Pondering the Pundits

Pondering the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news media and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

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Susan E. Rice: An Afghan Bargain Likely to Fail

After 14 months, the United States would be left without any military or counterterrorism capacity in Afghanistan, effectively subcontracting America’s security to the Taliban.

In assessing the U.S.-Taliban agreement, it is important to first acknowledge the positive results. Any end to the war in Afghanistan can come only through a settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. To the extent that the present document, barely four pages long, could become a first step that culminates in talks to discuss such a settlement, it is better than nothing. Moreover, if the reduction in violence by 80 percent is sustained and the Taliban curtail attacks not only against American and coalition forces, but also against Afghan government forces, it would lessen the bloodshed and help create conditions more conducive for negotiations.

Unfortunately, there are troubling early signs that the Taliban are already resuming attacks against civilians and Afghan forces.

And in the long run, the fundamental weaknesses of the U.S.-Taliban agreement will most likely endanger America’s national security and doom prospects for a just and lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Michelle Cottle: Maybe Next Time, Ladies

So much for the most diverse presidential field in history.

Talk about a head-spinner. Just a few days ago, Joe Biden’s candidacy was being prepped for burial, while Bernie Sanders’s revolution was considered unstoppable. But after the Biden blowout in South Carolina, Super Tuesday voters decided to shake things up.

As the results came rolling in, from east to west, political anchors delivered a breathless play-by-play of how Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders were divvying up the map and turning this into a two-man race. Their remaining major rivals, Elizabeth Warren and Michael Bloomberg, registered as little more than afterthoughts. Ms. Warren came in third in her home state of Massachusetts, behind both Biden and Sanders.

And so, after all the tumult, the Democratic race has come down to this: Two straight white septuagenarian men fighting over the soul of the party — whatever that turns out to be.

Let us state that Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders have many fine qualities. Either would make a better president than the unstable man-child currently degrading the office. That said, for the party of progress, youth and diversity, a final face-off between two lifelong politicians born during World War II leaves much to be desired. And it says something depressing about the challenges women candidates still confront in their quest to shatter the presidential glass ceiling.

Paul Krugman: Can the Fed and Friends Save the Economy?

On putting too much faith in central bankers.

Markets were in a state of near panic, deeply worried about the economic outlook. But then the Federal Reserve stepped up: its chairman issued a statement strongly suggesting that he would cut interest rates. And the market experienced a huge relief rally.

No, I’m not talking about Monday’s big market bump. I’m talking about Dec. 5, 2000, in the middle of what we now remember as the bursting of the dot-com bubble. (Actually, I wonder if some of my readers are too young even to remember that?) The Fed chairman in question was Alan Greenspan; his remarks sent the tech-heavy Nasdaq soaring 10.5 percent in a day, while broader stock indexes also rose by several points.

The relief was, however, short-lived. Stocks quickly began falling again. The Nasdaq wouldn’t regain the level it reached on Greenspan Day until, wait for it, 2012.

I’m not making a stock market prediction here; that’s a mug’s game (and sometimes I’ve been the mug). I’m just trying to put Monday’s rally into perspective.

Paul Waldman: Will ‘pragmatism’ and ‘realism’ doom Democratic chances against Trump?

Mike Bloomberg is not a sentimental man. Whatever his flaws, he can look at a spreadsheet and understand reality. And after spending somewhere north of a half-billion dollars carpet-bombing the airwaves with television ads, Bloomberg looked at his poor showing on Super Tuesday and decided to pack it up: [..]

It was an extremely pragmatic thing to do. Bloomberg could have stuck around for a few more weeks, but for what? He doesn’t have a set of beliefs he’s trying to get the Democratic Party to adopt, nor does he have loyal supporters whom he wants to give the opportunity to cast their ballots for him. So it was the only decision that made sense.

Bloomberg’s quick exit is the latest sign of what a powerful pull pragmatism is exerting on this race. There’s nothing wrong with being pragmatic, of course, especially when you’re faced with as urgent a need as getting rid of President Trump.

The difficulty comes when it’s unclear exactly what the truly pragmatic thing to do is. And if that’s all you think about, you may find yourself going rapidly down a road that looks pragmatic but is actually fraught with risk.

Max Boot: A new report shows freedom is declining in established democracies — including ours

When critics of President Trump argue that he is a threat to democracy, his supporters tell us to relax. No one is being exiled to Alaska or locked up for criticizing the supreme leader. The courts, Congress and the media all continue to function. Elections aren’t being canceled.

All true, but it offers scant comfort given the historical experience of how other countries have lost their freedom. There is seldom a moment of clarity, at least not early on, when a dictator announces that democracy has been abolished. Much more common is for aspiring autocrats to chip away at the foundations of liberal democracy — judicial independence, freedom of the press, minority rights, an apolitical civil service and so on — while maintaining its facade.

Unfortunately, this type of democratic erosion is now the norm across the world. The “Freedom in the World 2020” survey, released Wednesday by Freedom House, reports that 2019 saw the 14th year in a row of political deterioration, with 64 countries experiencing a loss of liberties, while only 37 experienced improvements.