refused to provide the funds Trump wanted, he declared a national emergency and ordered the Pentagon to reallocate cash Congress had budgeted for other purposes to boost total wall funding this year to more than $10 billion. That means delayed or canceled purchases of military equipment such as F-35 fighter jets and MQ-9 Reaper drones, and delayed renovations to buildings on military bases deemed hazardous to service members, among other crucial projects. All in defiance of congressional intent, and for an unnecessary wall that will be more useful as a symbol of American isolation and hostility to new arrivals than as a barrier to unauthorized border crossings.
The administration has also effectively sealed off the United States as a haven for the stateless and the persecuted by reducing the number of refugees accepted for resettlement from 110,000 during the last year of the Obama administration to 18,000 in the current year, the lowest cap since Congress approved the refugee resettlement program in 1980. Trump further destabilized the program with an executive order giving local and state governments effective veto power over where refugees are resettled, an unsettling abdication of federal responsibility (currently being challenged in the courts). And he has severely restricted asylum applications by limiting who may apply and forced tens of thousands of people to await decisions on the Mexican side of the border, where many have been brutalized by gangs — the kind of risk they had sought to leave behind. (An appellate court decision on Friday temporarily halted that, but stay tuned.)
Just last week, the president’s new “public charge” rules went into effect, which will in essence slash the number of lower-income and working-class immigrants coming into the U.S. in favor of the wealthy and higher educated, a demographic shift that rights activists says will mean a smaller, richer and whiter pool of immigrants than in recent decades. Again, a decision made by the Trump administration, not Congress. The administration last week also announced the creation of a new denaturalization office in the Justice Department whose mission will be to target for removal people living here legally who the government believes lied on their applications — something the government already does, but dedicating a new office to it sends yet another signal of inhospitality.
And on it goes here in Trumptopia. The president’s core anti-immigrant supporters clearly are getting much of what they wanted from this president. The question is, given the nation’s historic reliance on immigrants for economic growth and innovation, how much worse off are we as a nation because of these policies?
The Wall Street Journal on private medical resources and the coronavirus:
Americans naturally turn to the government when their health or physical security is at risk, but a core U.S. strength is the breadth of its private medical resources. That’s on display now as the government is calling on private actors to buttress the federal response.
On Saturday the Food and Drug Administration said it will allow hundreds of academic hospital labs to begin testing for the coronavirus. The country had relied on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but its testing kits turned out to be faulty. By unleashing academic labs, the U.S. will have the capacity by the end of this week to screen “probably 10,000 people a day,” says Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner who writes for these pages. Within two weeks that should be 20,000 a day, Dr. Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
On Monday President Trump will meet at the White House with executives from the pharmaceutical industry to talk about developing a vaccine and therapeutics that can moderate viral symptoms and save lives. A vaccine might be a year away, but therapeutics could be available within months.
The Bernie Sanders campaign is saying the virus shows how Medicare for All would better serve the country. The opposite is true. By putting government in charge of every health care decision, Medicare for All would eliminate the adaptability of private innovation, which is an American advantage. The Trump Administration is right to exploit it.