Mike Pompeo: Secretary of Hypocrisy

If Pompeo has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan.

It isn’t hard to guess what Mike Pompeo, the hawkish congressman from Kansas, would say about the Afghan exit deal that Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, is negotiating with the Taliban.

The details of the negotiations, which are being conducted in Qatar by U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and could be finalized by the end of the month, are a closely held secret. So close, in fact, that I’m told Pompeo won’t allow White House officials to review details of the agreement except in his presence.

But the basic outline is this: a complete withdrawal of America’s 14,000 troops from Afghanistan within 14 months — that is, by October 2020 — in exchange for a promise from the Taliban not to attack our forces on the way out, along with some kind of vague assurance from them that Afghanistan will not again become a base for global terrorism. A source familiar with the deal says there is no explicit requirement for the Taliban to renounce its ties to Al Qaeda.

Even those who want the U.S. to leave Afghanistan, come what may, should be dismayed to see an American strategic decision be so nakedly dictated by the electoral needs of a president who wants to take credit for ending “endless wars.” They should be no less dismayed by the idea that we are doing so in plain indifference to Afghanistan’s government, which wasn’t invited to the talks because the Taliban won’t deign to speak to what it considers a puppet government.

That “puppet” government is, for all of its well-known flaws, internationally recognized and democratically elected. It does not wantonly massacre its own people, or wage war on its neighbors, or sponsor terrorist groups that seek to wage war on the West. And it’s also all that will stand between the Taliban’s murderous misogyny and Afghanistan’s 18 million vulnerable women.

Then again, progressives have been pining for an Afghan exit for at least a decade, and Barack Obama set a timetable for full withdrawal (which he was later forced to reverse in the face of Taliban gains) in 2014. Foreign-policy hawks in the mold of Pompeo used to take a different view about the wisdom of U.S. retreat — at least before they became Donald Trump flunkies.

For starters, they had no patience for the lie that the Taliban was to Al Qaeda merely what a flea motel is to a fugitive on the lam. The Taliban lied to Clinton administration envoy Bill Richardson in 1998 by telling him they didn’t know of Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts when they were harboring him, and then refused to give him up after the 9/11 attacks.

They’d have even less patience for the convenient fantasy that the Afghan Taliban has, or ever will, part ways with its brothers in global jihad. The deputy leader of the Taliban is Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the Haqqani Network that has been entwined with Al Qaeda since its earliest days.

“There is not a scintilla of evidence that the network is willing to break with Al Qaeda,” notes Thomas Joscelyn of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Even if the Taliban were to renounce A.Q. and attacks on the West, which they have never done, you’d need a verification mechanism. But if you withdraw all Western troops, there is no verification.”

What about the case for ending a long war? That’s always desirable, and every death in war is a tragedy. But a hawk might also note that U.S. endured just 14 fatalities in Afghanistan in 2018, and that a U.S. service member is far more likely to die in a training accident than in combat. At some point, describing our current involvement in the country as a “war” stretches semantic credibility when compared to past U.S. conflicts.

Against the human (and budgetary) cost of our presence in Afghanistan, hawks would tally the cost of withdrawal. Even liberals like former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta criticized Obama for withdrawing too hastily from Iraq, thereby creating the power vacuum that ISIS quickly filled. It was a fiasco that ended only when Obama was forced to return U.S. troops to Iraq a few years later.

Why should a similar scenario not play out in Afghanistan? It’s true that ISIS and the Taliban are rivals, but any administration willing to entrust the Taliban with being a bulwark against global terrorism is even more gullible than the poor saps who paid money for a Trump University training program.

Hawks once understood this — just as they understood that America paid a steep price in strategic and moral credibility when it bugged out of its international commitments, squandered the sacrifices of American troops for the immediate political benefit of a sitting president, and betrayed the vulnerable populations we had endeavored to protect against a barbaric enemy.

Don’t just take it from me. “As a former Army officer, it is gravely concerning to see any president of the United States play politics with critical national security issues,” one conservative lawmaker said in 2011 of Obama’s initial decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces. “This decision puts both the lives of American troops and the gains made on the ground in Afghanistan at risk.”

That lawmaker was — who else? — Mike Pompeo. If the secretary has a sense of shame, he might consider apologizing to Obama for adopting the same policy he once so loudly denounced. If he has a sense of honor, he might consider resigning rather than fathering the catastrophe that may soon befall Afghanistan. I’m confident he’ll do neither.

Everything that’s wrong with Iran in one grotesque televised scandal

While cases of gun violence in Iran are extremely rare, domestic violence has been a fact of life for Iranian women throughout history.

The high-profile killing is shocking on its own merits. Yet the way the story unfolded publicly, with the help of real-time coverage by the state broadcaster, has created an utterly grotesque allegory for the excesses of this regime and the way it presents itself to the public.

First, quick review of the key details:

Najafi, 67, an MIT-educated former mayor of Tehran, married Ostad, 35, his second wife, in 2017. He was and is still married to his first wife, the mother of his children.

Polygamy is legal for men in Iran, who can have up to four wives at a time. But even though the practice is tolerated by the religious establishment, many Iranians (especially in the cities) consider it to be intolerable. It’s a maneuver that lecherous older men — especially if they have been caught cheating — make if they want to feign piety. And everyone knows it.

Even so, within the halls of power it’s standard procedure, and it never got in the way of Najafi’s political career. In fact, it was the public revelation of his ongoing extramarital relationship with Ostad that led the two to wed.

By Najafi’s account, he didn’t want to stay in the marriage to Ostad and proposed a divorce, a legal act that men in Iran can demand with ease. Najafi claims that his wife refused, and they continued the marriage unhappily.

But their fights were becoming more frequent and heated. On Tuesday, it all came to a head.

Najafi went to Ostad’s apartment (he lives with his first wife) with a loaded gun. In what he claims was an animated attempt to scare her, he waved the gun at her while saying that he could put an end to all the arguing right then and there.

Next, according to Najafi, “she lunged and me and, well, the gun was ready.”

If the story were to end there, it would be a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of misogyny-fueled domestic violence, polygamy and gun ownership.

What makes the story even more shocking, though, is that we know all these details of the crime because the murderer admitted to them on live television, to a seemingly sympathetic audience of police detectives (who served him tea) and a state media host who gently asked if it might not have been wiser to file a complaint against his untamable wife.

“That would definitely have been better, but the truth is that over the last year I’ve tried different ways of dealing with our issues,” Najafi told the reporter. None of them worked to his satisfaction, apparently, and that “resulted in making me this mistake, and her life ending.”

Not exactly words of sorrow and contrition.

At one point, the television presenter holds the alleged murder weapon — without gloves — and empties the magazine, counting out eight cartridges. “There were thirteen bullets in it,” he says. “Five were fired. Two hit the victim, and three hit the wall.”

It’s clear that there will be no need for a crime-scene investigation. The esteemed suspect’s word is more than enough.

Ordinary Iranians have taken to social media to express their horror over the unfolding drama, but in the twisted life of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, it was just another day.

Forced confessions on IRIB are common, but Najafi’s is a departure from the norm. Nothing about it seemed coerced; if anything, it looked orchestrated — from the bows of deference he was shown by the police officers to the tea they served him. All of this is familiar to Iranians, who know from generations of experience that power means privilege. Even when you admit to murder.

It’s not that Iran’s ruling class is unrepentant — it’s also shockingly oblivious to its own excesses, as encapsulated both by this murder and the state broadcaster’s coverage of it. The depravity that the regime condones only highlights the growing divide between it and the country’s shocked society.

The misogyny and the state-sanctioned polygamy are bad enough. The brazen disregard for a female human life is appalling. But on top of all that, there’s the ingrained hypocrisy of a regime that has executed countless citizens without proper trial yet consistently lets its officials off the hook without even trying to hide it.

With this twisted version of reality TV, Iran’s regime has just demonstrated its shamelessness and depravity, offering a reminder of just how rotten it is.

Colleges Challenge a Common Protection in Sexual Assault Lawsuits: Anonymity

The former college student said she had been raped three times as an undergraduate at Florida A&M University, twice by students and once by an acquaintance who was on campus regularly.

She withdrew from the university and filed suit, saying that campus officials did not do enough to investigate the claims and protect her from being attacked again and again. As a precaution, she identified herself in public court papers only as S.B.

Her school fired back three times with a demand for the court: Reveal her full name or toss out the case.

For years, students have filed sexual assault complaints under pseudonyms, which allow them to seek justice without shame or fear of being targeted. Universities have generally accepted the practice.

But in two recent lawsuits — S.B.’s case against Florida A&M University and a suit by nine women against Dartmouth College — the schools have demanded that students publicly reveal their identities, going against longstanding legal practice intended to protect plaintiffs in sensitive disputes.

Experts on sexual assault cases say that these demands amount to a newly aggressive stance by universities that face potentially damaging lawsuits, and that they run counter to the spirit of federal civil rights policies. The identities of the women in both cases are known to the university lawyers, but not to the public.

“What you’re seeing in this particular case is real hardball,” said Andrew Miltenberg, a lawyer who typically represents men accused of sexual assault. “And it’s still not the way most lawyers or schools handle it. They’re a little bit more gracious about protecting someone who was their student.”

On Wednesday, S.B.’s lawyer sent a letter to more than 40 state legislators objecting to the university’s tactics and asking them to investigate the matter.

Bernie Sanders and the Myth of the 1 Percent

The very rich are richer than people imagine.

A peculiar chapter in the 2020 presidential race ended Monday, when Bernie Sanders, after months of foot-dragging, finally released his tax returns. The odd thing was that the returns appear to be perfectly innocuous. So what was all that about?

The answer seems to be that Sanders got a lot of book royalties after the 2016 campaign, and was afraid that revealing this fact would produce headlines mocking him for now being part of the 1 Percent. Indeed, some journalists did try to make his income an issue.

This line of attack is, however, deeply stupid. Politicians who support policies that would raise their own taxes and strengthen a social safety net they’re unlikely to need aren’t being hypocrites; if anything, they’re demonstrating their civic virtue.

But failure to understand what hypocrisy means isn’t the only way our discourse about politics and inequality goes off the rails. The catchphrase “the 1 Percent” has also become a problem, obscuring the nature of class in 21st-century America.

Focusing on the top percentile of the income distribution was originally intended as a corrective to the comforting but false notion that growing inequality was mainly about a rising payoff to education. The reality is that over the past few decades the typical college graduate has seen only modest gains, with the big money going to a small group at the top. Talking about “the 1 Percent” was shorthand for acknowledging this reality, and tying that reality to readily available data.

[For an even deeper look at what’s on Paul Krugman’s mind, sign up for his weekly newsletter.]

But putting Bernie Sanders and the Koch brothers in the same class is obviously getting things wrong in a different way.

True, there’s a huge difference between being affluent enough that you don’t have to worry much about money and living with the financial insecurity that afflicts many Americans who consider themselves middle class. According to the Federal Reserve, 40 percent of U.S. adults don’t have enough cash to meet a $400 emergency expense; a much larger number of Americans would be severely strained by the kinds of costs that routinely arise when, say, illness strikes, even for those who have health insurance.

So if you have an income high enough that you can

  • easily afford health care and good housing,
  • have plenty of liquid assets and
  • find it hard to imagine ever needing food stamps,

you’re part of a privileged minority.

But there’s also a big difference between being affluent, even very affluent, and having the kind of wealth that puts you in a completely separate social universe. It’s a difference summed up three decades ago in the movie “Wall Street,” when Gordon Gekko mocks the limited ambitions of someone who just wants to be “a $400,000-a-year working Wall Street stiff flying first class and being comfortable.”

Even now, most Americans don’t seem to realize just how rich today’s rich are. At a recent event, my CUNY colleague Janet Gornick was greeted with disbelief when she mentioned in passing that the top 25 hedge fund managers make an average of $850 million a year. But her number was correct.

One survey found that Americans, on average, think that corporate C.E.O.s are paid about 30 times as much as ordinary workers, which hasn’t been true since the 1970s. These days the ratio is more like 300 to 1.

Why should we care about the very rich? It’s not about envy, it’s about oligarchy.

With great wealth comes both great power and a separation from the concerns of ordinary citizens. What the very rich want, they often get; but what they want is often harmful to the rest of the nation. There are some public-spirited billionaires, some very wealthy liberals. But they aren’t typical of their class.

The very rich

  • don’t need Medicare or
  • Social Security; they don’t use
  • public education or
  • public transit; they
  • may not even be that reliant on public roads (there are helicopters, after all).

Meanwhile, they don’t want to pay taxes.

Sure enough, and contrary to popular belief, billionaires mostly (although often stealthily) wield their political power on behalf of tax cuts at the top, a weaker safety net and deregulation. And financial support from the very rich is the most important force sustaining the extremist right-wing politics that now dominates the Republican Party.

That’s why it’s important to understand who we mean when we talk about the very rich. It’s not doctors, lawyers or, yes, authors, some of whom make it into “the 1 Percent.” It’s a much more rarefied social stratum.