When divided government spells legislative gridlock, the Congress still has a critical role to play: oversight.
For once, Congress has retaken its rightful place at the center of the American political world. It has been the talk of Washington recently, displacing even the President as the focus of attention. Unfortunately, it has seen a return to the spotlight not due to some revival of traditional constitutional thought, but instead because it has been an utter circus for the past few weeks.
The election of the Speaker of the House – in the modern era, usually a rote exercise which is decided well in advance of the first ballot – took 15 rounds of voting and dragged out over several days. After this unusually-long process, California Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy was finally elected to lead the lower house of Congress. For nearly a week, the floor of the House resounded with cajoling, negotiating, persuading, conspiring, and arguing. In short, it sounded like a legislature should: fractious, cacophonous, lively. But instead of hearing those proper legislative noises during a floor debate on a serious policy topic, we heard it in relation to internal party infighting and procedural moves. Was the extended election a national security issue, as some claimed? No, but it was embarrassing that the House only got its debate on for such a parochial partisan affair.
Still, the fact that Congress sucked up so much media oxygen during the Speaker fight shows that the Article I branch has at least some political cachet remaining. Despite the divided nature of government – the Republicans tenuously hold the House, while the Democrats tenuously hold the Senate and White House – Congress still has an incredibly important non-legislative role to play: that of oversight. Will the Republican-led House of Representatives embrace that critical responsibility, or will they waste their time and political capital on fruitless investigations into Hunter Biden, social media companies, and woke corporations?
President Biden has a bad habit of deflecting blame and shifting responsibility, something which may come back to haunt his party in November.
“The buck stops here.” This adage, meant to claim ultimate responsibility and declaim ‘passing the buck’, was a fixture of the Harry Truman White House. The President had it emblazoned on a desk sign, putting himself squarely on the top of the decision-making hierarchy and thus taking credit – and blame – for the state of nation at home and abroad. This attitude has been a model for the office ever since, for good and ill. It has (less often than I would like) led to Presidents taking responsibility for the bad choices of their administrations, but it has also helped along a massive expansion of the power of the President to make decrees from the Oval Office. When the two sides of the coin – making executive decisions and claiming responsibility for them – are both present, things can be balanced. When that coin is weighted heavily in the direction of making choices but denying responsibility for them, political disaster tends to ensue. In bad times for the country, that faulty balance becomes even more noticeable, as rhetoric and reality clash. In the current administration, this issue is not just noticeable, but is a siren blaring at full volume.
The humiliation of the United States and the total collapse of Afghanistan will be a disaster for American power for years to come.
Many pundits have compared the current catastrophe in Afghanistan to the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese in 1975. In quite a few respects, those commenters are not wrong, and the similarities are echoed by the images coming out of Kabul today. The photo above is eerily reminiscent of the famed images of a helicopter airlift from the US Embassy in Saigon and videos coming out of the Kabul airport are just as heartbreaking and terrifying as those from South Vietnam almost 50 years ago. Our precipitous withdrawal will lead to thousands of refugees, greater civil violence, and horrible human rights abuses by a totalitarian Islamic dictatorship that sees its mission as forcibly bringing jihad to the entire world.
The case for not abandoning Afghanistan to a brutal fate under the Taliban.
America’s precipitous withdrawal from our combat mission in Afghanistan continues apace. Make no mistake: our rapid evacuation from Afghanistan is an abrogation of our duty, a failure of our will, and a gift to wannabe totalitarians and terrorists across the globe. It is clear that our current administration (and, frankly, the prior two which preceded it) has no conception of America’s permanent interests in Central Asia, and is more than willing to cede our hard won gains of the last 20 years at the altar of temporary political expediency. Our mission in Afghanistan was not only positive for the Afghan people, it was also – when properly conceived and executed – good for America’s long-term national security and geopolitical interests.
Welcome back to the Foreign Telegram, a series of posts in which I touch on some of the most important international stories that you may not have seen on the news. This time around, we’ll be visiting Israel to see how their new government helps debunk so many of the false narratives about the Jewish state, Taiwan to address the escalating Chinese incursions into their airspace, and Afghanistan to see how the precipitous American withdrawal is delivering the country into the hands of an unrepentant terrorist regime, as well as seeing how the Chinese-developed Sinovac vaccine is doing to stop Covid-19 (spoiler alert: not well).