Today's D Brief: Sept. 11, at 20; 9/11, on film; Afghanistan’s last holdouts; Biden, Xi talk; And a bit more.
Twenty years after the 9/11 attacks, the United States remains in a state of “national emergency” because of those very attacks. That’s according to the letter every president has sent to the speaker of the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate every year since 2001, and now that includes 2021.
“The terrorist threat that led to the declaration on September 14, 2001, of a national emergency continues,” President Joe Biden said in his letter, which was released Thursday by the White House.
Americans are still assessing the consequences and the “far-reaching, controversial and even harmful decisions made in the aftermath of the attacks — the vast expansion of the surveillance state; covert operations to kill or capture suspected terrorists, and in some cases torture them; and the invasion first of Afghanistan, where the attacks were planned, and then Iraq, where they were not,” as Politico’s Bryan Bender and Daniel Lippman write.
The U.S. response bore “two crucial triumphs,” in author Garrett Graff’s estimation, writing in The Atlantic: Osama bin Laden was eventually killed and al-Qaeda never again attacked the American homeland. But, Graff writes, “I cannot escape this sad conclusion: The United States—as both a government and a nation—got nearly everything about our response wrong, on the big issues and the little ones.” He writes that “by almost any other measure, the War on Terror has weakened the nation—leaving Americans more afraid, less free, more morally compromised, and more alone in the world. A day that initially created an unparalleled sense of unity among Americans has become the backdrop for ever-widening political polarization.” Read his argument, via Defense One, here.
When more than a dozen of the “architects” of the post-9/11 world were asked to reflect, Michael Chertoff, who would become the second secretary of one of 9/11’s organizational children, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told Politico that he now wishes the country had “taken a deep breath.”
Calculating the costs of the 9/11 wars has been a long-term project of Brown University, which offers both in-depth analysis and briefer bullet points:
- More than 929,000 people have been killed in the wars, and several times that many in “the reverberating effects of war.”
- More than 387,000 civilians have been killed.
- The U.S. has spent more than $8 trillion. Much more, here.
Extra reading: The New York Times asked 12 students from a dozen countries to explain how they were taught about the 9/11 attacks, including “the event and its aftermath — and what has been left out.” Find that, here.
From Jessica Chastain in “Zero Dark Thirty” to Adam Sandler in “Reign Over Me,” here’s a list of seven movies worth watching about the 9/11 attacks, via the Council on Foreign Relations’ James Lindsay, Margaret Gach and Leila Marhamati.
Our favorite GWOT documentary: “The Battle for Marjah,” (now on YouTube) from British journalist Ben Anderson, who followed Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment for two months during early 2010 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. That’s nearly 90 minutes of highly-recommended viewing for U.S. policymakers of all ages.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, “20 years later, we’re still talking past each other,” said James Miervaldis, chairman of No One Left Behind, which is racing to help Afghan refugees who are still trying to flee the country. Miervaldis is one of several who spoke to the Washington Post about some of the obstacles in the way of evacuating remaining Americans and vulnerable Afghans.
One hold-up: “When the Americans say, ‘immediate family,’ that’s your spouse and your children. From an Afghan point of view, immediate family means spouse, children, sister, cousin, brothers; it’s a much larger definition,” Miervaldis told WaPo’s Karoun Demirjian. Read on, here.
One seemingly positive development: “White House approves partnership with vets evacuating U.S. citizens, Afghan allies,” Politico reported Thursday.
One last thing: How long can the resistance in Afghanistan’s Panjshir valley hold out against the encircling Taliban? Frud Bezhan of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty reports that fighting is continuing. “Thousands of residents in Panjshir evicted from their homes in villages and towns,” Bezhand tweets. “Taliban using homes as shelter, cover, and points from which to fire at resistance fighters. Growing reports of Taliban rounding up men — elderly and underage boys — and killing civilians.”
From Defense One
Army Chief Calls for Afghanistan Review: ‘Let the Cards Fall Where They Fall’ // Kevin Baron and Elizabeth Howe: McConville says lessons must be learned because “terrorism is not going away.”
One in Three Women in Air Force, Space Force Have Experienced Sexual Harassment // Tara Copp: Inspector general investigation into gender, race disparities also found minorities, women far less likely to hold leadership posts.
US Afghanistan Withdrawal Becomes Ammo For Disinformation Attacks // Jacqueline Feldscher: Adversaries are trying to make Lithuania doubt America’s commitment to its NATO partner.
Army Chief: We’re Not Pushing Critical Race Theory // Elizabeth Howe: “What we’re trying to build is teams where everyone treats everyone with respect,” McConville said.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 2013, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a televised address that he'd chosen to pursue diplomacy in Syria instead of a military response to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons amid a growing civil war. Almost exactly two years later, Russia began sending thousands of troops and equipment into Syria to bolster the Assad regime, which continued using chemical weapons for several more years.
SecDef Austin welcomes his Philippine counterpart to the Pentagon this afternoon. Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana’s visit comes two days after he flagged the need to review defense ties in the face of so-called “gray zone” threats posed by Chinese fishing fleets. Lorenzana made his case during an event marking the 70th anniversary of the countries' mutual defense treaty at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington, D.C.
“Some questions being asked in Manila are, do we still need the MDT? Should we amend it?” Lorenzana said Wednesday. “What is clear is that we need a comprehensive review of our alliance.”
Background: “Lorenzana's remarks came after Duterte in July restored a pact governing movement of U.S. troops in and out of the country, something strategically vital for American efforts to counter China,” Reuters reports. That same month, “U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated a warning to China that an attack on Philippine armed forces in the South China Sea would trigger the mutual defense treaty.”
Presidents Biden and Xi spoke for the first time in seven months on Thursday, and stock futures as well as oil and metal prices all rose Friday on news of the 90-minute call, according to the Wall Street Journal.
It was a frank chat, according to the White House’s readout, which said, “The two leaders had a broad, strategic discussion in which they discussed areas where our interests converge, and areas where our interests, values, and perspectives diverge...This discussion, as President Biden made clear, was part of the United States’ ongoing effort to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the PRC.” Biden also “discussed the responsibility of both nations to ensure competition does not veer into conflict.”
According to China, “Biden noted that the world is changing fast,” the Embassy in Washington said in its readout of the call. Otherwise, Xi cited a Chinese poem and is largely alleged to have spent his time encouraging positive relations in the future—including vague “coordination and cooperation on climate change, COVID-19 response and economic recovery as well as on major international and regional issues.”
By the way: “The official Chinese readout of the call between Messrs. Biden and Xi explicitly mentioned the term climate change three times,” the Journal noted, “saying cooperation on this matter was possible and could advance as long as both sides respected each other’s concerns and managed their differences.
- Don’t miss our recent podcast on the challenges posed by climate change, including some ways the U.S. could more smartly compete with China when it comes to climate change.
And lastly this week: The White House is hoping to vaccinate 80 million more Americans, or about two-thirds of U.S. workers, with new federal mandates President Biden announced Thursday.
That includes a new vaccine mandate affecting all federal workers “without an option for those who prefer to be regularly tested instead,” the Washington Post reports.
Why now? “The highly contagious Delta variant that I began to warn America about back in July spread in late summer like it did in other countries before us,” Biden said in televised remarks Thursday. However, “despite the fact that for almost five months free vaccines have been available in 80,000 different locations, we still have nearly 80 million Americans who have failed to get the shot.”
The unvaccinated are “blocking public health,” Biden said. “We cannot allow these actions to stand in the way of protecting the large majority of Americans who have done their part and want to get back to life as normal.”
And so the Department of Labor “is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees, that together employ over 80 million workers, to ensure their workforces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week,” Biden said. “Some of the biggest companies are already requiring this: United Airlines, Disney, Tysons Food, and even Fox News.”
Bigger picture: “Biden’s New Vaccine Push Is a Fight for the U.S. Economy,” the New York Times reports.
FWIW: “Half of American workers are in favor of vaccine requirements at their workplaces,” AP reported Thursday, and noted those numbers have been rising, especially after “the Food and Drug Administration’s full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.”
Have a safe weekend. And we’ll see you again on Monday!