We begin with an editorial from the Hindustan Times.
After the end of the Soviet Union, during the unipolar moment — of United States (US) hegemony — the doctrine of humanitarian intervention picked up. This was based on the notion that sovereignty was not sacred, and that if a regime was involved in human rights violations, the international community was within its rights to intervene in a particular country. This principle was picked up by two different streams of thought. The first were the neo-conservatives who, during George W Bush’s era, argued that promoting democracy and enabling regime change was a legitimate extension of humanitarian intervention. The second were liberal internationalists who extended the principle to evolve a doctrine of the responsibility to protect (R2P) — if a State failed to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, then other states could take timely, collective and decisive action.
To be sure, as many states including India had suspected, this principle — either under the pretext of humanitarian interventions, counterterrorism, R2P, or democracy- promotion — was used for strategic purposes by Western states. Interventions were often a function of the power balance that existed at the time; they were also driven by the military-industrial complex, and served ideological and commercial interests. But in itself, the idea that no regime could use sovereignty as an excuse to harm its own population marked an evolution in norms.
The fall of Afghanistan may well have eroded the entire architecture of Western interventions. If the US, as Joe Biden’s speech defending the withdrawal on Monday indicated yet again, is not willing to step up to protect minority, women and human rights, and can leave Afghans at the mercy of a brutal regime which has a record of rights violations, it will be hard for Washington to justify its intervention elsewhere in the future on these principles. The rise of China has already added a protective buffer to authoritarian regimes. This does not mean that interventions won’t happen in the future — they will, dictated by narrow State interests, as has always happened. But the abrupt end of an invasion meant to counter terror, create a democratic political order and protect human rights may have ended up eroding the political, moral and legal argument for such interventions itself. The possible dilution of global military interventions is positive. But if it emboldens despotic regimes, like the one taking over Kabul, the world is headed for more turbulent times.
Sujan R Chinoy/Indian Express
The US has expended much treasure, and shed much blood, over the last two decades. The original trigger for the US military intervention in Afghanistan was the 9/11 attacks. The objective then was to eliminate the al Qaeda sanctuaries hosted by the Taliban. That goal was quickly attained, as was another one — the elimination of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2011.
The US was thereafter sucked into a vortex in which its mission oscillated between counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. Even under four consecutive Presidents, US policy towards Afghanistan remained in flux. The military presence in Afghanistan has been questioned by the US political firmament for a decade. The US has long been searching for an honourable exit. Meanwhile, the trillions of dollars pouring into Afghanistan into development and reconstruction programmes had led to vested interests in the form of private security contractors, service providers and NGOs.
Today, the rise of China is the main geo-strategic threat for the US. In 2001, the US had taken its eye off the ball in diverting its attention to the global war on terror. Beginning with Afghanistan, it meandered through Iraq, Libya and Syria, with mixed results.
Vikas Pandey/BBC News Delhi
The Taliban’s rout is likely to cause a significant shift in the geopolitics of South Asia, and it could be particularly testing for India, given the country’s historically tense relations and border disputes with Pakistan and China – both are expected to play a crucial role in Afghanistan’s future.
Pakistan shares a porous border with Afghanistan and has long been an active player in its northern neighbour’s affairs. Now China is showing an interest in playing a bigger role in Afghanistan. Foreign minister Wang Yi’s meeting with senior Taliban leaders last month shows Beijing doesn’t want to be a silent player anymore.
This potential geopolitical realignment could “change things upside down”, said Gautam Mukhopadhaya, India’s former ambassador to Afghanistan and Syria.
Afghanistan was a loose alliance between the democratic government in Kabul, the West and other democracies like India. But the world is likely to see Pakistan, Russia, Iran and China coming together to play the next chapter of the Great Game.
Helen Branswell of STATnews reports that some scientists are “baffled” and even angry about the Biden administration’s decision on booster shots for COVID-19.
The government’s top public health officials on Wednesday pointed to data showing that the mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are no longer protecting as well against mild and moderate Covid-19 infections as evidence that “could” signal a decline in protection against serious disease.
But “could is not a very strong word … especially to make a policy decision on,” Norman Baylor, president and CEO of Biologics Consulting and a former head of the FDA’s Office of Vaccines, told STAT.
Anna Durbin, a vaccines researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said the vaccines continue to be highly effective in preventing hospitalizations, severe infections, and deaths among most vaccinees.
That they may not work as well over time in preventing mild illnesses among those vaccinated isn’t necessarily a sign the vaccines are failing, said Durbin, who insisted that people are going to need to accept that fact. “We cannot keep [boosting] and say: ‘We’re going to prevent colds in everybody,’ ” she said.
Meanwhile, Alyssa Lukpat of The New York Times is reporting that Alabama has run out of ICU beds.
I.C.U. beds are filling up across Southern states, and Alabama is one of the first to run out. The Alabama Hospital Association said on Wednesday night that there were “negative 29” I.C.U. beds available in the state, meaning there were more than two dozen people being forced to wait in emergency rooms for an open I.C.U. bed.
The situation has grown desperate in Alabama, one of several states reporting a wave of cases driven by the highly contagious Delta variant and low vaccination rates.
Last week, at least two hospitals in Houston were so overwhelmed with virus patients that officials erected overflow tents outside. Elsewhere in Texas, in Austin, hospitals were nearly out of beds in their intensive care units. And in San Antonio, cases reached levels not seen in months, with children as young as 2 months old tethered to supplemental oxygen.
Maudlyne Ihejirika of the Chicago Sun-Times writes about a harrowing experience with an unvaccinated medical worker.
Halfway through a 45-minute procedure at Northshore University HealthSystem — with a medical tech touching me, leaning in inches from my face, engaging in animated conversation, one thin mask to my two thick ones — I found out she wasn’t vaccinated.
Splayed on the examining table frozen in terror, the remainder of the visit was hell.
I asked her why. She responded it was just her choice.
I lay there in fear and silence as she chatted away. When she finally — mercifully — left, I was shaking. I reamed the doctor who came in behind her. He empathized, apologized.
“Are you vaccinated?” I demanded. He confirmed he was. I called NorthShore the next day.
Jim Anthony, senior director of public relations, apologized for my horrible experience.
Marianna Sotomayor of The Washington Post wonders if and how freshman Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri can integrate her activist background with other necessary skills to become an effective legislator.
The controversy over the defunding movement encapsulates the challenge facing Bush, 45, as she attempts to bring her activist background and style to the legislative realm in service of poor communities, like those found in her St. Louis-based district, which she says Congress has long neglected or actively discriminated against for decades.
When should an activist’s zeal give way to a legislator’s finesse or the search for compromise and the best deal possible?
Her recent protest from the Capitol steps of the Biden administration’s decision to allow a pandemic-era eviction moratorium to expire is credited with pressuring the White House to reverse itself and keep the order in place, and it garnered her national attention.
In coming weeks, Bush and a group of her like-minded colleagues who joined Congress in the past two elections — often referred to as “the Squad” — will be tested on whether they can make their mark legislatively by wielding the leverage Democrats’ thin majority gives them on issues such as expanding the social safety [net], putting restrictions on policing, homelessness and domestic violence.
Rachel Oswald writes for Roll Call that political polarization is affecting one policy area where a number of Democrats and Republicans do agree: China.
In a time of deep political polarization, the two parties have attempted to forge a bipartisan consensus about how to better compete with, and even contain, China in the military, trade, research and development, and global influence realms.
But despite progress in developing a bipartisan approach to help guide U.S.-China policy through new administrations and changes in power on Capitol Hill for years to come, lawmakers this year have been unable to resist scoring partisan political points and posturing for voters.
In fact, lawmakers opting to place short-term partisan electoral goals above a carefully calibrated and long-term strategic posture toward China risk jeopardizing the whole effort, according to interviews with longtime China watchers.
An example has been the parallel efforts in the House and Senate this year to pass comprehensive China policy bills. Although the Senate in June easily passed a sweeping measure aimed at boosting U.S. technological and diplomatic competitiveness vis-a-vis China, the prospects for a similarly bipartisan measure in the House appear dim.
As more tremors struck Haiti, Joe Hernandez of NPR reports that “fatigue” for the survivors of multiple crises in Haiti simply is not an option.
As eager as Haitian Americans and Haitians in the diaspora may be to marshal resources for those suffering in the Caribbean nation, it seems almost impossible to keep up with the pace of disasters befalling Haiti. Some people have developed what they call “Haiti fatigue,” a loss of compassion in response to the mounting crises.
But for others who are literally fatigued from the constant churn of Haiti relief efforts, the work never stops — not even when one recovery effort is interrupted by another catastrophe.
“There’s really no room — or really no time — to address fatigue right now, because there’s so much to be done and people need so much. You’re talking about people who are still under the rubble, people who are still sleeping in the streets since Saturday,” said Elsie Saint-Louis, executive director of Haitian-Americans United for Progress, based in New York City.
“The country needs us. It’s our home. We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to support the people who are there,” she added.
Christina Habel and Christoph Huber report for Der Spiegel that Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has been pursuing a particular response to European Union sanctions against Belarus.
For months, the dictator in Minsk has been allowing migrants with tourist visas to fly into the Belarusian capital before helping them on their journey westward. It is his response to the sanctions that the European Union has implemented against his government. The pressure has been felt most acutely by the neighboring country of Lithuania.
The EU member state’s border guards have already intercepted 4,100 refugees this year. That may not sound like much, but the small country, with just 2.8 million inhabitants, is having trouble coping. Last year, Vilnius recorded a total of just 81 asylum-seekers.
Lithuania declared a state of emergency in July as a result of the influx, and there are now soldiers manning the border along with officials from the European border patrol agency Frontex. They have reinforced sections of the border with fencing and are also guarding the refugee camps.
I said to watch the story of China’s feud with Lithuania over Taiwan’s opening of a “de facto embassy” in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
And now Lukashenko may have a new source of refugees to “dump” across the border of a NATO ally?
Tim Flannery of The New Statesman announces that we now live in an age of “megafires.”
This summer across the Northern Hemisphere, from the Greek island of Evia to south-western Turkey, California to Russia, large numbers of people are confronting the fire-beast close-up. Some have already lost their lives, and many, many more their homes and economic security. Sadly, those people are in the vanguard of a great global change, for while there have always been forest fires, the blazes are becoming larger, the fire season longer, and the burns more damaging almost everywhere. That’s because climate change has altered, in a fundamental way, the nature of wildfires.
That alteration has its origins in subtle shifts that have played out over decades, slowly building until thresholds are crossed and fire itself is transformed. We often miss seeing the subtle changes because we’re desperate to find someone to blame, and so search for an arsonist rather than the conditions that made the fire inevitable. But the sparks that light fires – whether they be dropped cigarette butts or lightning bolts – are regular occurrences. They only result in forest fires if the nearby vegetation is dried and cured into fire-fuel.
As they gauge the coming fire season, firefighters have learned to look not only at the weather forecasts, but at the forests themselves. Greater warmth means that the vegetation requires more water, and to get it trees suck moisture from the soil. When the soil is dry, the tree canopy wilts, and the shrubs and grass grow brittle. Even in mild conditions, such changes put firefighters on alert: they know that they are only one hot, windy day away from potential catastrophe.
Finally this morning, the Angry Grammarian, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, (ahem!) exclaims his disappointment at Jeopardy!
I don’t like shouting, and I didn’t want to emphasize that sentence with an exclamation point. I really didn’t. But you had a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and you blew it with a disastrous decision.
While changing the host, you kept Jeopardy!’s exclamation point. That means I just had to ram an innocent, hardworking apostrophe with an italicized exclamation point — something no one should be forced to do.
Cycling through 16 guest hosts in a made-for-TV audition, you were bound to upset someone.
But you could have made everyone happy — and softened the blow of picking a totally forgettable dude-burger to host the most vaunted franchise on television — by doinking that unnecessary punctuation mark off your logo.
Instead, Jeopardy! remains, exclamation intact. Awkward and horrible.
Everyone have a great day!