2021
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Monitor Daily Podcast

July 08, 2021
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TODAY’S INTRO

Why we care about Afghanistan and Haiti

Haiti and Afghanistan. If you wanted to pick two places on earth that convey chronic hopelessness and dysfunction, you’d be hard-pressed to find better examples. Yet here we are, with articles about them in today’s issue.

Most often, these countries are ignored, cast in terminal woe, or looked at through the distant lens of geopolitics. In short, they easily recede from our attention. That’s understandable. For most of us, their stories will not affect our morning commute. By most definitions of “relevance,” they are not high on our list.

But the Monitor has a different view. Our common humanity is relevant. Progress for every corner of the world is relevant. The values we share and hope to uphold are relevant. Not just for historians or foreign-policy buffs. For everyone. Our global story teaches us, deepens us, enriches us.

What does the manner of the United States’ departure from Afghanistan say about its sense of responsibility? We examine three key perspectives. And must we view the assassination of Haiti’s president as another chapter in a story of unrelenting despair? There are seeds of hope buried deep, says writer Kathie Klarreich. Can they flourish? That is relevant to all of us.

“When I heard about the assassination, I had a list of people I wanted to call to see how they were doing, but I didn’t because I knew they’d be busy figuring out next steps about how to make their country better,” Kathie tells me. “Everyone in their own way is trying to figure this out, and because they haven’t lost hope, I haven’t lost hope.”

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In the dark of night: Does Bagram exit diminish US leadership?

Was the United States’ abrupt final departure from Afghanistan a strategic necessity or a slap in the face? We consider how it looks to the U.S. military, to Afghans, and to the global community.

Mark
Mohammad Ismail/Reuters
An Afghan soldier strums a guitar left by U.S. troops at Bagram air base. American troops vacated the base, in Parwan province, Afghanistan, overnight on July 2, 2021.

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Before dawn last Friday, under cover of darkness, the last American troops at the vast Bagram air base in Afghanistan slipped away. They did not inform the new Afghan base commander, and before he could take control, looters had ransacked the former epicenter of the U.S. war against the Taliban.

The Americans had clearly wanted to pull out in secret for reasons of security. But the slapdash withdrawal has attracted considerable attention for the message it conveyed – not least from Afghans themselves. Some feel betrayed. More broadly, other observers say the way the Americans snuck out raises questions about U.S. values and priorities.

President Joe Biden has made much of his intention to restore America to its place as a responsible global leader and moral standard-bearer. But one former top Afghan government official, Timor Sharan, was not impressed.

“It sounds very much like cut and run to me at this stage, and not taking responsibility,” he says.

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In the dark of night: Does Bagram exit diminish US leadership?

Before dawn last Friday, under cover of darkness, the last American troops stationed at the vast Bagram air base in Afghanistan slipped away, killing the lights.

They did not inform the new Afghan base commander, and before he could take control, looters had ransacked the former epicenter of the U.S. war against the Taliban.

The Americans had clearly wanted to pull out in secret for reasons of security. But the slapdash withdrawal was uncoordinated with the Afghan army, leaving thousands of vehicles, many without keys, behind, and a base without power. And it has attracted considerable attention for the message it conveys, not least from Afghans themselves, with some feeling betrayed.

“It sounds very much like cut and run to me at this stage, and not taking responsibility,” says Timor Sharan, a former deputy minister in the Afghan government. “Yes, they have made a huge investment in this country and a lot of Afghans appreciate that. But the nature of this departure also raises a lot of frustration.”

For Lawrence Korb, a former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, it also raises broader questions about U.S. values and priorities.

“It really reaches beyond Afghanistan because it stands in such contrast to what we’ve been hearing,” he says. “About how after ‘America First’ it’s now ‘America’s back,’ and ready to be the responsible global leader.” The Americans’ behavior last week undermined that message, he adds.

From the military’s perspective, however, such questions appear secondary. “When we talk about this drawdown, we talk about it being safe and orderly,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said this week. “Safe is the first word.”

And in the end, “there’s never a good way to leave in a situation like this,” says Richard Kohn, former chief historian of the Air Force. Having failed to win the two-decade-long conflict, “you are not going to do it with flags waving and bugles playing.”

How it resonates globally

What most struck Mr. Korb as “outrageous” about the departure from Bagram was the juxtaposition of a kick-in-the-pants farewell message to the Afghan military and President Joe Biden’s lofty talk of America’s return to the world stage as an ethical actor and trustworthy partner.

“It sends a terrible lesson to the Afghans that ‘the Americans don’t really care about us, despite what they said to [Afghan President Ashraf] Ghani in the White House’” last month, says Mr. Korb, who served under President Ronald Reagan.

The hasty pullout shocked some observers because it looked nothing like the “enduring relationship” with the United States that the Biden administration has been promising the Afghan government.

For others, the unceremonious departure, with its strong whiff of disregard for a longtime U.S. partner, struck a false note because it followed so closely on the heels of President Biden’s weeklong European trip – a tour intended to reassure international partners that the U.S. is ready to resume its role as global leader and moral standard-bearer.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
U.S. President Joe Biden (right) meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House, in Washington, June 25, 2021.

But stark as the contrast may be in this case between rhetoric and action, say some analysts, many U.S. allies and partners are so relieved by a return to some semblance of predictable American leadership that Washington may get a pass for its exit from Bagram.

“For the Europeans who were partners of the U.S. in Afghanistan, the major concern has been coordination of the withdrawal and getting a ‘heads up’ on major decisions. And as long as that’s been happening, I wouldn’t expect they would go out of their way to fault the U.S. on one aspect of the departure,” says Hugh Lovatt, a senior policy fellow at the London office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

In the Middle East, Mr. Lovatt adds, though U.S. partners accept that Washington will lighten its footprint in the region, “they still want a relationship with the U.S., so the details of the Afghanistan withdrawal are not going to be what they focus on.”

Indeed, it’s more likely to be America’s adversaries than its friends who shine a light on questionable U.S. actions that undermine U.S. pretensions to moral leadership and ethical behavior, predicts Mr. Korb.

“I have no doubt [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will find a way to draw the world’s attention to U.S. behavior that can be justly described as shameful and demeaning,” Mr. Korb says.

Already this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blamed the “hasty withdrawal of NATO” for the “very worrisome” advances he says Islamic State militants are making in northern Afghanistan.

Still, in criticizing the U.S., Russia is highlighting its own contradictions, Mr. Lovatt says.

“On the one hand, it’s not surprising that Lavrov would take the opportunity to criticize the U.S. as being ‘reckless’ in the way it’s leaving Afghanistan,” he says. “But it’s also not that long ago that Russia was demanding NATO’s total withdrawal,” he adds. “It does seem to be a bit of a case of ‘be careful what you wish for.’”

What it means for Afghans

In Afghanistan, for those left behind, the U.S. departure from Bagram, one of the last and most important pieces of the U.S. withdrawal, may not yet be a Saigon-style emergency evacuation, with people clinging to the last U.S. helicopter as it rose above the embassy roof.

In a speech Thursday from the White House defending the Afghanistan withdrawal, President Biden pledged there would be no such scenario.

But this latest episode in America’s rushed exit from its longest war, which Mr. Biden said would be completed by Aug. 31, is seen as playing into the hands of advancing Taliban insurgents while eroding Afghans’ morale.

And the stealthy nature of the U.S. withdrawal was a shock, after nearly 20 years of using Bagram as America’s anti-terrorism, anti-Taliban, and nation-building hub in Afghanistan.

Even as the Taliban, emboldened by reports that U.S. forces would be gone before Mr. Biden’s September deadline, have stepped up advances against district centers and provincial capitals, the departure prompted some Afghans to ask: What was the world’s leading superpower afraid of?

Is it a superpower? It certainly doesn’t behave like one,” says Mr. Sharan, the former deputy minister, who is also director of the Afghanistan Policy Lab and an adjunct professor at the American University of Afghanistan.

“It has been clear that the Americans were leaving the country, but the sudden departure itself raises a lot of questions, [including] about America being a superpower – or projecting that image.”

American presidents since Barack Obama have sought to end the war in Afghanistan, but the effort took hold with a February 2020 withdrawal deal the U.S. signed with the Taliban, which spelled out a timetable for complete withdrawal.

U.S. units engaged in combating the Taliban and the Islamic State, as well as training Afghan forces to carry out the fight themselves, then shifted their focus to departure. Foreign troops began leaving remote outposts, often with little warning.

The disengagement from the large southern Kandahar airfield last January was a bellwether of the Bagram exodus – and emblematic of the challenges that will now be faced by the Afghans.

Kandahar and many small military bases were “handed over very badly,” says a Western official in Kabul, who asked not to be named.

“It’s not like saying, ‘Oh, we’ll come back and fix things, we’ll explain stuff to you,’” says the official. “No, they are just like, ‘Here, catch the key.’ People said, ‘We’ve got keys for doors with no idea what is behind it. Once we opened the door and had questions, there was nobody there to answer these questions.”

The result in Kandahar, too, shocked the Afghans involved.

“There were days afterwards when the radar was not on, the generators were not running … the tracking system to land at night was not working – they couldn’t figure out how to operate the lights on the runway, because nobody had told them,” says the Western official. “It’s a miracle that nothing crashed.”

At Bagram, the U.S. left a mountain of gear – 3.5 million items listed before departure, to be exact, including “every door knob, every window in every barracks,” the new Afghan base commander, Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, told The Associated Press.

“In terms of implications, absolutely it has emboldened the Taliban, and that is why we have seen the collapse of districts – one-quarter of them in just one and a half months,” says Mr. Sharan.

“It’s also affected the morale of Afghan security forces,” he says. “Let’s not forget that our forces, for the past 20 years, have been fighting alongside the Americans, and are dependent on American advisers and air support. A lot of Special Forces, who developed a rapport with the American army, will feel very much betrayed by this.”

The U.S. military’s predicament

The dead-of-night reality also seemed to turn parody to prediction.

A decade-old piece from the satirical news website The Onion imagined a scenario in which soldiers “lay in their beds pretending to be asleep until well after midnight” then “tiptoed out” to a fleet of awaiting aircraft “as silently as possible so as not to wake the 30-million-person nation.”

In real life, U.S. forces reportedly left behind half-eaten Pop-Tarts and energy drinks among the pricier equipment, as well as Afghan forces whose first task post-withdrawal was to repel looters.

Mohammad Ismail/Reuters
An Afghan man rests in his shop, where he sells secondhand U.S. materials, outside Bagram air base in Afghanistan, after the U.S. evacuation, July 5, 2021.

The Pentagon’s Mr. Kirby stressed that while top Afghan officials had been briefed, the “exact hour” of withdrawal remained opaque with the goal of ensuring the Taliban didn’t attack the departing troops.

Still, the whole scene, widely deemed shoddy within the halls of the Pentagon, according to some officials there, seemed to powerfully crystallize the tensions within the U.S. military. While it is reluctant to give up, it serves a nation ready to be done with the war and a president with more pressing geopolitical concerns.

Most of all, analysts say, it highlights the wrenching realities of simply not winning a two-decades-long fight.

“There will be some veterans who fought in Afghanistan who will be upset seeing all the sacrifices they made for naught, but that’s the painful fact of a war that we lost. And I think, like Vietnam, that angst will fade over time,” says retired Col. Peter Mansoor, executive officer to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq and now professor of military history at Ohio State University.

Says Dr. Kohn, the former Air Force historian: “It just doesn’t seem like a good medium-to-long-term place to stay. And if that’s the case, why would you delay the departure?”

That said, the exit could have been more graceful, the historians agree. “It’s their country and they knew we were leaving, but it’s more a question of professionalism,” Dr. Mansoor says. “It smacks of a rush to the exits, and I don’t think it’ll do anything for the morale of the Afghan army remaining behind.”

As if by way of example, one Afghan soldier told The Associated Press that the manner of the U.S. departure negated “all the goodwill of 20 years.”

Mr. Kirby was having none of that. “We’ve spent a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of resources in improving the competency and the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces,” he told reporters in a Pentagon briefing Tuesday. “Now it’s their turn.”

To this he added a dash of realpolitik. “Frankly,” he said, “It’s really about focusing on what we believe, as a country, are bigger national security challenges.” These, he added, include China and Russia.

In the short term, the withdrawal means that America “will certainly take a blow to its military reputation after a 20-year campaign [in which] the U.S. was unable to defeat this insurgency,” says retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, U.S. commander in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.

But it shouldn’t make longtime military allies question U.S. fidelity, he says. “I don’t think Afghans and our allies around the world will say we’re a fair-weather friend. Billion and billions of dollars and 20 years is a pretty good investment for a war in one of the poorest, most remote countries in the world.”

The experience of the 2011 U.S. withdrawal from Iraq – where American troops were back fighting the Islamic State by 2014 – does, however, beg a pressing question: “Will this be a war,” Mr. Barno asks, “that the U.S. can actually walk away from?”

To understand this Supreme Court, watch Clarence Thomas

This last Supreme Court term didn’t take shape as many expected. But the key to understanding how the court might evolve could lie in its most conservative member.

Mark
Patrick Semansky/AP
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas prepares to administer the constitutional oath to Amy Coney Barrett at the White House in Washington on Oct. 26, 2020.

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For decades, United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas occupied a somewhat lonely place on the court’s conservative fringe. He was prolific in his opinions, but often on his own, blazing an idiosyncratic path.

In the term that ended last week, however, he appears to have become an increasingly pivotal figure. The court’s new 6-3 conservative supermajority in many ways defied expectations. While some major decisions hit a clear conservative note – for example, reining in the Voting Rights Act – others emphatically defied partisan lines.

Yet clues left during this term and the cases on the docket for next term suggest a rightward turn could be coming. And Justice Thomas’ intellectual fingerprints on the new court are showing. Arguments he’s long made against abortion and affirmative action appear to be gaining traction. And most conspicuously, he’s not alone so much anymore. 

“Several [justices] are closer to Thomas” ideologically than other conservatives on the court, says Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute. “He has more allies.”

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To understand this Supreme Court, watch Clarence Thomas

It was a slip of the tongue, but an illustrative one. During an oral argument in March, a lawyer referred to United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as “Mr. Chief Justice.”

“Thank you for the promotion,” Justice Thomas replied, his booming laugh momentarily filling the live-broadcast argument.

There’s no chance of a coup in the nation’s highest court. But it’s fair to say that Justice Thomas – a sometimes idiosyncratic stalwart of conservative jurisprudence – has never been more of a keystone for the court than he is now.

For the term that concluded last week, that meant a surprising amount of unanimity, and some unusual alignments in some high-profile cases. On the surface, at least, it was a relatively quiet term. But next term, with some blockbuster cases on abortion and gun rights already on the docket, could see the “Thomas court” take on a very different meaning.

“It’s a court in flux” at the moment, says Ilya Shapiro, a vice president of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. And Justice Thomas, he adds, “is definitely at the height of his influence.”

The term’s unexpected twists

In some respects, the Supreme Court defied expectations last term. Justice Amy Coney Barrett arrived a month into the session, replacing liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died five weeks earlier, and cementing a 6-3 conservative supermajority on the court. But the predicted flurry of conservative-friendly rulings hasn’t been realized.

The court upheld the Affordable Care Act, for a third time, in a 7-2 ruling. That same day, in a high-profile religious liberty case, it issued a unanimous but narrow ruling in favor of a Catholic foster agency. Of the 16 rulings the court made 6-3 last term, there were five different alignments. Justice Thomas twice voted with the court’s three liberals in divided cases.

This is still a very conservative Supreme Court, however, as evidenced by two opinions on the final day of the term. Both 6-3 rulings were along ideological lines – one significantly reined in a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, and the other represented something of a personal victory for Justice Thomas.

In the latter case, the court struck down as unconstitutional a California law requiring charities to disclose the identities of their major donors to the state. Justice Thomas has criticized such laws for years, saying they violate donors’ right to freedom of association.

“Now six justices really buy into that concept,” said Sarah Harris, a partner at the law firm Williams & Connolly and a former clerk for Justice Thomas, at a webinar last week hosted by the American Constitution Society.

“That’s a big change in the law throughout the last 20 years,” she added.

Erin Schaff/The New York Times/ AP/File
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021. Seated from left are Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Stephen Breyer, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Standing from left are Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.

These kinds of wins are sprinkled through Justice Thomas’ three decades on the court. Two of the biggest Supreme Court wins for conservatives this century – expanding gun rights in Heller v. District of Columbia, and reversing campaign finance restrictions in Citizens United v. FEC – came years after he had made similar arguments in solo concurrences.

Those cases are the exceptions, however – at least to date. Some of his arguments, such as one (made on several occasions) that the Constitution’s ban on government establishment of religion doesn’t apply to the states, are unlikely to gain traction with a majority of the court. But after decades of writing alone from the conservative fringe, he seems to have more power and more support.

“Several [justices] are closer to Thomas” ideologically than other conservatives on the court, says Mr. Shapiro. “He has more allies.”

Typically the court’s most prolific author, Justice Thomas led the way again last term with 23 opinions. But at least one colleague joined him in all but seven – his lowest number of solo opinions since the 2013-14 term.

Chief among those allies is Justice Neil Gorsuch, the colleague he agreed with most. Among the cases where they staked out similar positions was a First Amendment case the court declined to hear. In separate dissents, both justices argued that New York Times v. Sullivan – the 1964 precedent protecting the right of journalists and the public to criticize public officials – should be revisited.

On the ideological flip side, he voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act. And two administrative law cases also saw Justice Thomas write dissents joined by the court’s progressive wing. Together it illustrates that, while Justice Thomas may have more influence now than ever before, he’s still, well, Justice Thomas.

“He’s a solidly politically conservative justice,” says Steven Schwinn, a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law. But “he has an independent streak.”

How wide that independent streak stretches next term, with a slate of hot-button cases already on the docket, is a major question.

How conservative is the court?

Because the Supreme Court is now so conservative, the justices are being asked to hear more cases seeking to push the law in a rightward direction. Those cases have divided the court’s conservative wing, however, on the question of how quickly and broadly the law should change.

Last term, the court mostly trod a narrow path, adopting limited rulings and avoiding the cases’ bigger questions.

Next term “the court [may] start defining itself more,” says Mr. Shapiro of the Cato Institute. But with moderate conservatives like Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh at its ideological center, he adds, “it’s still a cautious and incrementalist court.”

Other experts believe the Roberts court is, and has long been, only selectively incrementalist. While the court issued some narrow rulings in big cases last term, they note, it also crafted significant changes to voting rights law on the final day of the term.

“It’s not like the court is always passive or always active. It’s ever-varying activity or restraint,” says Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a professor at Harvard Law School.

“It’s not a total surprise that a conservative court sometimes feels uneasy with the most conservative arguments put in front of it,” he adds. But “on the right kinds of cases there’s no question this is an ultraconservative, ultra-ideological court.”

Next term the court has already agreed to hear several of what could be those “right kinds” of cases for the conservative justices. Abortion, gun rights, and state funding for religious schools are all on the docket. The justices are also still considering taking up a case on affirmative action at Harvard University. (Last month they asked the Biden administration to weigh in on the case.)

These are also cases that could see the court move the law closer to how Justice Thomas views it. Earlier this year a solo concurrence he wrote in 2019 associating abortion with eugenics began to gain traction in lower federal courts. He has long been a critic of affirmative action.

The last time the court decided an affirmative action case it was months after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The justices upheld a University of Texas race-based admissions policy in a deadlocked ruling, and Justice Thomas wrote a fiery dissent.

It was in that moment, with the court’s ideological balance poised to flip from conservative to liberal for the first time in decades, that the court’s most conservative justice looked “destined to serve out his term at the even more distant fringe,” wrote The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin.

Five years and four new justices later, and with a blockbuster term months away, Justice Thomas has never looked closer to the court’s mainstream.

Beneath Haiti chaos, a deep need for trust

The assassination of Haiti’s president adds to a growing climate of fear. Our former Haiti correspondent sees building civic and interpersonal trust as the only antidote.

Mark
Joseph Odelyn/AP
The Creole expression “lari a blanch” – literally, “the street is white,” but figuratively, the street is empty – is how Haitians describe the sudden quiet after coups and violence. Indeed, the usually energized streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, were drained of activity yesterday following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Some children walked in front of the cathedral destroyed by the 2010 earthquake.

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A 5-year-old kidnapped and killed because her mother, a peanut vendor, couldn’t pay the ransom; a journalist and a human rights activist shot dead in their car; thousands of poor and working-class Haitians displaced because of gang warfare.

Escalating incidents of such unprecedented chaos in Haiti culminated this week in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, turning the spotlight on this Caribbean nation that – for all intents and purposes – had been switched off for more than a decade following the January 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Why should we care? Because in this global environment, there is a ripple effect – the pandemic taught us that if nothing else.

The violence and repeated failure of civil society to gain a stable foothold in Haiti is a symptom of a lack of trust – trust across color and class lines, across international borders, and between weak, dysfunctional legislative, executive, and judicial institutions. Most of all, it is a lack of faith between individuals who take the grab-and-go mentality to the extreme. Haiti needs support from within and without to build a solid infrastructure, but more importantly, it needs the one-on-one trust that is the foundation of civil society.

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Beneath Haiti chaos, a deep need for trust

The assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse yesterday has turned the spotlight on this Caribbean nation that, for all intents and purposes, had been switched off for more than a decade. A massive earthquake tore through the eastern part of the country in January 2010, killing hundreds of thousands of people, and Haiti commanded headlines around the world – but then the world moved on.

Unless you’re a Haitiphile, you probably missed the fleeting mentions of damage or turmoil when hurricanes and waves of violence washed over the nation in the years that followed.

I heard about the Moïse assassination on my local NPR station on an early morning jog in my Miami neighborhood. Details were still sketchy, but I already knew that my old neighborhood in Port-au-Prince would be as quiet as the street I was running on.

I’d lived through enough assassinations, coups, coup attempts, and gang violence during my decades of reporting and living in Haiti to know that the intense bustle that usually gives so much color to daily life there would be drained. The Creole expression Haitians use is “lari a blanch” – literally, “the street is white,” but figuratively, the street is empty. There would be no street merchants hawking their wares, no vendors selling spoonfuls of soup, no brightly painted “taptap” jitneys full of humanity blocking intersections.

Haiti’s reputation as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere is often mentioned in some report about a coup d’état, political instability, or gang violence. It’s easy to give a historical rundown of the countless presidents, dictators, and interim governments that have ruled Haiti since a slave revolt freed it from France – and Napoleon, no less – two centuries ago. But it’s far more difficult to understand why the country has been unable to find stable footing since.

Scott Applewhite/AP/File
During the Haitian presidential campaign in 1990, public support for parish priest-turned-candidate Jean-Bertrand Aristide was massive and swept him into office as the first democratically elected leader of the Caribbean nation. He was the target of several assassination attempts even before his candidacy and while he was in office.

Everyone at the table

Even when Haiti erupted in massive celebration over the landslide 1990 victory of parish priest-turned-politician Jean-Bertrand Aristide as the nation’s first democratically elected president, the hope of his slogan “bo tab la” – “everyone at the table” – could mean little when no one at the table trusted each other, or the failing institutions that they needed to govern. Mr. Aristide’s first hopeful tenure lasted only nine months until he was ousted; he was reelected in 2000, but a coup shortened that presidency also.   

According to some, President Moïse had outstayed his electoral term by almost a year, and street violence was increasing uncontrollably before his assassination. Unprecedented numbers of assassinations and kidnappings had become so routine they were barely acknowledged. Gang warfare in Port-au-Prince, the capital, has forced thousands of poor and working-class people from their neighborhoods, according to the United Nations. And a 5-year-old schoolgirl was kidnapped and killed in April when her mother, a peanut vendor, couldn’t pay the $4,000 ransom.

We all should care. In this global environment, there is a ripple effect – the pandemic taught us that if nothing else. But we also know that unless something touches us personally, it’s easier to ignore. The United States gets most directly involved in Haiti when Haiti becomes a domestic problem – we were never more engaged than when the cadavers of Haitian boat people who didn’t make it alive washed up on our southern beaches in the 1980s; or when they did land, alive, on our shores in record numbers in the 1990s.

The international community at large – specifically the U.N. and regional bodies such as the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) – has tried to provide assistance in various forms, offering troops or missions or much-needed resources. Some efforts were short term, others long lived, but they have provided, at best, temporary reprieve. Nothing has outlasted the dysfunction of the country itself.

Haiti’s situation is not unique in the world but perhaps unique in the Western Hemisphere. It’s isolated by geography and language and its own history of independence, for which it paid France an enormous restitution over a period of 100 years for the theft of slave owners’ property. There have been nearly two dozen governments since the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986 – one of which lasted for just three days.

The pattern of instability established itself as soon as the country declared independence in 1804, when the north split from the south. The reasons may be specific, but they also mirrored universal tropes: division of class and color, rural or urban development, land use, distribution of resources. Couple that with the grab-and-go mentality of the people in power – get it while you can, when you can – which has been the norm, rather than the exception, and you end up with what you see today.  

It would be easy to dismiss this recent assassination as just one more sign that Haiti is doomed to perpetual disaster and that it is the country’s disaster to fix. In some ways, I am guilty of that thinking. I married a Haitian, owned a home there, and partly raised two children there – I was invested in the place. And yet, like so many in the Haitian diaspora whose trust in their nation has worn thin with worry, I finally left with the last of my suitcases eight years ago. I said I was not coming back until Haiti got its act together. I behaved like a petulant child not willing to go home until her parents stopped fighting.

But the story is so much more complex. The fighting going on inside Haiti has unspooled under both democratically elected presidents and dictators – and the life-and-death consequences of that spur distrust in civic institutions and among people.

The fundamental building blocks for a functioning society – governance, health care, justice, education – these are more necessary than ever before. With the proper resources they can be built even if it means relying on not always reliable international aid. What is exponentially much more difficult, and has yet to be achieved, is figuring out how to build trust in this environment.

Without that, the next government will be a change in name only.

Kathie Klarreich covered Haiti for the Monitor and other news media from 1986 to 2013, and wrote the book “Madame Dread: A Tale of Love, Vodou, and Civil Strife in Haiti.” She lives in Miami where she founded Exchange for Change, a writing program for incarcerated writers.

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BLM and Floyd protests were largely peaceful, data confirms

Last year’s surge in protests against racism and police brutality drew harsh criticism in some quarters for being extremely violent or destructive. Fresh data analysis helps put those perceptions in a new light.

Mark

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Over the past year anti-racism protests have swept the United States, sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of now-convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Marches and protests spanned every U.S. state – a massive expression of public concern but also a movement perceived by some to be violent. 

In January Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona said Black Lives Matter “burns and loots,” for example. And in a Morning Consult poll 13 months ago, 42% of Americans said most protesters are trying to incite violence or destroy property.

A zoomed-in view on a particular protest may show violence, but data from the Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC) provides a zoomed-out view, showing that protests in the aggregate were largely peaceful. 

Started in 2017, the CCC is a public access database that tracks protest activity in the United States. With the help of a web crawler and citizen reporting, a research team compiles and codes protests reported in the media. The CCC breaks down violence into four categories: number of arrests, number of participant injuries, number of police injuries, and property damage. The group also tracks published estimates of crowd size. 

In CCC data collected from May 2020 to June 2021, 94% of protests involved no participant arrests, 97.9% involved no participant injuries, 98.6% involved no injuries to police, and 96.7% involved no property damage.

“Worldwide, we’re living in a time where we’ve seen more revolutionary movements using protest and nonviolent action more generally as their primary method than we’ve seen at any other time in the past 120 years,” says Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and co-director of the CCC.

Inaccurately labeling a protest group as violent can be a political tool to delegitimize a movement’s claims. A protest movement deemed violent by the media or political officials can lose momentum, depressing public interest and support, says Dr. Chenoweth.  “Far more people are willing to participate in a movement that they perceive to be nonviolent. [Because of the] political salience of these terms ... we have to be really careful when we’re using them.”  

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BLM and Floyd protests were largely peaceful, data confirms

Ann Hermes/Staff
From left, Nicole Solis and Corelle Nakamura hold hands outside the Hennepin County Government Center as they wait for the verdict in Derek Chauvin's trial on April 20, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Over the past year anti-racism protests have swept the United States, sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of now-convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Marches and protests spanned every U.S. state – a massive expression of public concern but also a movement perceived by some to be violent. 

In January Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona said Black Lives Matter “burns and loots,” for example. And in a Morning Consult poll 13 months ago, 42% of Americans said most protesters are trying to incite violence or destroy property.

A zoomed-in view on a particular protest may show violence, but data from the Crowd Counting Consortium (CCC) provides a zoomed-out view, showing that protests in the aggregate were largely peaceful. 

Started in 2017, the CCC is a public access database that tracks protest activity in the United States. With the help of a web crawler and citizen reporting, a research team compiles and codes protests reported in the media. The CCC breaks down violence into four categories: number of arrests, number of participant injuries, number of police injuries, and property damage. The group also tracks published estimates of crowd size. 

In CCC data collected from May 2020 to June 2021, 94% of protests involved no participant arrests, 97.9% involved no participant injuries, 98.6% involved no injuries to police, and 96.7% involved no property damage. 

SOURCE: Crowd Counting Consortium
|
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

“Worldwide, we’re living in a time where we’ve seen more revolutionary movements using protest and nonviolent action more generally as their primary method than we’ve seen at any other time in the past 120 years,” says Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and co-director of the CCC.

Inaccurately labeling a protest group as violent can be a political tool to delegitimize a movement’s claims. A protest movement deemed violent by the media or political officials can lose momentum, depressing public interest and support, says Dr. Chenoweth. “Far more people are willing to participate in a movement that they perceive to be nonviolent. [Because of the] political salience of these terms ... we have to be really careful when we’re using them.”  

SOURCE: Crowd Counting Consortium
|
Jacob Turcotte/Staff

Points of Progress

What's going right

More than memories: Digital archives are preserving refugee cultures

In our progress roundup, new applications of technology are both protecting and uplifting vulnerable populations, including children who’ve been abused and refugees who’ve lost their homelands.

Mark
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More than memories: Digital archives are preserving refugee cultures

Other technologies spotlighted this week include an online calculator that may help curb illegal gold mining and a means for investigating child abuse.

1. United States

The first fully flushable, biodegradable pregnancy test has reached online shelves. Americans buy an estimated 20 million at-home pregnancy tests every year. Those tests have been accumulating in landfills since they entered the market in the 1970s, and today’s tests are mostly unchanged since the late 1980s. Developed over six years by a women-led team, Lia is part of a broader push to re-imagine and destigmatize menstrual and pregnancy products.

The thin, hourglass-shaped pregnancy test is FDA approved and works very much like other urine-based tests, showing a single line for negative results or two lines for positive. The manufacturer claims Lia is 99% accurate – on par with other over-the-counter tests. But instead of plastic, glass, electronics, or nitrocellulose-treated paper – all common components in other tests – Lia is made with the same materials as toilet paper. The startup also promises greater privacy, as the product is shipped directly to users’ homes and there’s no reason for completed tests to sit in the trash.
Green Queen, Philadelphia Magazine, Harvard University, The New York Times

2. Brazil

The Federal Public Ministry and the Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF-Brazil) have launched a gold mining impacts calculator to combat illegal mining in the Brazilian Amazon. Brazil has exported $11 billion of gold since 2019, with an estimated 35% coming from illicit sources. Until recently, assessing the impact of illegal mining involved long investigations, and restitution values were based on the market prices of gold. Now, a new tool uses deforestation and degradation data to calculate the damage caused by mining activities.

Bruno Kelly/Reuters/File
A Yanomami man in Roraima state, Brazil, and environmental agency workers examine a gold mine on Indigenous land during an anti-mining operation in April 2016.

During a June demonstration launch, a CSF-Brazil economist used the calculator to determine that illegal mining caused $429 million worth of damage to the Yanomami Indigenous Reserve in 2020. Police estimate 20,000 miners in the past two years have entered and illegally worked in the community of fewer than 27,000, increasingly using intimidation and violence against local people. Officials expect the calculator will make it easier to prosecute illegal mining, and stress the importance of examining the supply chain and holding those in power accountable.
Mongabay

3. United Kingdom

By pioneering the use of hand anatomy analysis in U.K. courts, forensic anthropologist Sue Black has established an effective tool for investigating child sexual abuse. Last year, law enforcement struggled to keep up with online child abuse as technology companies around the world reported a record-breaking amount of images and videos to watchdog groups. In many instances, perpetrators’ hands are in the frame, offering Ms. Black and experts like her a critical piece of evidence. She and her research partners have worked on hundreds of cases, assessing these hands’ unique anatomical structure – vein patterns, scars, knuckle creases, etc. – and comparing that profile to a suspect. She sometimes works for the defense, helping suspects prove their innocence by detecting differences in the hand anatomy, but says about 82% of cases that she takes on as a prosecution expert result in a change of plea.

David Moir/Reuters/File
Sue Black participates in a 2013 search for a missing person in Coatbridge, Scotland.

While similar methods are used at the FBI and in other countries, Ms. Black is one of two people offering these services in the U.K. Now a project called H-unique is looking to automate the process. With nearly $3 million in European Union funding, researchers are developing two algorithms – one that will use machine learning to sift through millions of data points, searching police databases for potential matches, and another, simpler algorithm based directly on Ms. Black’s approach.
The Times, The New York Times

4. Zimbabwe

The African Union Sports Council and Zimbabwe government recently implemented a mentorship program to boost women’s leadership in sports. The AUSC Region 5 helps its 10 member countries develop a strong sports industry, and all the economic, political, and social opportunities that come with it. The Women Leadership Program (WLP) has been years in the making, with the first workshop held in Johannesburg in March 2019. Facilitated by AUSC Region 5 with support from the Association for International Sport for All, the 10-year training program aims to raise the participation of marginalized groups in sport and recreation throughout the member countries to 40% by 2028.

Zimbabwe’s WLP aims to produce at least 200 female leaders by that deadline. “It gives me immense delight to finally see the Women Leadership Program come alive,” said Kazembe Kazembe, the acting minister for youth, sport, arts, and recreation. “The WLP provides avenues for confidence building and ... unpacks the invaluable latent potential that for years has been dormant, and in some instances, ignored.” Other Region 5 countries, including Lesotho and Malawi, have implemented versions of WLP.
The Herald, AUSC, New Era

5. Australia

Australia Fashion Week had its first runway show featuring entirely Indigenous talent, as groups work to increase representation and combat appropriation in the fashion industry. The nonprofit First Nations Fashion and Design (FNFD) launched in 2020 with the goal of nurturing the Indigenous fashion sector. Run entirely by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers, models, and backstage staff, the June show split from fashion week norms, featuring musical performances, dancing, and homages to Australia’s Indigenous history.

In previous years, observers say authentic representation of Indigenous talent and culture was rare. But between two runway shows and a student showcase, at least a dozen Indigenous designers presented their work at the 2021 event. Demand for Indigenous models was also up, and the week opened with a Welcome to Country ceremony, a 65,000-year-old tradition honoring the traditional owners of the land. “In regards to the Australian Fashion narrative, First Nations people and our country have been a great source of inspiration,” said Grace Lillian Lee, FNFD’s creative director. “It’s time for us to take ownership of that.”
The Guardian, ABC

World

A growing number of digital archives are  helping preserve the cultural heritage of refugees. Wars, natural disasters, and other crises have displaced 80 million people around the world, according to the United Nations. Refugees, historians, and scholars have developed digital platforms for communities to document their stories and traditions on their own terms. Such efforts allow refugees to be known for their knowledge and creativity, “not just their marginalization,” says David Palazón, curator of the Rohingya Cultural Memory Centre, a project based in the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Similar initiatives include the Noolaham Digital Library – a multimedia archive comprising obituaries for Sri Lankan Tamils killed in the country’s civil war, newspaper clippings, and other Tamil-language documents – and the Refugee Archives, a scholar-led project inviting individuals from any refugee community to upload poetry, music, film, and more. Such databases are not only an important outlet for current refugees, says Rohingya poet Shahida Win, but are also vital tools for future generations: “It is very important for a community to maintain its cultural heritage, but ours is becoming endangered. It needs to be preserved for new generations of Rohingya.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation, Scroll.In

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As Taliban advance, Afghan women hug their rights

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In the three months since President Joe Biden announced a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, most American forces have left. And as the Taliban advances, many government soldiers have also quit. Yet amid this retreat, a new set of fighters has emerged. Hundreds of women have taken up arms – or at least brandished them – to prevent a return of the Taliban.

Other women, less prone to violence, have taken another tactic. Many are making efforts for a cease-fire. Still others are providing moral support to retain civic rights that they have gained since a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban two decades ago.

For many Afghan women, civic rights now have what legal scholars call “positive vitality.” Or as President Ashraf Ghani put it, “I assure you, the women will no longer give up their rights here.”

A country with some 27 million smartphones is unlikely to go back to the dark ages of Taliban rule in the 1990s. The group will be forced to adjust or, as many Afghan women now contend with arms or activism, it cannot take power. Civic rights are too firmly planted for Taliban guns to keep them from blossoming.

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As Taliban advance, Afghan women hug their rights

Reuters
A female Afghan athlete, sprinter Kimia Yousofi, trains in Kabul ahead of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

In the three months since President Joe Biden announced a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, most American forces have left. And as the Taliban advances in the countryside, many Afghan government soldiers have also quit. Yet amid this mass retreat, a new set of fighters has emerged. According to news reports, hundreds of Afghan women have taken up arms – or at least brandished them – to prevent a return of the Taliban and its harsh Islamic rule.

“There were some women who just wanted to inspire security forces, just symbolic, but many more [are] ready to go to the battlefields,” Halima Parastish, the head of the women’s directorate in Ghor province, told The Guardian.

Other women, less prone to violence, have taken another tactic. Many are making efforts for a cease-fire, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Still others are providing moral support. According to a new survey by the Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), rural women are very concerned about retaining the civic rights that they have gained since a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban two decades ago.

The survey challenges the notion that women in rural areas might accept the norms of the Taliban. “Almost every woman we spoke to, regardless of the political stance and level of conservatism that could be gleaned from the answers, expressed a longing for greater freedom of movement, education for their children (and sometimes themselves) and a greater role in their families and wider social circles,” according to AAN. Nationwide, more than half of Afghan girls now attend school.

The sudden activism by Afghan women comes with some irony for America’s longest war. To help justify the war, many U.S. officials cited the “plight of Afghan women.” Now it is Afghan women who are actively rejecting their plight in case the Taliban takes power.

“The struggle for fairer gender relations and therefore a more just and peaceful society is certainly here to stay in one manifestation or another,” states an article about Afghan women in AAN.

The Taliban may be able to outgun the Afghan Army, but for many women, civic rights now have what legal scholars call “positive vitality.” In an interview with Der Spiegel magazine, President Ashraf Ghani put it this way, “I assure you, the women will no longer give up their rights here.” He added that 30% of government workers are women.

This optimism is reflected by many foreign observers. “The Afghanistan of today is not the Afghanistan of 20 years ago. It has moved on. The role of women is now irreversible,” says Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

A country with some 27 million smartphones and a population in which 70% of people are under the age of 25 is unlikely to go back to the dark ages of Taliban rule in the 1990s. The group will be forced to adjust or, as many Afghan women now contend with arms or activism, it cannot take power. Civic rights are too firmly planted for Taliban guns to keep them from blossoming.

A Christian Science Perspective

About this feature

Each weekday, the Monitor includes one clearly labeled religious article offering spiritual insight on contemporary issues, including the news. The publication – in its various forms – is produced for anyone who cares about the progress of the human endeavor around the world and seeks news reported with compassion, intelligence, and an essentially constructive lens. For many, that caring has religious roots. For many, it does not. The Monitor has always embraced both audiences. The Monitor is owned by a church – The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston – whose founder was concerned with both the state of the world and the quality of available news.

How sacrament healed me of loneliness

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​​Every day offers the opportunity to commune with God in prayer that opens our eyes to Christ’s powerful, healing presence.

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How sacrament healed me of loneliness

Today's Christian Science Perspective audio edition

A few years after my husband of 28 years passed on, I realized that although I loved my work, my church, and the expanded sense of family I’d found, a deepening sense of loneliness had started to cast shadows on everything I was doing. I knew something radical needed to be done, so I decided to recommit myself to feeling God’s oneness in my life.

At the time, I didn’t relate this to the concept of sacrament, but in retrospect, that’s what it was. A deeper sense of sacrament, which may not seem to have much relevance in our daily lives, is actually what got me through that very low chapter. Allow me to explain.

First, a bit of history. Through the years, many have come to see the concept of sacrament as a religious rite that symbolizes one’s commitment to God. For instance, the sacrament of the Eucharist, or communion, reminds us of the intimate last supper Jesus had with his dearly loved disciples before his crucifixion, where he invited them to unite with the substance – the “body” and “blood” – of his healing mission to save humanity from mistakes, sickness, and even death.

Churches of Christ, Scientist, worldwide hold a Communion service twice a year. Like all Christian Science services, it includes music, prayer, and topical readings from the Bible and “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by the founder of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy. But unique to these Communion services, toward the end of the hour congregants bend on their knees together in silent prayer, followed by praying aloud the Lord’s Prayer. There are no material symbols or rituals.

To me this prayer provides a quiet, simple, reverent moment of renewed commitment to the demands made upon Jesus’ followers. It’s an opportunity to feel more deeply the presence of our Father-Mother God, who loves us and cares for our every need, at every moment. A chapter in Science and Health called “Atonement and Eucharist” explains: “Our Eucharist is spiritual communion with the one God. Our bread, ‘which cometh down from heaven,’ is Truth. Our cup is the cross. Our wine the inspiration of Love, the draught our Master drank and commended to his followers” (p. 35).

As I felt that growing loneliness in the pit of my stomach, I realized I was hungry for that spiritual communion – and I knew I didn’t need to wait for a biannual reminder of the healing, purifying power of Christ, divine Truth, in order to find lasting comfort. So I prayed to feel more closely divine Love’s, God’s, presence from the time I woke up in the morning to when I turned off my lamp at night. I wanted to feel aware of God’s allness when driving, working, running errands, or eating another solitary dinner.

One aspect of this is being willing to obey what God is asking of us each day: to reflect divine Love in all we do. I kept Jesus’ words at the forefront of my thought: “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” (John 5:17), and that was a good and happy thing.

I also needed to get a clearer understanding of my true identity as spiritual, as the expression of God, who is Spirit and eternal Life – not as a mortal stuck in an unfortunate set of human circumstances. And I needed to become more aware of others’ true nature as spiritually innocent and good, too. This silences nagging self-pitying thoughts, criticism, selfishness, self-righteousness, worries, fears, and regrets that hinder progress, and enables us to gratefully magnify God’s goodness.

This prayerful consecration was more than an exercise, a ritual, or a symbol. It truly was a daily practice of sacrament – eating of the bread of Truth and drinking in the wine of spiritual understanding, inspiration, and love. My prayers shifted from asking God for help to actively acknowledging God’s tender and powerful presence. I began to consistently feel a joyful, peaceful communing with the Divine.

With this expanded sense of sacrament, my life adjusted. I found that God was tangibly, specifically, and beautifully meeting my needs, including emotional ones.

Sacrament is relevant – each and every day. It comforts, satisfies, and heals us.

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On trial in Hong Kong

Kin Cheung/AP
Mike Lam, one of 47 pro-democracy defendants, arrives at court in Hong Kong on July 8, 2021. All 47 people are charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under the security law over their involvement in an unofficial primary election last year that authorities said was a plot to paralyze Hong Kong's government.

A look ahead

Thank you for joining us today. Please come back tomorrow when Linda Feldmann looks at why border politics are coming back to the fore.

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