Saturday 23rd of October 2021

key negotiations...



















Senate Passes $1 Trillion Infrastructure Bill, Handing Biden a Bipartisan Win

The approval came after months of negotiations and despite deficit concerns, reflecting an appetite in both parties for the long-awaited spending package.


WASHINGTON — The Senate gave overwhelming bipartisan approval on Tuesday to a $1 trillion infrastructure bill to rebuild the nation’s deteriorating roads and bridges and fund new climate resilience and broadband initiatives, delivering a key component of President Biden’s agenda.

The vote, 69 to 30, was uncommonly bipartisan. The yes votes included Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and 18 others from his party who shrugged off increasingly shrill efforts by former President Donald J. Trump to derail it.

“This historic investment in infrastructure is what I believe you, the American people, want, what you’ve been asking for for a long, long time,” Mr. Biden said from the White House as he thanked Republicans for showing “a lot of courage.”

Mr. McConnell, who publicly declared that his priority was stopping the Biden agenda, said in a statement that “I was proud to support today’s historic bipartisan infrastructure deal and prove that both sides of the political aisle can still come together around common-sense solutions.”

The measure faces a potentially rocky and time-consuming path in the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a majority of the nearly 100-member Progressive Caucus have said they will not vote on it unless and until the Senate passes a separate, even more ambitious $3.5 trillion social policy bill this fall. That could put the infrastructure bill on hold for weeks, if not months.

The legislation is, no doubt, substantial on its own. It would be the largest infusion of federal investment into infrastructure projects in more than a decade, touching nearly every facet of the American economy and fortifying the nation’s response to the warming of the planet. Funding for the modernization of the nation’s power grid would reach record levels, as would projects to better manage climate risks. Hundreds of billions of dollars would go to repairing and replacing aging public works projects.

With $550 billion in new federal spending, the measure would provide $65 billion to expand high-speed internet access; $110 billion for roads, bridges and other projects; $25 billion for airports; and the most funding for Amtrak since the passenger rail service was founded in 1971. It would also renew and revamp existing infrastructure and transportation programs set to expire at the end of September.

Its success, painstakingly negotiated largely by a group of Republican and Democratic senators in consultation with White House officials, is a vindication of Mr. Biden’s belief that a bipartisan compromise was possible on a priority that has long been shared by both parties — even at a moment of deep political division.

“This is what it looks like when elected leaders take a step toward healing our country’s divisions rather than feeding those very divisions,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat of Arizona and a key negotiator, said before the bill’s passage.

Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said that “everyone involved in this effort can be proud of what this body is achieving today — the Senate is doing its job.”


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"debt is good"...


The sixth IPCC assessment report makes it clear that dealing properly with climate change will require a whole new approach to government deficits and debt.

Not only do we have to get emissions down to net zero before 2050, we will also have to extract a lot of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, using technology that doesn’t really exist.

That’s going to be enormously expensive, and governments in advanced nations will have to do most of it.


And they start with about $US60 trillion ($82 trillion) in debt because of the pandemic, which has cost about $US17 trillion ($23 trillion) in less than 18 months.

The good news is that the new approach needed has been well tested in the laboratory of the pandemic: The cost of it has been funded by central banks printing money and buying second-hand government debt, including in Australia.

It’s true that they haven’t provided fresh cash directly to government treasuries, but the quantitative easing, as they call it, has oiled the machinery of government financing.

For example, the Australian government has raised $173.1 billion in new debt since March 2020 over 117 auctions averaging $1.48 billion each, and now has $829.4 billion worth of debt securities on issue.

Bids at those auctions totalled $751.8 billion, so the government could have raised four times what it did.

Why so much bidding? Because the Reserve Bank was standing outside the “auction room” buying the paper second hand.

It is still buying $5 billion a week, which is a lot more than the government is selling at the moment.

That’s been happening all over the world: The cost of the pandemic to the world’s governments is estimated by the IMF at $US16 trillion ($22 trillion); separately, central banks have printed about $US17 trillion ($23 trillion) to buy second-hand government debt.


Call it what you like – quantitative easing, Modern Monetary Theory, debt monetisation or just monetary policy – without it, the money to fund the pandemic response would have been harder to raise and more expensive.

Demonisation of debt and deficit

Global warming will cost many times the cost of the pandemic, whether we’re talking about preventing it or paying the price of not preventing it.

Given the need for quantitative easing to fund the cheaper pandemic, it’s obvious that confronting climate change, and paying developing countries to join the effort, can only be funded if central banks stand behind governments to an even greater extent.

So the RBA and other central banks have a central role in the lead up to the Glasgow climate change conference in November.

They should now make a public commitment of their own to keep quantitative easing going indefinitely, so governments can raise the money to save the planet at bearable interest rates.

Yes, it might be inflationary, probably will be in fact, but reading the latest IPCC assessment report, it’s pretty clear that inflation will be the least of our problems.

This week, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce expressed the reason central banks need to do this now: “What is the cost? Tell me the cost.”

This has long been the key blockage to emissions reduction.

It’s true that opposing action on climate change has been a rewarding crusade for conservatives, both in politics and the media, for three decades: They successfully turned scientific consensus into a political debate, paralysing policy.

But apart from cynical greed and ambition, of which there has been plenty, the genuine problem has been the demonising of government debt and distrust of government that has been the maypoles around which conservatives have danced for decades.

‘Whatever it takes’ mode

A massive expansion of the public sector is now inevitable and there will be very large budget deficits and an even bigger rise in government debt than we’ve ever seen, including in wartime.

The private sector simply can’t do the bulk of it, despite the rapidly growing voluntary carbon market and plenty of solid ESG (environment, social, governance) effort by companies and large investors, not to mention household rooftop solar.

If a serious effort to keep warming to 1.5 degrees results from the IPCC’s sixth assessment report, it will have to be led by government regulation and spending.

That especially applies in Australia because of its reliance on fossil fuel exports, and especially in Queensland and New South Wales.

It’s clear that the Australian coal industry will have to be shut down, either by government decree or lack of sales, so large parts of Queensland and NSW will become wastelands without government support.

But when governments think about supporting regions and people that lose their livelihoods, or investing in the new infrastructure needed, they shouldn’t have to worry about the political cost of deficits and debt.

The world must move to “whatever it takes” mode, and that means unlimited government bank accounts.



Alan Kohler writes twice a week for The New Daily. He is also editor in chief of Eureka Report and finance presenter on ABC news


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(I think I could smell a bit of irony in Alan's column...)



infrastructure week...

Welcome to your weekly run-down of all the big news, strange rules and interesting happenings from the world of US politics.

Two pretty remarkable things happened on Capitol Hill this week.

First, the four-year joke of "Infrastructure Week" came to an end (a gag even the President acknowledged).

And second, a bill that'd been the subject of months of tricky negotiations between Democrats and Republicans arrived on the Senate floor — and passed in an overwhelming display of bipartisanship.


(see toon at top)


Yep, Joe Biden's $US1 trillion ($1.355 trillion) infrastructure bill — a key election promise — finally became a reality. Kind of.

We'll get to the fascinating political implications and ripples for all of this, but we really can't overlook the real-world impacts the bill has for hundreds of millions of Americans.

The huge bill includes funding for:

  • Roads and bridges
  • Rail, both passenger and freight
  • Water infrastructure
  • Rebuilding power grids
  • Expanding internet access
  • Constructing electric vehicle charging stations

Some of the weirder areas it touches on include more tax regulations on crypto currencies and efforts to make it easier to transport blood.

But back to those implications and ripples.

A total of 19 Republicans voted in favour of the infrastructure bill, and it got a whopping 69 votes in the 100-vote Senate.


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And please stop laughing...


Read from top again...



bigger debt is better...

Senate Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion budget resolution early Wednesday morning that would vastly expand the social safety net, increase taxes on the rich and corporations, improve worker rights and include measures to combat the climate crisis. The budget blueprint passed 50-49, less than 24 hours after a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill was approved 69-30 in the Senate. Both spending packages now go to the House of Representatives, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she will not bring the bipartisan bill to the House floor unless the reconciliation bill is considered at the same time. California Congressmember Ro Khanna calls the budget bill “a historic piece of legislation” that marks “the end of neoliberalism” in the United States. “It is a major investment in the American people,” Khanna says.

TranscriptThis is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The Democrat-controlled Senate has approved a $3.5 trillion budget framework along party lines. The final vote took place at 4 a.m. Eastern time this morning in Washington. It came less than a day after 19 Republicans joined Democrats on passing a separate $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes $550 billion in new money to help repair roads and bridges, invest in public transit, expand broadband, and more.

Senate Democrats are hoping to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the larger package, but they can only do that if every Democratic senator supports it. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema has already expressed opposition to the price tag. Both spending packages now go to the House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated she will not bring the bipartisan bill to the House floor unless the reconciliation bill is also considered at the same time.

On Tuesday, Senator Bernie Sanders urged his colleagues to support the $3.5 trillion budget package, which would help expand the nation’s social safety net.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: This legislation will not only provide enormous support, unprecedented in recent American history, to the children in our country, to the parents in our country, to the elderly people in our country, to the working families of our country, but it will also, I hope, restore the faith of the American people in the belief that we can have a government that works for all of us, and not just the few.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by Ro Khanna, Democratic congressmember from California.

Congressmember, welcome back to Democracy Now! In our next segment, we’re going to be talking to you about Afghanistan, but this happened in the last hours, two major infrastructure bills — $1.2 trillion, then $3.5 trillion by reconciliation. It’s hard to understand. Explain both and what happens next.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, Amy, Senator Sanders is absolutely right. This is a historic piece of legislation that marks, frankly, the end of neoliberalism, that has governed America for the last four decades. It is a major investment in the American people. This will have child care being universal. It will have community college for everyone. It will expand Medicare to include dental, vision, hearing. It will mark the largest investment in tackling the climate crisis, with massive investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. And it will have significant investment in infrastructure, including improving our broadband, replacing lead pipes and upgrading our roads, bridges and airports. It’s an extraordinary piece of legislation, and we need to pass it through both the House and Senate as is.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Congressman, first, though, about the infrastructure bill, it is considerably smaller than what the president wanted to, about a fifth in terms of new money, and a lot of the stuff was scaled back — for lead pipes, $15 billion, when — removal of lead pipes, when the president originally wanted $45 billion, and most estimates are that it will take $60 billion. So, this is really a down payment on a much bigger problem when it comes to infrastructure. I’m wondering your sense: Was it worth it to go through this bipartisan process to get such a whittled-down, hard infrastructure bill?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, first, let’s see what they add in the reconciliation. I agree with you that the infrastructure bill was whittled down. It didn’t have enough for lead pipes. It has nothing for climate. It doesn’t have enough for broadband. My hope is some of that funding will be restored in the reconciliation bill, and especially the reconciliation bill as we write it through the House.

The reason that we had to go through the bipartisan process to get the reconciliation bill is we wouldn’t get 50 votes for the reconciliation bill if we hadn’t had to do the bipartisan process. So, you’re right to point out the flaws of the bipartisan bill. It’s why the Progressive Caucus has been clear that the reconciliation bill has to pass for us to support the bipartisan bill. The bipartisan bill is inadequate. But if we get the reconciliation bill, which I believe is one of the best bills in modern American history in making the investments we need, then it is worth supporting the inadequate bipartisan bill.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of getting that reconciliation bill through the Senate, your sense, at this point, of where those key lawmakers — Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — are standing right now?

REP. RO KHANNA: My sense is that they will ultimately vote for it, because if one or two senators reject it, they are, at the point, literally rejecting the president’s entire agenda. It’s important to note that the reconciliation bill is not Bernie Sanders’ or Elizabeth Warren’s agenda, it is Joe Biden’s agenda. Everything in that bill is something that President Biden ran on.

So the question for every United States senator is actually very simple: Do you believe we should have the Mitt Romney agenda, which is basically the bipartisan deal, or do you think Joe Biden, who was elected president of the United States, is entitled to his agenda? If you believe we should have the Joe Biden agenda, I don’t see how you vote no on the reconciliation package, once the House sends it there.

AMY GOODMAN: But what’s going to happen with the Senate, with Sinema and Manchin, on the $3.5 trillion, which is more than infrastructure — a complete social safety net on the scale of FDR?

REP. RO KHANNA: As I said, that is Joe Biden’s agenda. That plan, that $3.5 trillion, is directly from what the White House proposed. It’s directly from what President Biden ran on. I just don’t see how any senator votes against it, once push comes to shove. Sure, they may right now be making noise about things that they want to see differently, but as long as we stick to the fact that the $3.5 trillion already represents a compromise — as you remember, Bernie Sanders started out at $6 trillion — and that the $3.5 trillion doesn’t have a single thing in there that President Biden didn’t propose or run on, I am confident that we will not have a United States senator, on our side, vote against this president’s agenda.

AMY GOODMAN: Ro Khanna, we want you to stay with us, a congressmember from California. After break, we’re going to look at what’s happening in Afghanistan, as the Taliban, just this morning, seized the ninth provincial capital, as the U.S. troops, most of them, leave. Stay with us.


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 Note: Joe Biden HAS NO AGENDA. He does what the teleprompter tells him to... Then forgets.


Read from top (see toon).



FUBAR moment...


President Joe Biden and his inner circle were in an ebullient mood.

It was Wednesday morning, Aug. 11, and they were basking in the glow of back-to-back legislative wins. The day before, the Senate had passed a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. And in the early hours of Wednesday morning, they witnessed the advancement of a $3.5 trillion framework to finance Democrats’ social agenda.

Watching the Senate vote tally in front of a television screen in the president’s private dining room, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris pumped their fists in triumph. The linchpin of their domestic agenda had begun to fall into place.


Biden was looking forward to his summer vacation set to begin in a few days, including some downtime at Camp David and at his house near the beach in Delaware. Meanwhile, many senior and mid-level West Wing staffers were also prepping for some time off, setting their “out of office” email replies. “It’s a ghost town,” a White House official said, describing the scene in the West Wing.

But as the White House was taking a giant victory lap over its domestic accomplishments, a disaster was looming on the other side of the world in Afghanistan.

This account of five chaotic days in the middle of August is based on interviews with 33 U.S. officials and lawmakers, many of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive internal discussions.

By Wednesday morning — dusk in Central Asia — the Afghan government’s already brittle control of the war-torn country was quickly unraveling in the face of a swift Taliban offensive coinciding with the nearly complete withdrawal of U.S. troops that Biden ordered in April.


A few days earlier, the militant group had seized the provincial capital of Zaranj, the first of many to fall in a blitzkrieg that stunned American officials with its speed and ferocity.

Most of America’s top diplomats and generals were still operating under the assumption that they had ample time to prepare for a Taliban takeover of the country — it might even be a couple of years until the group was in position to regain power, many thought. Though some military officials and intelligence agencies had stepped up their warnings about the possibility of a government collapse, officials felt confident in the Afghan security forces’ strategy of consolidating in the cities to defend the urban population centers.

And just hours earlier, Biden publicly expressed hope that the Taliban would be held at bay by the Afghan army. “I think there’s still a possibility,” he told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. (A month earlier, Biden said a complete Taliban takeover was “highly unlikely.”)

Then, on Wednesday, Afghan security forces largely abandoned the provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan and Farah to the Taliban’s guerrilla army. While other areas of the country had already fallen, it was clear the pace was picking up.

The president and his top aides still had one more meeting scheduled for Wednesday evening — a pre-planned session on a classified national security matter. As word of the deteriorating situation flowed into the Oval Office that morning, Biden ordered that the early evening meeting should focus on Afghanistan.


Biden’s national security team had already held dozens of meetings on Afghanistan. But this secret meeting, held in the White House Situation Room, the secure operations center in the basement of the West Wing, was coming at a crucial time.

Sitting around the large conference table were Harris; Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin; Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Mark Milley; Vice Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. John Hyten; national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his deputy Jon Finer; Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines; Chief of Staff Ron Klain; Deputy CIA Director David Cohen; Liz Sherwood Randall, the president’s homeland security adviser; and other White House and national security staff. Secretary of State Antony Blinken participated by phone.

The mood was dramatically different from the celebratory spirit on display just hours earlier in the dining room. “It was a serious moment,” recalled a senior official.

Events were growing so dire that the president ordered Austin and Milley to prepare a plan for deploying additional troops to the region, where they would reinforce those put on standby months earlier to evacuate American personnel.

Austin had grown so alarmed that he had already called the first of what was to become twice-daily meetings on Afghanistan in the Pentagon’s third-floor secure video conference room, known as the secretary’s “cables.” The department’s top civilian and military leaders attended; other top brass, such as Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, and Rear Adm. Pete Vasely, the commander of forces on the ground in Afghanistan, called in via secure video.

In the Situation Room, Biden also directed the State Department to expand the evacuation of Afghan allies — those who had worked with the Americans and were now in mortal danger — to include the use of military aircraft, not just chartered civilian planes. The president had already been coming under heavy scrutiny in Congress over the slow pace of evacuations for Afghans who served as interpreters and translators for the U.S. military during the 20-year conflict.

Biden also asked his intelligence officials to prepare an up-to-date assessment on the situation in Afghanistan by the following morning.

After the meeting broke up, a classified email was sent to pertinent staffers to convene at 7:30 a.m. the next day. The email went out so late that the Situation Room staff also started calling those aides to make sure they would be on time Thursday morning.

“I remember how groggy everyone sounded,” recalled an official as Biden’s national security Cabinet gathered early Thursday morning. The sun had risen only an hour or so earlier, but the Situation Room — the windowless operations center deep below the West Wing — was already humming with activity.


Sullivan, the national security adviser, was there with other White House staff, while Cabinet members participated via secure hookups.

The principals meeting kicked off with an intelligence briefing concluding that the situation was so “fluid” that the Afghan government’s seat of power in Kabul could fall “within weeks or days,” the official noted.

That was a far cry from the assessments officials were relying on just days earlier that estimated a Taliban takeover would take months, or even up to two years, following the withdrawal of American and NATO troops. As recently as Aug. 8, McKenzie sent Austin a new, more pessimistic estimate: that Kabul could be isolated within 30 days.

“It was a pretty sobering meeting,” the official said. “We thought we had months ahead of us to draw down the embassy and do processing and relocation.”


But by Thursday morning in Washington, more population centers were falling to the Taliban by the hour, including the provincial capitals of Ghazni and Badghis.

In the Situation Room, Austin was now recommending that Biden send in troops to evacuate the embassy and protect the main international airport in Kabul. Sullivan asked each Cabinet member in the meeting to weigh in. They unanimously agreed.

That was the “oh, shit” moment, said the U.S. official. It was now officially a crisis.

Sullivan walked into the Oval Office just before 10 a.m. to report to the president. Biden picked up the phone and told Austin to send in the prepositioned troops.

Across Washington, Congress was also growing increasingly alarmed by the deteriorating situation. In some cases, lawmakers took it upon themselves to learn more about what was happening, absent guidance from the Biden administration.

A day earlier, as the Senate shifted to an hours-long, overnight series of votes on a top domestic agenda item for Biden, senators spearheading the effort were pulled out of meetings and off of the Senate floor where they were briefed on disturbing reports coming out of Afghanistan. Some of those terrifying stories and images began to emerge in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, when senators remained on the floor past 4 a.m.

One of the few lawmakers actively talking about the Afghanistan developments at the time was Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a longtime advocate for withdrawing U.S. troops. He had taken to the Senate floor on Tuesday to pre-emptively defend Biden and assert that the Taliban’s surge was in fact a reason to stay the course with the pullout.

“The complete, utter failure of the Afghan National Army, absent our hand-holding, to defend their country is a blistering indictment of a failed 20-year strategy predicated on the belief that billions of U.S taxpayer dollars could create an effective, democratic central government in a nation that has never had one,” Murphy said.

Lawmakers began discussing the Taliban’s gains among themselves on the Senate floor late into Wednesday, but neither party allowed it to overshadow their economic policy efforts.

Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), the first Green Beret to serve in Congress and one of the earliest and loudest voices pushing for evacuations of Afghan allies, was in constant communication with officials tied to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Even as the Taliban were taking huge swaths of territory by Wednesday, Waltz said Afghan forces believed “they could turn it around” as long as the U.S. kept providing air support.

That support wasn’t enough as the Afghan military laid down their arms en masse. In an interview, Waltz described the tepid air support as “putting a band-aid on a sucking chest wound.”


Later on Thursday, around lunchtime, a White House official called Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees, to provide an update on the deteriorating situation.

Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, was among a bipartisan group of lawmakers that had been urging the Biden administration for months to move faster to evacuate Afghans who assisted the U.S. war effort.

Both Crow and Waltz believed by then that, absent a dramatic acceleration of the evacuations, it was unlikely that the U.S. would be able to safely take every American and Afghan ally out of the country before Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline.

By Thursday evening, the Pentagon announced that 3,000 additional troops were being rushed in to secure Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and help get the remaining Americans, as well as Afghan and NATO allies, safely out of the country.

“Kabul is not right now in an imminent threat environment, but clearly ... if you just look at what the Taliban has been doing, you can see that they are trying to isolate,” Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

Biden had weeks earlier approved all of Austin’s recommendations to position naval assets and thousands of troops in the region in case of an evacuation, including the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and three infantry battalions.

But almost immediately, it became clear it wouldn’t be enough.

Brad Israel, a former Green Beret who served multiple tours in Afghanistan, received a frantic email on Thursday evening from his former Afghan interpreter.

The day before, the man was forced to flee Kandahar after the Taliban burned down his house — including destroying the documentary proof of his application for asylum in the U.S. — and executed his brother.

Israel emailed the address listed on the State Department website to find out how his friend could resubmit his visa application, only for the message to bounce back: “The recipient's mailbox is full and can’t accept messages now.” A State Department spokesperson did not respond to a request to explain why.

The U.S. diplomatic effort to manage an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan was also falling apart.

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul had concluded on Friday that they had no choice but to shutter America’s diplomatic outpost. They directed personnel to immediately begin the “emergency destruction” of all sensitive documents and materials.

That included incinerating American flags and other U.S. government logos “which could be misused in propaganda efforts,” according to a memo issued to embassy personnel. And, according to Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), passports of Afghan citizens who had applied for American visas were among the documents burned — making it almost impossible to identify them as they seek to leave the country in the coming days.


Back in Washington, Tracy Jacobson, head of the State Department’s Afghanistan Task Force, briefed Crow by phone on the administration’s planned response.

Crow headed to a sensitive compartmentalized information facility located in the basement of the Capitol, where he reviewed the latest secret intelligence reports from Kabul.

Congressional leaders were also keeping close tabs on the situation. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told radio host Hugh Hewitt this week that he was in touch with military leaders who were “blindsided.”

Weeks earlier, the U.S. military had abandoned Bagram Air Base, long the beating heart of American operations in Afghanistan. With just a few thousand troops left behind, Pentagon officials made the decision that they could not keep the sprawling facility secure while defending the embassy and the Kabul airport.

Plans called instead for using helicopters to ferry Americans from the embassy compound in central Kabul to Hamid Karzai International Airport, a few miles away, rather than risk getting bogged down or ambushed in the Afghan capital’s clogged traffic. It would mean risking exactly the kind of chaotic scenes Biden had vowed would not happen — indelible, Saigon-style images of America in retreat.

“By Friday afternoon, it was clear to me that we were rapidly losing control of the situation at the capital, in the airport, and that the evacuation operation was in jeopardy,” Crow said.

He was also told that the Pentagon was “going to rapidly ramp up the evacuation in terms of the quantity of folks, but also who they were looking at evacuating as well.”

But that meant deciding which Americans and Afghan allies who were stuck in Kabul should get evacuated first.

The Pentagon didn’t have a comprehensive list of Afghans who worked alongside the U.S. during the war. Officials were still compiling a “priority list” of interpreters to evacuate.

That was despite repeated warnings, including a bipartisan plea to Biden in early June expressing growing concern “that you have not yet directed the Department of Defense be mobilized as part of a concrete and workable whole-of-government plan to protect our Afghan partners."

Meanwhile on the ground in Afghanistan, Vasely was in direct contact with Ghani or his staff almost every day. Austin and Blinken also spoke with Ghani, but he gave no indication that he was going to abruptly leave the country.

“He represented himself as willing to stay and fight,” one defense official said.

That promise proved to be short-lived.

By Saturday, the National Military Command Center, the highly secure global operations center below the Pentagon, was getting slammed with message traffic.

The latest domino to fall to the Taliban was the northern commercial hub of Mazar-e-Sharif. It was becoming clear that Kabul was next. Seasoned military officers expressed disbelief that the Afghan forces appeared ready to give up their capital city without a fight.

“Email was blowing up left and right [with people saying] ‘Wow, this is actually happening right now,’” a defense official said. “This thing just fell apart over the weekend.”

Pentagon officials were realizing far too late that the Taliban had waged an effective influence campaign in addition to the physical one, taking advantage of tribal dynamics to build ties with village elders and others who played key roles in the group’s mostly bloodless march across the country.


At the same time, the U.S. military had fewer than 2,500 troops left — not enough to understand just how fast the Afghan national army’s morale and cohesion was crumbling.

“No one was surprised that they folded like a deck of cards, but just the speed of it — it just evaporated,” the official said.


Another defense official wrote at the top of his notebook entry for the day: “Fall of Kabul.”

In light of the deteriorating situation, Biden that morning had approved Austin’s recommendation to dispatch another 1,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to help evacuate personnel from Kabul. Two more battalions were on their way to the region to stage in Kuwait as a ready reserve.

Biden was still at Camp David, dressed in khakis and a polo shirt and accompanied only by a few more junior aides. In a lengthy statement, he announced the troop movements and other steps the administration was scrambling to make, then pivoted to a thumping defense of his withdrawal decision.

“I was the fourth president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan — two Republicans, two Democrats,” he said. “I would not, and will not, pass this war onto a fifth.”


By Sunday Aug. 15, Austin, Milley, and their staffs held hastily arranged phone calls with lawmakers to discuss the situation.

During one such call, military officials reported that a key Ghani ally, the deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament, had defected to become the Taliban’s police chief in Kabul.

“That’s when we knew it was really FUBAR,” one senior Democratic aide said, using the military acronym for “fouled up beyond all recognition.”

Milley also warned lawmakers that with the Taliban ascendant, so was the threat that al Qaeda, the Islamic State and other terrorist groups seeking to attack the U.S. might once again be able to plot from Afghan territory.


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