Governor Greg Abbott of Texas, along with Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, has been outspoken in his efforts to ban commonsense efforts to stop the spread of the delta variant of Covid-19 virus. Last week he met with 600 of his fervent supporters at a venue described as standing room only. The day after this political love fest, he announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19. He will probably survive this infection because he did not listen to much of the advice provided by politicians, including Abbott himself, that argued against voters taking precautions to avoid getting this virus.

The Texas governor did get vaccinated against the virus and got infusions of monoclonal antibodies as soon as his positive test came back. There has been no press release regarding whether or not his office notified any or all of the 600 with whom he “pressed the flesh” just one day earlier that they needed to self-quarantine. I suspect that the 600 will gamble with the lives of other Abbott admirers and spread the word of their intimate meeting with the governor, as they simultaneously spread the delta variant.

This Covid news appeared just after the Taliban drove unopposed into Kabul and completed their take over of Afghanistan. Many will claim that one thing has nothing to do with the other, but I disagree. I see both developments as a failure of our government to do its job or, to put it in more archaic terms, examples of misgovernance. 

At home we have witnessed and have lost a civil war pitting much of the north against much of the south in an effort to control an epidemic. Indeed, both the northern states and the southern states have suffered terrible casualties in a struggle we have all lost. Abroad, we lost a 20-year struggle to assure peace and human rights in a region of the world plagued by instability and intolerance. The battle to control the virus would not have been so disastrous if our politicians had chosen to fight the virus rather than each other. The battle to protect life and liberty in Afghanistan would not have been so futile if our politicians had chosen their allies and objectives more wisely.

Afghanistan has been dubbed the “graveyard of empires.” Efforts by foreign invaders and homegrown forces to maintain any type of cohesive government in this region have been frustrated for centuries. One can only hope that the Taliban will lose their grip on the government and the people of Afghanistan more quickly than prior contenders. Our politicians have already started arguing about who was responsible for the blunders that led to this awful situation, a situation in which a sworn enemy of the United States and of democracy in general was literally given a free pass to drive to the Afghan Presidential Palace and move in with their luggage.

While our well-compensated congressmen and congresswomen quibble about who made the biggest mistakes, the people of Afghanistan face death, disease and displacement. The rights and needs of women and girls have been and will be ignored by this new government. Free speech, religious freedom, educational opportunities, and freedom of movement all disappeared as the Taliban drove into Kabul, proudly displaying the military hardware supplied by the United States to the Afghan army that had evaporated. I believe every American with any compassion felt anguish for the desperate men clinging to the sides of military aircraft as they took off.  Every American with a soul recoiled at the reports of women running from the streets to avoid the wrath of men empowered by the Taliban rules concerning female modesty. 

I have written repeatedly about the Covid fiasco and can only add that any public official, politician, religious leader, special interest group leader, or other public figure campaigning against commonsense health precautions for the unvaccinated children of America should be sentenced to 200 hours of community service as hall monitors and teachers’ assistants in schools with children under 12 years of age. The charge is reckless endangerment of minors. Although these “anti-vaxxer, anti-maskers” are guilty of placing our children in harm’s way, they should be allowed to wear masks and get vaccinated (secretly, of course) to minimize the risk of their being hospitalized. Our hospitals are already running out of ICU beds for the children with Covid-19.

Our government failures to address the Covid epidemic aggressively when it first appeared and the consequences of those failures are self-evident. The failures in Afghanistan extend over so many years that many Americans have no idea how we ended up with tens of thousands of people running for their lives simply because they worked for the United States or because they are educated women. Unfortunately, the events in Afghanistan have been subjected to nearly as much misinformation as the Covid pandemic.

After World War II a variety of political and religious groups vied for power in Afghanistan. When a Soviet-backed communist party got a serious foothold in the Afghan government, the USSR went all in with heavy-duty monetary and military support. The Soviets backed their puppet Afghan government for a full decade before they recognized that this fragmented nation with perpetual civil wars did not command the strategic importance worthy of the Soviet investment. 

A major factor in their leaving Afghanistan was the support the rebels, called the mujahideen, were receiving from the United States. With American training and supplies, local insurgents in concert with sympathetic foreigners were exacting a high toll on the mostly Russian forces occupying the country. Making the situation even more hopeless was the lack of support and legitimacy the Soviet-installed, Afghan leaders had accrued over the 10 years the Soviet army fought in Afghanistan. One of the most effective insurgent groups trained and equipped by the United States was a largely Saudi Arabian contingent led at least in part by a fellow named Osama bin Laden. Yes, he was our ally.

The founders of a religious movement in Afghanistan, which called itself the Taliban, filled the power vacuum left by the Soviet retreat and imposed a theocracy that took the already war-torn nation back several centuries to a time when only men who shared the Taliban’s religious views had any power or privilege and women, regardless of their religious views and practices, had no rights. Bin Laden was an honored guest in Afghanistan, but he inconvenienced the Taliban by making demands on the United States in connection with its foreign policies and ultimately followed through on threats to bloody America with the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackings. 

None of the hijackers was an Afghan national: 15 were Saudi Arabian, two were from the United Arab Emirates, one was from Egypt, and one was from Lebanon. The U.S. government demanded that the Taliban government surrender bin Laden: it refused. We went in with military force, and the Taliban retreated and essentially maintained its control in parts of the country until the U.S. tired of propping up its own, transparently corrupt and unpopular governments. 

We lost soldiers, tons of equipment, hundreds of billions of dollars, and credibility throughout the region during our 20-year occupation of Afghanistan. We lost the trust of the Afghan people and our puppet Afghan government when we excluded those people and that government from our discussions with Taliban leaders, some of whom we pressured Pakistan to release from prison, concerning our departure from Afghanistan.

Who was to blame for the chaos and resurgence of a 13th century theocracy? Many say it was the fault of two Republican and two Democratic administrations. I believe the evidence points to deeper roots. There are structural flaws in a government that can get so many important decisions wrong. We need to stop pointing fingers and start examining the systemic causes of our mistakes. Our nation has a wealth of human talent. We should be able to attract more than enough honest and intelligent people to the upper levels of our government to avoid the foreign and domestic misery unleashed by generations of short-sighted politicians.

Dr. Lechtenberg is an Easton resident who graduated from Tufts University and Tufts Medical School in Massachusetts and subsequently trained at The Mount Sinai Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan.  He worked as a neurologist at several New York Hospitals, including Kings County and The Long Island College Hospital, while maintaining a private practice, teaching at SUNY Downstate Medical School, and publishing 15 books on a variety of medical topics. He worked in drug development in the USA, as well as in England, Germany, and France.

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