Live Updates: Biden’s Push to End the War in Afghanistan Caps Years of Frustration

view original post
Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

President Biden on Wednesday afternoon will detail his decision to pull all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, a move rooted in his belief that there is no room for continuing 20 years of failed efforts to remake that country, especially at a moment when he wants the United States focused on a transformational economic and social agenda at home and other fast-evolving threats from abroad.

Though Mr. Biden would never use the term, getting out of Afghanistan is part of his own version of “America First,” one that differs drastically from how his predecessor, Donald J. Trump, used the phrase. His years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and as vice president convinced him that the United States-led effort in Afghanistan was destined to collapse of its own weight.

Time and again during the Obama administration, Mr. Biden lost arguments to reduce the American presence to a minimal counterterrorism force. But after less than three months as president, Mr. Biden came to the determination that only a full withdrawal — with no link to political conditions on the ground — would wrench America’s attention away from the conflict of the past two decades in favor of the very different kinds he expects in the next two.

Mr. Biden’s approach carries clear risks. The annual worldwide threat assessment published by his intelligence chiefs on Tuesday morning, as word of his decision leaked, explicitly warned that “the Afghan government will struggle to hold the Taliban at bay” if the American-led coalition withdraws. Administration officials said that raised the specter of something akin to the 1975 fall of Saigon, after the United States gave up on another ill-considered war.

But Mr. Biden’s decision makes clear his belief that contending with a rising China takes precedence over the idea that with just a few more years in Afghanistan, and a few more billions of dollars, the United States could achieve with a few thousand troops what it could not achieve with hundreds of thousands and the more than $2 trillion already poured into two decades of warfighting and nation building.

When historians look back at this moment, they may conclude Mr. Biden’s decision was predestined.

The place is not called the Graveyard of Empires for nothing: The British pulled out in 1842, after an expedition their textbooks call the “disaster in Afghanistan,” and the Soviets in 1989, after a decade of death and frustration. What Soviet leaders learned in a decade, four American presidents learned over the span of two.

In short, Mr. Biden is declaring that war is over — no matter what, and even though the United States is leaving with most of its goals unmet, and Afghanistan’s stability deeply in jeopardy. If there is no terrorist attack launched from Afghan territory again, no echo of Sep. 11, 2001, Mr. Biden may well have been judged to have made the right bet.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The nation’s top intelligence officials will face a congressional panel on Wednesday for the first time in two years to discuss global threats faced by the United States, fielding questions on China, Russia, Iran and more.

Lawmakers are likely to question them on rising tensions between Iran and Israel, Russia’s buildup of forces on Ukraine’s borders and the prospects for continued violence in Afghanistan now that President Biden has decided to pull out troops by September.

The intelligence community’s annual threat assessment report released ahead of the hearing emphasized the growing challenge of China and the continuing threat from Russia, though it acknowledged that both powers wanted to avoid direct confrontation with the United States.

Avril B. Haines, the director of national intelligence, will be joined at the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing by four other agency directors: William J. Burns of the C.I.A., Christopher A. Wray of the F.B.I., Gen. Paul M. Nakasone of the National Security Agency and Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Both Russia and China have been blamed for conducting cyberoperations that compromised broad swaths of the software supply chain. Lawmakers could press the intelligence officials on the Russian hacking, which penetrated nine federal agencies, and another by China that compromised Microsoft Exchange servers. The Biden administration is expected to respond to the Russian hacking soon.

The report released on Tuesday offered the Biden administration some breathing space on Iran, assessing that Tehran had not made progress on developing a nuclear weapon. Its prognosis on Afghanistan, however, was grim, suggesting the Taliban would make gains on the battlefield and that a peace deal was unlikely.

The intelligence officials are also expected to analyze the global strains caused by the coronavirus, including attempts by American adversaries to take advantage of the disruption.

Biden administration officials have emphasized that they want the intelligence agencies to take a wider view of threats, and the officials are expected to discuss the impacts of climate change on national security. The report released Tuesday linked surges in migration to both the pandemic and climate change.

During Ms. Haines’ confirmation hearing days after the Jan. 6 riot, lawmakers asked repeated questions about the threat of domestic terrorism. Intelligence agencies are limited in the information they can collect about Americans, but with Mr. Wray present, senators may get a fuller answer about how the F.B.I. is working with other agencies on the problem.

The last time the nation’s intelligence chiefs testified before Congress was in early 2019, when they contradicted President Donald J. Trump’s rosier public statements, prompting Mr. Trump to criticize his appointees publicly, telling them to “go back to school.” The following year, Mr. Trump’s last director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, chose not to release a threat assessment or testify before Congress.

Credit…Kenny Holston for The New York Times

A new report by the Capitol Police’s internal watchdog found that department leaders overlooked key intelligence in the run-up to the riot on Jan. 6, including a warning that “Congress itself is the target,” and barred the force’s riot response unit from using its most powerful crowd-control measures.

The 104-page document is the most searing portrait yet of the lapses and miscalculations around the most violent attack on the Capitol in two centuries.

Michael A. Bolton, the Capitol Police’s inspector general, classified the report as “law enforcement sensitive” and has not released it to the public. But The New York Times reviewed a copy before his testimony to the House Administration Committee, scheduled for Thursday.

Here are the highlights.

Capitol Police leaders ignored or overlooked intelligence reports warning of attacks on lawmakers.

The department’s own intelligence unit, which monitors potential threats, warned three days before the riot that supporters of President Donald J. Trump, motivated by his false election fraud claims, were targeting Congress and could become violent.

“Unlike previous postelection protests, the targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counterprotesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th,” said a threat assessment from Jan. 3.

But Mr. Bolton found that when an operations plan was written two days later, leaders included that there were “no specific known threats related to the joint session of Congress.” His report blames dysfunction within the Capitol Police for the omission.

Department leaders ordered a special crowd-control unit not to use its most powerful nonlethal weapons.

The report catalogs several problems related to the force’s civil disturbance unit, a group of officers who contain large crowds and protests.

The problems were compounded when department leadership directed the unit not to use some of its most powerful crowd-control tools — such as stun grenades — that rank-and-file officers later said they believed would have helped fight the crowds that eventually overtook them and broke into the building.

“Heavier less-lethal weapons,” Mr. Bolton wrote, “were not used that day because of orders from leadership.”

Officers responded with defective protective equipment.

Elsewhere in the report, the inspector general found that officers responding on Jan. 6 had been outfitted with protective shields that had been stored in a trailer without climate control and “shattered upon impact.”

In another case, officers frantic for something to protect them could not use their shields during the siege because they were locked on a bus.

Luke Broadwater contributed reporting.

Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

Even before President Biden took office, some of his closest aides were focused on a question that risked derailing his economic agenda: Would his plans for a $1.9 trillion economic rescue package and additional government spending overheat the economy and fuel runaway inflation?

To find the answer, a close circle of advisers now working at the White House and the Treasury Department projected the behaviors of shoppers, employers, stock traders and others, if Mr. Biden’s plans succeeded. Officials as senior as Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, pored over the analyses in video calls and in-person meetings, looking for any hint that Mr. Biden’s plans could generate sustained price increases that could hamstring family budgets. It never appeared.

Those efforts convinced Mr. Biden’s team that there is little risk of inflation spiraling out of the Federal Reserve’s control — an outcome that Wall Street analysts, a few prominent Republicans and even liberal economists like Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary, have said could flow from the trillions being pumped into the economy.

Traditional readings of price increases are beginning to turn upward as the recovery accelerates. On Tuesday, the Consumer Price Index rose 0.6 percent, its fastest monthly increase in more than a decade, while a less volatile index excluding food and energy rose a more muted 0.3 percent.

But Mr. Biden’s advisers believe any price spike is likely to be temporary and not harmful, essentially a one-time event stemming from the unique nature of a pandemic recession that ruptured supply chains and continues to depress activity in key economic sectors like restaurant dining and tourism.

Credit…Pool photo by Amr Alfiky

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday invited President Biden to speak at a joint session of Congress on April 28, which the president accepted, according to a White House official.

Ms. Pelosi, a Democrat from California, said in the letter addressed to the White House that the invitation would allow Mr. Biden to talk about the “challenges and opportunities of this historic moment.”

Presidents traditionally address a joint session of Congress, not an official State of the Union, in their inauguration year.

Mr. Biden took office on Jan. 20 pledging to unite a divided America and begin to heal the social and economic devastation wrought by the spread of the coronavirus.

After signing a $1.9 trillion stimulus package last month, he is now trying to build support for his $2 trillion infrastructure plan that is intended to bolster the U.S. economy by funding the construction of everything from roads to high-speed internet networks, while also addressing climate change and racial inequities.

But other challenges remain, including a surge of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and the spread of dangerous new variants of the virus throughout the United States.

Ms. Pelosi said the invitation to speak to both chambers of Congress would be an opportunity for Mr. Biden to lay out his vision for the U.S. three months into office.

Earlier this month, Pelosi said that the coronavirus pandemic had forced officials, including medical personnel at the Capitol, to assess safety precautions for attendees before moving forward with the address.

“Nearly 100 days ago, when you took the oath of office, you pledged in a spirit of great hope that ‘Help Is On The Way,’” Ms. Pelosi wrote. “Now, because of your historic and transformative leadership, Help Is Here!”

Credit…Matt Rourke/Associated Press

President Biden on Tuesday announced plans to nominate statistician Robert L. Santos to serve as director of the Census Bureau, according to a memo from the White House.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Santos would be the first person of color to serve as permanent head of the beleaguered agency as it struggles to complete its once-in-a-decade counting of the nation’s population needed for drawing new districts for state legislatures and the House of Representatives.

The position, traditionally a straightforward role, was thrust into the political spotlight over the last two years, largely over the Trump administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question to the census. After the Supreme Court rejected the administration’s reasoning for adding the questions as “contrived,” the administration dropped the effort.

If confirmed, Mr. Santos would take over the position from Steven Dillingham who held the position from 2019 until January, but resigned after questions surfaced about the accuracy of the count. Mr. Dillingham was to serve through the end of the year.

A trained statistician, Mr. Santos has studied U.S. demographics for decades, most recently as a vice president and chief methodologist at the Urban Institute. He also currently serves as president of the American Statistical Association.

In addition to laying plans for the 2030 census, Mr. Santos would also be faced with unscrambling the survey conducted amid a pandemic last year. Without a complete tally, the Census Bureau announced in February that it had pushed back its deadline for releasing the population figures six months to Sept. 30. The delay has the potential to wreak havoc with the 2022 elections, as some states may need to push back candidate filing deadlines and reschedule primaries.

Credit…Dustin Chambers for The New York Times

Republican Party officials in two deeply conservative counties voted to censure Gov. Brian Kemp and two other top party leaders in recent days, a sign that the Georgia governor continues to face grass-roots opposition from loyalists to former President Donald J. Trump, and the possibility of a primary challenge next year.

In Whitfield county, in the northwest corner of the state, Republican officials unanimously voted to condemn Mr. Kemp, saying he “did nothing” to help Mr. Trump after the November election.

“Because of Kemp’s betrayal of President Trump and his high unpopularity with the Trump G.O.P. base, Kemp could end up costing the GOP the governor’s mansion because many Trump supporters have pledged not to vote for Kemp under any circumstances,” reads the resolution, which was adopted by acclimation.

A similar resolution was adopted in Murray County, also in northern Georgia, by a nearly unanimous vote. It was opposed by only three of the dozens of members in attendance. Both counties also voted to censure Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

The resolutions hold no binding power over elected officials. Rather, party officials say their resolutions were intended to send a message to Mr. Kemp and other Republican lawmakers that their jobs may be in jeopardy.

“I’d vote for Mickey Mouse before I would Kemp,” said Tony Abernathy, chairman of the Murray County Republican Party. “I know what I’ve got with Mickey Mouse. A RINO is useless.” RINO is the dismissive acronym for Republican in Name Only.

After infuriating Mr. Trump by resisting his demands to overturn the state’s election results, Mr. Kemp has faced months of attacks, protests and opposition from his party’s base. Conservatives like Mr. Abernathy were particularly frustrated by Mr. Kemp’s refusal to call an election-focused special session of the state House to further probe the results. Mr. Trump has encouraged Republicans to retaliate by sending a hard-right loyalist to oppose Mr. Kemp in the primary next year.

Mr. Kemp and his aides saw a path to redemption within the party in the controversial election bill that the legislature passed last month, which the governor has forcefully defended in dozens of public appearances even as the new law adds new limits to the right to vote in Georgia.

Other resolutions adopted by the counties supported a bill passed in the Republican-controlled Statehouse stripping Delta of a $35 million jet fuel tax break and urged Georgians to boycott Major League Baseball and “woke companies” that criticized the election law.

“The Republican grass roots are angry,” said Debbie Dooley, a conservative activist, who helped distribute drafts of the resolutions and encouraged Trump supporters to attend the local meetings. “These resolutions will let Gov. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Duncan and Secretary of State Raffensperger know we’re going to work against them in the Republican primary next year.”

Credit…Kamil Krzaczynski/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

To federal health officials, asking states on Tuesday to suspend use of the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine until they could investigate six extremely rare but troubling cases of blood clots was an obvious and perhaps unavoidable move.

But where scientists saw prudence, public health officials saw a delicate trade-off: The blood clotting so far appears to affect just one out of every million people injected with the vaccine, and it is not yet clear if the vaccine is the cause. If highlighting the clotting heightens vaccine hesitancy and helps conspiracy theorists, the “pause” could ultimately sicken — and even kill — more people than it saves.

“It’s a messaging nightmare,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, an expert in health risk communications at the N.Y.U. School of Global Public Health. But officials had no other ethical option, she added. “To ignore it would be to seed the growing sentiment that public health officials are lying to the public.”

The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was just beginning to gain traction among doctors and patients after its reputation took a hit from early clinical trials suggesting its protection against the coronavirus was not as strong as that from the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Before Tuesday’s pause, some patients were asking for it by name.

But amid the blizzard of news and social media attention around the pause, those gains may well be lost, especially if the rare blood clotting feeds politically driven conspiracy theorists and naysayers, who seemed to be losing ground as the rate of vaccinations rose.

The problem is explaining relative risk, said Rupali J. Limaye, who studies public health messaging at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She noted that the potential rate of blood clotting in reaction to the vaccine is much smaller than the blood clotting rate for cigarette smokers or for women who use hormonal contraception, although the types of clots differ.

And officials are not “pulling” the vaccine. They are simply asking for a timeout, in effect, to figure out how best to use it.

Vaccinators were already fielding questions from worried patients on Tuesday.

Maulik Joshi, the president and chief executive of Meritus Health in Hagerstown, Md., which has given 50,000 doses of all three vaccines without any reported major reactions, said he had a simple message to calm patients’ fears: “It’s a great thing that they have paused it, and this is science at work.”

Jennifer Steinhauer, Madeleine Ngoand Hailey Fuchs contributed reporting.