The 20-year war
Administration officials made it known on Tuesday that President Joe Biden, like Donald Trump before him, wants U.S. forces out of Afghanistan, and the key difference is when.
Trump had set a May 1 pullout deadline under a peace agreement his administration reached with the Taliban last year that U.S. commanders say the religious militia has failed to honor by continuing attacks on Afghan government forces. But Biden's exit date for U.S. troops is Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the diabolical terrorist attacks on America that killed almost 3,000 people outright — thousands more died later of related illnesses — and were coordinated from al-Qaida havens in Afghanistan.
Biden’s choice of the 9/11 date underscores the reason that American troops were in Afghanistan to begin with — to prevent extremist terrorist groups like al-Qaida from establishing a foothold again that could be used to launch attacks against the U.S., writes The Associated Press.
Biden will explain his decision to Americans on Wednesday afternoon, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. She said during a White House briefing that Biden "has been consistent in his view that there is not a military solution to Afghanistan, that we have been there for far too long." The conflict has killed more than 2,200 U.S. troops, wounded 20,000 and cost as much as $1 trillion. More than 3,000 U.S. troops are still there.
An administration official said Biden decided that the deadline had to be absolute, rather than based on the situation on the ground, because a conditional withdrawal would be "a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever."
Biden's decision drew a mix of praise and criticism from both sides of the aisle in Congress. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a "grave mistake," as well as a "retreat in the face of an enemy that has not yet been vanquished and abdication of American leadership." But Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said, "I’m glad the troops are coming home."
Most Democrats said they supported Biden's desire to finally wind down the longest war in U.S. history. "While our withdrawal comes years late, President Biden recognizes the reality that our continued presence there does not make the U.S. or the world safer," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. But some said they were concerned about losing hard-fought gains in Afghanistan. "The U.S. has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave w/o verifiable assurances of a secure future," tweeted Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
Janison: It's about time
Biden's promise of an Afghanistan withdrawal by Sept. 11 works politically, and symbolically, for the moment, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
The date will mark 20 years since al-Qaida’s 2001 attacks on the U.S., which drew American troops in pursuit. Keeping forces in our longest war even longer than another five months would seal its fate as a "forever" war, against the wishes of most Americans.
Biden's invocation of Sept. 11 prods the memory of a largely forgotten piece of bizarre Trump symbolism. In 2019, Trump announced retroactively that he’d planned to host the Taliban at Camp David for secret talks the week of 9/11 that year, but militant atrocities kiboshed the arrangement.
Even now, the governmental status quo in Afghanistan looks far from stable. In that nation's cities, factions including the central government, the Taliban, separate militias and criminal networks are lethally slugging it out. For a long time, most violence was in the countryside.
Johnson & Johnson administration stand-down
Federal health agencies on Tuesday recommended a "pause" in the use of Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine while they investigate any causal links between the inoculations and six cases of recipients who developed a "rare and severe" type of blood clot. More than 6.8 million J&J doses have gone into arms in the United States.
The Food and Drug Administration's acting commissioner, Janet Woodcock, said at a news conference: "COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority. We expect it to be a matter of days for this pause." A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention committee will meet Wednesday to discuss the six cases.
Authorities stressed they have found no sign of clot problems with the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. — those from Moderna and Pfizer. Even without J&J’s vaccine, White House officials said they remain on track to have enough supplies to vaccinate most American adults by the summer. But there is concern the Johnson & Johnson news could spook people who are vacillating about getting vaccinated at all.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said appointments for Johnson & Johnson vaccines at New York State-run mass vaccination sites will be honored, but with the Pfizer version. For more on the vaccine developments, including local impacts, see the story by Newsday's staff reporters, written by David Olson.
Side effect: Hallucinations at Mar-a-Lago
Trump invented a conspiracy theory behind the government's recommendation on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccinations. As he spun it out, it turned out to be ultimately about himself.
In Trump's imagination, unmoored by any evidence, Pfizer collaborated with the FDA to besmirch the reputation of J&J's "extraordinary" shots.
"[The FDA] should not be able to do such damage for possibly political reasons, or maybe because their friends at Pfizer have suggested it," said Trump's statement from his Save America PAC. He went on to baselessly accuse Pfizer and the FDA of hurting his presidential campaign with the timing of the approval of the first U.S. coronavirus vaccine last November.
"Remember, it was the FDA working with Pfizer, who announced the vaccine approval two days after the 2020 presidential election," he said in his Tuesday statement. He accused Pfizer of holding a grudge against him: "They didn’t like me very much because I pushed them extremely hard."
Biden's 'killer' proposition
Biden proposed a potential meeting "in the coming months" with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a call between the two leaders on Tuesday, suggesting it be held in a third country. There was no word whether Putin got back to him on that.
Shortly after talking to Biden, Putin called Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, according to the Kremlin. Finland was the venue for several meetings of Russian and U.S. leaders.
Biden, who irritated the Russians by referring to Putin as a "killer" in an interview last month, urged Putin to "de-escalate tensions" following a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border. Biden also told Putin the U.S. would "act firmly in defense of its national interests" regarding Russian cyber intrusions and election interference, according to the White House.
It was one of several topics raised during the conversation, according to the U.S. readout. The White House said Biden "emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity" amid rising tensions between Kyiv and Moscow.
Putin has repeatedly brushed off calls by U.S. officials to cease provocations on Ukraine’s border and on other issues. Still, the White House said that holding talks can be useful.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Bart Jones and Matthew Chayes. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited Biden to give his first speech to a joint session of Congress on April 28, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. The White House said that Biden accepted.
- Biden eulogized fallen Capitol Police Officer William "Billy" Evans, who died of injuries after a car-ramming attack at a security checkpoint earlier this month, at a memorial service in the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday. Looking intently upon Evans’ widow and two young children as he spoke, Biden said Evans "was defined by his dignity, his decency, his loyalty and his courage."
- Defying Republicans who say they should stay out of it, leaders of major corporations have stepped up their efforts in recent days to oppose restrictive election laws and defend voting rights, with Texas looming as the next battleground, The New York Times reports. Georgia, scene of the last fight, lost a major film project as Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua pulled production of their runaway-slave drama "Emancipation" from the state over its recently enacted voting law.
- The Senate in an 82-15 vote Tuesday confirmed former New York City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg as deputy transportation secretary, the federal agency's No. 2 spot. Trottenberg is a strong supporter of the long-delayed Gateway rail project to alleviate congestion between New York and New Jersey. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said last month "she's dedicated to helping us get Gateway done."
- A bipartisan effort is underway to amend Democrats' anti-hate crime legislation in the Senate and pass a bill, Politico reports. The measure is aimed at addressing a spike in hate incidents against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. McConnell said, "As a proud husband of an Asian American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem."
- Former House Speaker John Boehner, who has been on a book tour bemoaning the Trumpification of the Republican Party, said he voted for Trump in 2020 because he agreed with his policy views more than Biden's. Would he vote for Trump again if he ran in 2024? Boehner told CNN he hopes he doesn’t "have that option."
- The Democratic Party’s top pollsters acknowledged on Tuesday that they "failed to live up to" their own expectations in their polling of the 2020 elections, saying that "major errors" led them to believe that Democrats would have a better Election Day than what eventually materialized. They also said they haven't quite figured out why they got it wrong.