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Posts published in “Day: August 22, 2021”

Give him a break


President Biden made absolutely the correct decision to dump Afghanistan. There were no good options. We had to get out and chaos was imminent the moment we left. It is significantly better to get the loss we are bound to suffer behind us now than continue the agony of delay. Nothing would be gained by remaining, with much more to be lost.

American involvement in Afghanistan was hopeless. The military occupation of Afghanistan was a mistake from the beginning. It was an outgrowth of President Bush declaring a “war” on a common crime. Prior to 9/11 all terrorist activities were prosecuted in civilian criminal courts. After 9/11, with Bush’s “War Powers Act” enacted in response to the attack, terrorists could also be tried in military courts. Since 9/11 civilian criminal courts have continued to try individuals of terrorist activities and have convicted more than 660. Military tribunals have convicted eight, two of which were overturned on appeal. Guantanamo was created and continues to exist as a military, diplomatic and constitutional cancer, ignored by the powers of every administration to inherit it, and with no end in sight.

Afghanistan attracted the attention of Bush’s forces because it was thought to be the hangout of Osama Bin Laden and the location of Al Qaeda training facilities. The initial military objective was to find Bin Laden and to destroy the Al Qaeda training facilities. What we should have done is treat the situation as the remnants of an ordinary crime, gone into the country with targeted military maneuvers to get in, destroy Al Qaede resources, and get out.

Instead, we instituted a major military operation under the War Powers Act. We did clean up the training facilities, but Bin Laden slipped away. Once in country with a major military force, we appeared to sweep out the Taliban. The U.S. established military bases near all major cities in the country and settled down to assist in reforming the government.

It is not clear when the mission changed from pursuing Al Qaeda to assisting the Afghan government remain in power, but it did change – to national activity the U.S has proved itself to be notoriously inept at accomplishing. Whether we acted militarily or diplomatically, history is strewn with our failures in the area bringing about productive, positive change in the government of any country that has not invited our participation.

Initially in this case, we were taught that the Taliban were allies of Al Qaeda, beset with the same international goals, and therefore justifiably declared enemies of the West. We now know this to be wrong. The Talban are an intensely nationalistic sect of radical Islam, with no international aims of any kind. It is a brutal regime, to be sure, but it did not and does not share any of the international aims of Al Qaeda. The Taliban had no bone to pick with us outside of our involvement and interference with their country.

Compare our initial impression of VIET Nam’s Ho Chi Min, whom, we were told, was an international communist and an ally of Red China. As it turned out, nothing could be farther from the truth. Uncle Ho had no interest in international communism and was intensely distrustful of his Chinese neighbor; his only interest was in the people of Viet Nam and fin seeing reunification of the country. We were led down exactly the same path with respect to the Taliban in Afghanistan as was fed to us about Ho Chi Min in Viet Nam.

It took years to convince the leaders of our country – through three administrations and into a fourth – that strange as it may appear, most Afghans prefer the Taliban to anything the West was proposing in the way of leadership for their country. Despite how brutal the Taliban were to their own people, we continued to lose ground in the country. We were making no progress in reorganizing the government or finding competent leaders to take over. Corruption was rampant, incompetence everywhere, and the government in place was ineffective. There were, and are, no realistic prospects of positive change.

Exactly the same result was occurring in Afghanistan to our efforts to reform the country as happened to us in our efforts to establish a viable government in Viet Nam. A return to the brutal government of the Taliban was expected by everyone – the only issues were how long it would take once we were out of their way. For us to remain longer would only postpone the inevitable, it would not have resulted in any difference in the result. The disaster that resulted was completely predictable to anyone with even a smattering of knowledge of history.

Certainly, Biden should pursue rescue missions to bring out those most in danger of any Taliban take over. But this is a new mission, centered on U.S. and humanitarian interests, and is not in any wat connected to the existing Afghan regime. It’s a new mission, not a continuation of the old and the distinction is significant. Perhaps the Taliban might even assist us in our new efforts.

Get off Biden’s neck and give him a break. Let’s see what he does next.

Whither the federal money


In just a few days, Idaho will begin its annual budget process with agencies submitting their initial proposals for the upcoming budget year. But already, the state is working on how to spend and manage a federal windfall from federal COVID-19 payments of over $1.4 billion.

A working group has already started on how the money can best be leveraged for the best long-term goals. Some on the left want to see increases in salaries for teacher pay and a long list of social welfare programs. They see the new money as a “need” which never ends.

Looking further ahead, others think the money would best be invested in Idaho’s many infrastructure needs, including community sewer systems, broadband, water purification and similar projects. (IdahoPress, 7/30).

They make a good case. Social service spending is always going to be part of Idaho’s budget, and there has rarely been money beyond routine state revenues to deal with infrastructure. That’s why it makes sense to direct this windfall to capital projects that will benefit Idahoans for years to come.

Put simply, it’s either now or piecemeal later. Take transportation for example. Idaho is a huge state (over 80,000 square miles) with long stretches of highways, important bridges and increasing traffic volume. While the state roads have ranked relatively well in national surveys, (Reason Foundation) there’s much to be done, particularly on secondary and county roads.

Take a drive anywhere this month in southern Idaho and you’ll see numerous agricultural trucks, and heavy farm equipment moving about the highways to bring in the harvest. A good transportation system is essential for Idaho products to move, from then production to processing to shipping to a hungry world.

Against this rapid growth, many Idaho communities, particularly small ones, are relying on water and sewer systems that are obsolete. These systems often date back to when the towns were first founded more than 100 years ago. They are badly in need of upgrades virtually everywhere and many are under the watchful eyes of new federal water and sewer regulations on contaminants like arsenic. Using the federal money to work on reducing these federal mandates would also give taxpayers relief from having to fund them out of property taxes, a welcome change indeed.

The same is true with broadband expansion. If we want a vibrant rural economy, we need to provide the broadband infrastructure to deliver it. This is similar to the 1920s and early 1930s, when farsighted lawmakers first approved rural electrification across America. That decades-long initiative brought electricity to rural users and thus brought rural prosperity to much of the country.

Wisely, legislators and the office of Gov. Brad Little have put together working groups to prioritize uses across this far-flung state. Additional money is expected on the transportation side through the state’s plan to increase roads and bridges funding from a growing portion of online sales.

And that’s before the recently-passed federal infrastructure money comes down to the states. Projects like the third bridge over the Snake River near Twin Falls and Jerome, as well as improvements to roads and highways in the Treasure Valley, are high on the radar of needed work. So are improvements to Highway 95, Idaho’s, Idaho’s primary “goat path” corridor connecting North Idaho with the rest of Idaho.

There are those who think Idaho should reject all federal money as a way of asserting our so-called state sovereignty. These legislators, led by arch-conservatives like Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, and backed by the Idaho Slavery Foundation, want to keep Idaho a backward and ignorant state in which their out-of-state monied interests can dominate governmental affairs.

But failure to invest in our future needs is indeed shortsighted. Nate and others want to dismantle government at every level. The state they envision would indeed be a backward place.

A recent article points in a better direction. Led by Gov. Little, and including key legislators, agencies, and outside groups, these working groups are planning ahead. They want to build a better state, not one that wallows in conspiracy theories, archaic economic notions and cherry-picked constitutional clauses. (Idaho Press, 7/30).

Advocates for spending on social programs and pay raises typically overlook where Idaho’s revenue really comes from, which is from hard-working folks in industries like natural resources such as agriculture, forest products, mining and energy research. Without these, we’d be a state of recreationalists crowded onto limited rivers and waterways. We’d still be a beautiful state in the travel brochures, but not so much for people living and working here.

There’s nothing wrong inherently with recreation activities nor industries like tourism and retail shopping. These are important features of a mixed economy. But without investment in the basics, Idaho’s appeal would be certainly lessened. There are lots of national parks in America and open spaces, and people don’t want to drive on inadequate roads to get there.

As with other common-sense issues, the Idaho Legislature is likely to focus on these infrastructure needs, along with aquifer replenishment and water storage. Many legislators know how important their local economies are. It’s a matter of keeping things in balance.

With money now available to make important improvements, Idaho would be foolish indeed to turn away from these essential tasks.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at