When Capitalism undermines Democracy

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

May 26, 2022

All day, I have been coming back to this: How have we arrived at a place where 90% of Americans want to protect our children from gun violence, and yet those who are supposed to represent us in government are unable, or unwilling, to do so?

This is a central problem not just for the issue of gun control, but for our democracy itself. 

It seems that during the Cold War, American leaders came to treat democracy and capitalism as if they were interchangeable. So long as the United States embraced capitalism, by which they meant an economic system in which individuals, rather than the state, owned the means of production, liberal democracy would automatically follow.

That theory seemed justified by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The crumbling of that communist system convinced democratic nations that they had won, they had defeated communism, their system of government would dominate the future. Famously, in 1992, political philosopher Francis Fukuyama wrote that humanity had reached “the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” In the 1990s, America’s leaders believed that the spread of capitalism would turn the world democratic as it delivered to them global dominance, but they talked a lot less about democracy than they did about so-called free markets.

In fact, the apparent success of capitalism actually undercut democracy in the U.S. The end of the Cold War was a gift to those determined to destroy the popular liberal state that had regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and invested in infrastructure since the New Deal. They turned their animosity from the Soviet Union to the majority at home, those they claimed were bringing communism to America. “​​For 40 years conservatives fought a two-front battle against statism, against the Soviet empire abroad and the American left at home,” right-wing operative Grover Norquist said in 1994. “Now the Soviet Union is gone and conservatives can redeploy. And this time, the other team doesn’t have nuclear weapons.”

Republicans cracked down on Democrats trying to preserve the active government that had been in place since the 1930s. Aided by talk radio hosts, they increasingly demonized their domestic political opponents. In the 1990 midterm elections, a political action committee associated with House Republican whip Newt Gingrich gave to Republican candidates a document called “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.” It urged candidates to label Democrats with words like “decay,” “failure,” “crisis,” “pathetic,” “liberal,” “radical,” “corrupt,” and “taxes,” while defining Republicans with words like “opportunity,” “moral,” “courage,” “flag,” “children,” “common sense,” “hard work,” and “freedom.” Gingrich later told the New York Times his goal was “reshaping the entire nation through the news media.” 

Their focus on capitalism undermined American democracy. They objected when the Democrats in 1993 made it easier to register to vote by passing the so-called Motor-Voter Act, permitting voters to register at certain state offices. The next year, losing Republican candidates argued that Democrats had won their elections with “voter fraud.” In 1996, House and Senate Republicans each launched yearlong investigations into what they insisted were problematic elections, one in Louisiana and one in California. Ultimately, they turned up nothing, but keeping the cases in front of the media for a year helped to convince Americans that voter fraud was a serious issue and that Democrats were winning elections thanks to illegal, usually immigrant, voters. 

In 2010 the Supreme Court green-lit the flood of corporate money into our political system with the Citizens’ United decision; in 2013 it gutted the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requiring the Department of Justice to sign off on changes to election laws in some states, prompting a slew of discriminatory voter ID laws. In 2010, REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project) enabled Republicans to take over state legislatures and gerrymander the states dramatically in their own favor. 

At the same time, the rise of a market-based economy in the former Soviet republics made it clear that capitalism and democracy were not interchangeable. An oligarchy rose from the ashes of the USSR, and U.S. leaders embraced the leaders of that new system as allies. That allyship has gone so far that this week, the Conservative Political Action Conference held a conference in Hungary, where leader Viktor Orbán, who was a keynote speaker at the event, has openly rejected democracy. At the conference, he called for the right in the U.S. to join forces with those like him; yesterday, he declared martial law in his country. 

At home, where our focus on free markets has stacked our political system in favor of the Republicans, the vast majority of Americans want reasonable gun laws, reproductive rights, action on climate change, equality before the law, infrastructure funding, and so on, and their representatives are unable to get those things. 

Capitalism, it seems, is also trumping democracy at home.

Beginning The Reckoning

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

May 13, 2022

Today the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol issued subpoenas for testimony to five members of Congress: Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Representatives Scott Perry (R-PA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Mo Brooks (R-AL). The committee previously invited them to cooperate voluntarily, and they refused. The committee has evidence that these five, in particular, know crucial things about the events of January 6 and activities surrounding the attempt to overturn President Joe Biden’s election. 

McCarthy communicated with Trump before, during, and after the attack on January 6th. A recently released tape shows McCarthy claiming that Trump admitted some guilt over the attack.  

Perry tried to install Trump loyalist Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general to overturn the election. 

Jordan was part of meetings and discussions after the election to overturn its results. He also communicated with Trump on January 6th, including in the morning, before the attack took place.

Biggs was part of the planning for January 6, including the plan to bring protesters to Washington, D.C. He also worked to convince state officials that the election was stolen. Former White House officials say Biggs sought a presidential pardon in connection with the attempt to overturn the election results. 

Wearing body armor, Brooks spoke at the January 6 rally, where he told rioters to “start taking down names and kicking ass.” Since then, he has said Trump tried to get him to help “rescind the election of 2020” and put Trump back in the White House.

Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) said: “We urge our colleagues to comply with the law, do their patriotic duty, and cooperate with our investigation as hundreds of other witnesses have done.”

This is an escalation of the committee’s investigation into the attempt to keep Trump in power, and today we learned more about what Trump’s presidency meant for national security.

The Department of Justice has opened a grand jury investigation into the handling of the classified documents that ended up at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors have issued a subpoena to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to get the boxes of documents and have asked to interview people who worked in the White House in the last days of Trump’s presidency. A spokesperson for Trump said: “President Trump consistently handled all documents in accordance with applicable law and regulations. Belated attempts to second-guess that clear fact are politically motivated and misguided.”

We also learned more about the people Trump’s presidency empowered.

The House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis, chaired by Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) and charged with examining waste, fraud, and any other issues relating to the government response to the coronavirus pandemic, issued a report today laying out how meatpacking giants got around local and state health officials trying to protect workers. 

Working with Under Secretary of Food Safety Mindy Brashears at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), who industry lobbyists boasted “hasn’t lost a battle for us,” top executives of JBS, Smithfield, and Tyson asked Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to get Vice President Mike Pence to throw his weight behind keeping workers in the plant. Less than a week later, Pence said at a press conference that meatpacking workers “need…to show up and do your job.” Industry leaders wrote a proposed executive order for Trump to issue, declaring a meat shortage and invoking the Defense Production Act to ensure that the plants continued to operate. Less than a week later, Trump issued a similar executive order.

But there wasn’t actually a shortage. Even as John H. Tyson, chair of Tyson’s board, ran full-page ads in national newspapers warning that “[t]he food supply chain is breaking” and “[o]ur plants must remain operational so we can supply food to our families in America,” U.S. pork exports were at a three-year high.

At the same time, companies asked for federal liability protection against lawsuits if workers got Covid-19 on the job. And they did get sick. Taylor Telford of the Washington Post noted that research from the University of California at Davis showed that about 334,000 coronavirus cases have been tied to meatpacking plants across the country. They have caused more than $11 billion in economic damage. Not, apparently, to the meatpacking companies, however. According to a Reuters story from December 2021, meat packers’ profits jumped 300% during the pandemic.

This story points to a larger problem of the consolidation of food production, a problem we are seeing right now in the acute shortage of baby formula in the U.S., where supplies are 43% below normal. The problem stems primarily from a recall of formula produced by Abbott, the country’s largest producer of infant formula, in its Sturgis, Michigan, factory after Cronobacter bacteria, which can cause a potentially deadly infection in infants, was found in test samples.  

Abbott has had a good run lately: in October 2019 it announced a $3 billion share buyback program to make its stock more valuable. Two years later, last October, a whistleblower warned that the Michigan plant was in need of repair, and claimed that Abbott had falsified records and hidden information from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Four months later, in February 2022, the FDA warned consumers not to use products from that facility. It is now closed, and other companies are scrambling to make up the difference. Today the administration announced it would increase imports of baby formula until U.S. production comes back to normal levels. 

It sure feels like we are beginning the reckoning of forty years of decisions, decisions that have concentrated power in a small minority and that have finally led us to the place where a congressional committee wants to talk with five members of Congress to hear what they know about the attempt to overturn an election so a Democratic president could not take office.   

Republican Minority Leader McCarthy: “The country is too crazy … this is serious sh*t”

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

April 27, 2022

Last night, New York Times reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin released more of the audio recording of Republican leadership that they obtained in the process of writing their forthcoming book. This recording features a conversation among the House leadership on January 10, 2021. In it, the two top Republicans in the House of Representatives—House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and House minority whip Steve Scalise (R-LA)—agreed that the Trump loyalists calling out other Republicans as “anti-Trump” were endangering lives, including that of the third-top House Republican at the time, Liz Cheney (R-WY), who was also on the call. 

McCarthy noted that Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH) had just sent him a recent tweet from Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) about Cheney and that McCarthy was going to talk to Gaetz to get him to stop. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol,” he said. “These people came prepared with rope, with everything else.” Scalise agreed, saying “it’s potentially illegal what he’s doing.”

McCarthy singled out Representatives Gaetz and Mo Brooks (R-AL) as key culprits, but he and the others on the call also discussed Representatives Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Barry Moore (R-AL). McCarthy said he was going to be talking to those people because “this is serious sh*t,” and they needed “to cut this out.” “The country is too crazy,” he said. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”

And yet, of course, they did not cut it out. Instead, McCarthy did play politics with it. He caved, Cheney lost her position in House leadership, and Gonzalez, once seen as a rising star in the party, announced in September 2021 he would not run for reelection. Gonzalez’s vote to impeach Trump for inciting an insurrection and his support for an investigation into the events of January 6 led Trump supporters to threaten him and his family. In his announcement that he was leaving Congress, Gonzalez called Trump “a cancer for the country.” 

Last night, after news broke of the recording, Gaetz issued a statement saying that McCarthy and Scalise “held views about President Trump and me that they shared on sniveling calls with Liz Cheney, not us. This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders…. While I was protecting President Trump, they were protecting Liz Cheney from criticism…. On the bright side, you no longer have to be a lobbyist with a $5,000 check to know what McCarthy and Scalise really think. You just have to listen to their own words as they disparage Trump and the Republicans in Congress who fight for him.” 

Gaetz is clearly throwing himself entirely behind Trump. Even his language here is like that of the former president. While Gaetz’s political loyalty is part of a larger story, it is also worth remembering that Gaetz is still under investigation for sex trafficking, and two of his associates have pleaded guilty in that case. One admitted to sex trafficking, and the other admitted to drug and fraud charges. Both are cooperating with authorities. Seeing Trump back in power could smooth Gaetz’s potential legal troubles.

Fox News Channel personality Tucker Carlson also went after McCarthy, calling him “a puppet of the Democrats…a man who, in private, turns out sounds like an MSNBC contributor. The chyron under his monologue read: “KEVIN MCCARTHY HATES PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND THIS SHOW.” News broke today that Carlson, who has openly supported Hungary’s rising authoritarian Viktor Orbán, will speak this summer at the Iowa Family Leadership Summit, a gathering traditionally used to launch presidential campaigns. 

Meanwhile, excerpts from that same new book say that early in the morning of January 7, after the January 6 insurrection, then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell told Martin: “I feel exhilarated by the fact that this fellow [Trump] finally, totally discredited himself.” McConnell said of Trump, “He put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” adding, “Couldn’t have happened at a better time.” McConnell vowed to crush the extremist “sons of b*tches… in the primary in ’22.”

And yet now, a year later, the Trump loyalists are running strong, having abandoned the democratic ideology of the U.S. and replaced it with white Christian nationalism. They are embracing the same idea that Russian president Vladimir Putin advances: that the democratic principle of equality is immoral because it does not privilege white, straight, Christian men. They are trying to stop public discussion of race or gender, end the constitutional right to abortion, and center schools around the Christian religion. 

While pro-business Republicans could live with these ideas in the past if it meant getting the economic legislation they wanted, Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Texas governor Greg Abbott have illustrated that the Trump wing of the party has abandoned Republicans’ traditional support for business. DeSantis infuriated Republicans as well as Democrats when he demanded a new—and evidently illegal—law to break up the independent governing zone under which the Walt Disney Company operates in Florida unless Disney stops supporting LGBTQ rights. And Abbott’s recent shutdown of trade to and from Mexico in order to “search” for drugs and undocumented immigrants cost the U.S. an estimated $9 billion in gross domestic product while turning up no drugs or immigrants. 

Meanwhile, 18 House Republicans, led by Jim Jordan (R-OH), warned Twitter that it could be investigated if it didn’t accept an offer from billionaire Elon Musk for its purchase. This is an uncanny echo of the techniques of the Ukrainian leaders who worked for oligarchs: those leaders used “investigations” to punish opponents, just as Trump hoped to do to Hunter Biden in 2019.   

The business Republicans appear finally to be fighting back, at least a little, likely recognizing that the extremes of the Trump loyalists will hurt them with the “suburban” voters they badly need. (By “suburban voters” they usually mean white middle-class voters, although the last census showed that in 2020, about 54% of Black residents within the 100 biggest American metro areas lived not in the cities themselves but in suburban areas.)

This week, they went after Representative Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), in what sure looks like a strategic move to distance the party from the Trump loyalists without actually losing the religious base. Cawthorn’s remarks about being invited to orgies with drugs made headlines a few weeks ago, and he has been embarrassed since by photos of him in lingerie, drinking with women, at a party. Perhaps to distract from that story, Cawthorn tried to take a loaded gun on a plane and was caught—this was the second time he was caught doing this—and then complained that the “political establishment” was out to get him. 

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) called for a “thorough and bipartisan” investigation of Cawthorn’s potential involvement in an insider trading scheme involving the “Let’s Go Brandon” cryptocurrency, which appears to have been a pump-and-dump scheme. (But former president Trump and his son Don, Jr., also promoted the coin, and no one has complained about their participation.) Cawthorn called Tillis a “RINO,” a Republican in Name Only. 

Today, 17 Republicans were the only lawmakers to vote against a House resolution expressing support for Moldova’s democracy. As CNN reporters Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju, and Gabby Orr noted, when Trump loyalists do such a thing, they might be reminding McCarthy of their power to force more concessions on him if he becomes speaker with a small majority, enabling them to move the country in their direction no matter how unpopular they are.

The chaos in the Republican Party inspired Democratic political consultant Tim Hogan to tweet: “At this point I’m willing to believe Kevin McCarthy accidentally turned on a voice memo for the month of January and when he tried to delete it he accidentally forwarded it to the New York Times.”

Trump loyalists are on the ropes – watch for just $49.99!

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

September 8, 2021

Early in the wake of Trump’s presidency, Republican Party lawmakers facing upcoming elections appear to have made the calculation that radicalized Trump voters were vital to their political futures. They seemed to worry that they needed to protect themselves against primary candidates from the right, since primaries are famous for bringing out the strongest partisans. If they could win their primaries, though, they could rely on tradition, gerrymandering, and voter suppression to keep them in office.

So Republicans tried to bury the January 6 insurrection and former president Trump’s role in it. Although both Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called attention to Trump’s responsibility for the attack immediately after it happened, they voted to acquit him of the charge of “incitement of insurrection” placed by the House of Representatives, and either to echo or not to oppose the accusation that the 2020 election was fraudulent.

Republican governors like Greg Abbott in Texas and Ron DeSantis in Florida, both of whom appear to have presidential ambitions, along with Kristi Noem in South Dakota, took strong stands against immigrants who they insisted were invading the country, masks that they claimed were stifling children, and now, in Texas (but soon to spread), against abortion. At the same time, Republican-dominated states dramatically restricted the right to vote.

This calculation is hardly a secret. In Washington state, two Trump-type candidates have recently challenged the popular Republican incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted for the former president’s impeachment. Trump has endorsed one of them, and Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, a Trump loyalist, traveled there this weekend to boost that candidate’s campaign.

Republicans in Texas have swung hard right to rally their white base in a state that is now majority minority. The governor recently directed state police to arrest immigrants believed to have come to America illegally. The Republican legislature has passed, and the Republican governor has signed, a draconian abortion law empowering neighbors to collect $10,000 if they win a lawsuit against anyone who “abets” an abortion after six weeks, before most people know they’re pregnant; a strong voter suppression bill; and a law that permits people to carry guns without a permit.

​​Democratic state Representative Ron Reynolds, vice chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, told the AP’s Will Weissert and Paul J. Weber: “They have to entertain and they have to appease because these are the people that are excited about voting in Republican primaries.”

But the Republicans’ move right was always a political gamble. The fact that politics is getting so frantic suggests it is a gamble they are afraid they are losing.

Far from disappearing, the events of January 6 loom larger every day. On September 4, Jacob Chansley, who then called himself “QAnon Shaman” and was seen in the Senate Chamber on January 6, shirtless, painted, wearing a horned helmet, and carrying a flagpole topped with a spear, pleaded guilty to a felony. He could face 41 to 51 months in prison. He is one of 600 charged so far in the insurrection. Like others, he claimed he believed Trump had called him to the Capitol that day.

Some Republican lawmakers might be looking at Chansley’s four or so years in prison and getting nervous as they might face their own day of reckoning.

Senate Republicans filibustered the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of January 6, so the House created a select committee instead. McCarthy tried to sabotage the select committee by adding to it two representatives who had already declared their opposition to it; then, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected them, McCarthy withdrew all the Republicans from the committee and refused to participate in it, clearly hoping to discredit its work as a partisan hit job. But Pelosi invited anti-Trump Republican representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) to participate in the committee, and they agreed. As of September 2, Cheney is now the committee’s vice-chair.

The committee has asked a wide variety of sources for a wide variety of records, prompting what certainly looks like concern from lawmakers who worked closely with the former president. When the select committee asked telecommunications companies to preserve the phone records of certain members of Congress, as well as the former president and members of his family, the lawmakers in question strongly opposed the committee’s request.

McCarthy claimed that any company turning over private information was “in violation of federal law and subject to losing their ability to operate in the United States,” although experts say there is no law that stops companies from complying with a subpoena (and, of course, Republicans demanded—and received—Hillary Clinton’s private data in 2016). McCarthy seemed to issue a threat when he said: “If companies still choose to violate federal law, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law.”

Eleven House Republicans wrote a letter to Yahoo (mistakenly addressing it to a CEO who left the company in 2017) warning that “the undersigned do not consent to the release of confidential call records or data,” claiming that “your company has a legal obligation to protect the data of your subscribers and customers,” and threatening that “[i]f you fail to comply with these obligations, we will pursue all legal remedies.”

The eleven lawmakers signing the letter were those most closely associated with Trump: Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Scott Perry (R-PA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Jodie Hice (R-GA), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), and Jim Banks (R-IN), who seems to have aims for higher office.

Greene warned that any company complying with the committee’s request would be “shut down.”

McCarthy also claimed that the Department of Justice had said Trump did not cause, incite, or provoke the violence on January 6. This prompted select committee chair Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Vice-Chair Cheney to issue a statement “on McCarthy’s January 6th misinformation campaign,” calling “reports of such a conclusion… baseless.”

The anti-government anti-mask movement also probably seemed like a better idea before the Delta variant hit. Governors like Abbott and DeSantis have doubled down on opposing mask mandates: DeSantis has gone so far as to use the government to prevent private businesses from requiring masks and to block local officials from requiring masks in schools.

But mask mandates are widely popular, and as hospitalizations and deaths spike among the unvaccinated, popular opinion is turning against anti-maskers. The area around Miami, Florida, has seen the deaths of at least 13 school staff from Covid-19; hospitalizations of children are rising; and north Idaho has begun to ration medical care; Covid hospitalizations on Labor Day 2021 were 61,000 higher than they were a year ago (99,000 versus 38,000), and health care workers are exhausted. Doctors are beginning to push back against the anti-maskers, while school boards in Florida are defying DeSantis’s ban and Texas schools are challenging Abbott’s rule in court.

While Trump-reflecting lawmakers are demanding Americans put their lives, and their children’s lives, on the line for “freedom,” news broke tonight that Trump and his son Don, Jr., will spend the night of September 11, 2021, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, commenting on a “gamecast” of a boxing match between former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield (who stepped in when Oscar De La Hoya tested positive for Covid) and Vitor Belfort at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. “I love great fighters and great fights,” Trump said. “You won’t want to miss this special event…”—which can be purchased for $49.99.

HCR: Biden’s challenge with Afghanistan

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

July 8, 2021

Today, President Joe Biden announced that the military mission of the United States in Afghanistan will end on August 31. We have been in that country for almost 20 years and have lost 2448 troops and personnel. Another 20,722 Americans have been wounded. Estimates of civilian deaths range from 35,000 to 40,000. The mission has cost more than a trillion dollars.

Leaving Afghanistan brings up just how much the world has changed in the past two decades.

The U.S. invaded Afghanistan a month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001—which killed almost 3000 people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania—to go after al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who had been behind the attack. The Islamic fundamentalist group that had controlled Afghanistan since 1996, the Taliban, was sheltering him, along with other al Qaeda militants. Joined by an international coalition, the U.S. drove the Taliban from power, but when the U.S. got bogged down in Iraq, its members quickly regrouped as an insurgent military force that attacked the Afghan government the U.S. propped up in their place. By 2018, the Taliban had reestablished itself in more than two thirds of Afghanistan.

In the years since 2001, three U.S. presidents have tried to strengthen the Afghan government to keep the nation from again becoming a staging ground for terrorists that could attack the U.S. But even a troop surge, like the one President Barack Obama launched into the region in 2009, could not permanently defeat the Taliban, well funded as it is by foreign investors, mining, opium, and a sophisticated tax system it operates in the shadow of the official government.

Eager to end a military commitment that journalist Dexter Filkins dubbed the “forever war,” the previous president, Donald Trump, sent officials to negotiate with the Taliban, and in February 2020 the U.S. agreed to withdraw all U.S. troops, along with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies, by May 1, so long as the Taliban stopped attacking U.S. troops and cut ties with terrorists.

The U.S. did not include the Afghan government in the talks that led to the deal, leaving it to negotiate its own terms with the Taliban after the U.S. had already announced it was heading home. Observers at the time were concerned that the U.S. withdrawal would essentially allow the Taliban to retake control of the country, where the previous 20 years had permitted the reestablishment of stability and women’s rights. Indeed, almost immediately, Taliban militants began an assassination campaign against Afghan leaders, although they have not killed any American soldiers since the deal was signed.

Biden has made it no secret that he was not comfortable with the seemingly endless engagement in Afghanistan, but he was also boxed in by Trump’s agreement. Meanwhile, by announcing the U.S. intentions, American officials took pressure off the Taliban to negotiate with Afghan leaders. The Pentagon’s inspector general noted in February that “The Taliban intends to stall the negotiations until U.S. and coalition forces withdraw so that it can seek a decisive military victory over the Afghan government.”

In April, Biden announced that he would honor Trump’s agreement—“an agreement made by the United States government…means something,” Biden said—and he would begin a final withdrawal on May 1, 2021, to be finished before September 11, the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Today, the president explained that the withdrawal was taking place quicker than planned. He claimed that the U.S. had accomplished what it set out to do in Afghanistan. It had killed Osama bin Laden and destroyed a haven for international terrorists.

But the U.S. had no business continuing to influence the future of the Afghan people, he said. Together with NATO, the U.S. had trained and equipped nearly 300,000 members of the current Afghan military, as well as many more who are no longer serving, with all the tools, training, and equipment of any modern military. While we will continue to support that military, he said, it is time for the Afghan people to “drive toward a future that the Afghan people want and they deserve.”

For those asking that we stay just a little longer, especially in light of the fact the U.S. has lost no personnel since Trump cut the deal with the Taliban, he asked them to recognize that reneging on that deal would start casualties again. And, he asked, “Would you send your own son or daughter?”

Biden insisted the U.S. would continue to support the Afghan government and said the U.S. was working to bring to the U.S. Afghan translators whose lives are now in danger for working with U.S. forces. He also seemed to acknowledge the extraordinary danger facing Afghan women and girls under the rule of the Taliban as it continues to sweep through the country. And yet, he said, “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.”

But Biden’s argument for leaving Afghanistan is based not just on the U.S. having achieved its original stated goals and his own dislike of endangering our military personnel. He wants the U.S. to adjust to the reality that the world has changed dramatically in the past 20 years.

Since 9/11, the international terrorist threat has spread far beyond Afghanistan and is now far easier to target with financial measures than with soldiers. So, for example, in April, the Biden administration placed sanctions on Pakistani nationals for money laundering in what was likely an attempt to stop the money flowing to the Taliban through Pakistan, money that keeps the Taliban alive. It has also sanctioned Russia for backing the Taliban in its attempt to assassinate American military personnel.

Bruce Riedel, an expert on U.S. security, South Asia, and counter-terrorism at the Brookings Institution who was with the Central Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan when the Russians invaded in 1979, concluded after Biden made his withdrawal announcement in April that it is not clear that the Taliban will take over Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves. The country remains mired in a civil war, and who the winner will be remains open.

Threats to America are more likely to come these days from cyber attacks, like the one that hit the U.S. on the Friday before the holiday weekend. Apparently originating in Russia, that ransomware attack hit supply chains. Like the one that hit Colonial Pipeline in May, disrupting fuel supplies to the Southeast, such attacks have potential to do enormous damage. Biden has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country harbors hackers, that critical infrastructure is off limits, and that the U.S. will retaliate for any such attacks.

Finally, of course, Biden can turn his attention from Afghanistan in part because the U.S. has not suffered a major attack by foreign terrorists since 2001. Now, according to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, our primary danger from terrorism is homegrown and comes from “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists.”