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I give Biden an A for foreign policy. The withdrawal from Afghanistan was righteous and politically courageous. Those who say we did it wrong don’t understand that the Afghani government was doomed to collapse after we withdrew and the only thing we could control was timing. Evacuating 80k+ people and negotiating for others to leave after the Taliban took over was quite credible-- far better than Dunkirk, the Fall of Saigon or the Portuguese withdrawal from Angola.

His Ukraine policy has been even better-- slow, steady escalation that denies Russia hope of victory without excessive provocation. However, Russia is unlikely to be dislodged from Ukrainian territory or even driven back to the 2021 line of control. At some point, Ukraine will have to give up Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk if it wants peace. The best time to make that point would be after a smashing, Ukrainian offensive, at which point Russia might agree to codify the 2021 line of control.

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Agreed. The alternative to the hurried and chaotic-looking* withdrawal wasn't a smooth and relaxed withdrawal. Rather, the alternative was a commitment to extending our military adventure there, only on an expanded scale, at greater cost in American blood and treasure.

*Everything I've seen suggests it was the largest airborne-evacuation in history. Viewed as such, casualties were remarkably light. And these things always involve a certain amount of disorder and violence. Saigon '75 wasn't a walk in the park. Either was Dunkirk.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

Yeah, although I do wonder what would have happened if they hadn't operated under the assumption that the ANA would hold out for another year or two and ultimately lose. Continuing a war after it's become apparent your side is going to lose is actually pretty rare. Germany did it in 1945. South Vietnam kind of did from '73 to '75, but most armies in history aren't gonna throw themselves away on a cause like that.

Why would an army built around US air support fight on? Now, maybe it wouldn't have been possible to build up. I don't begrudge Biden for cutting our losses, but maybe delaying the withdrawal a few month until winter would've helped. Make sure that the evacuation didn't happen right in the middle of the "fighting season". Maybe things wouldn't have been very different, but we don't know.

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The withdrawal would have been far harder. We had an agreement with the Taliban and they held back from attacking us while we pursued the withdrawal. Had we reneged on that agreement, we would have had to execute a fighting withdrawal. Yikes.

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Then the ANA would have folded even faster as it became apparent the Americans knew they were going belly up and we'd have had a few airbases engaged in a hostile withdrawal in the face of Taliban belligerency.

Literally anything we could have done to prepare for the ANA folding would have sped up the mass defection process that resulted in the Taliban nipping politely at our heels in Kabul, and most of it would also have made the nipping less polite.

The time to prepare for withdrawal was around 2018, by getting the Stateside obstacles to interpreter visas sorted out and starting to draw down civilian contractors and leaning on the NGOs to fucking leave, slowly, so as to not attract much attention.

Try to speed that up starting in 2021 and the various tribal leaders masquerading as ANA brass just pull their parachutes faster.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

The failure to better help the interpreters get out is a BFD, though. Beyond the impacts for future negotiations with the US, it's just a stain on the country's honor and a pointless own-goal. Fuck, just presumptively let them in and sort out the vetting stateside, surely they've earned that much.

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I suppose delaying a withdrawal until winter would've been just such a signal of no confidence. I agree that such a signal probably would've made things worse, and it's how I've responded to that type of criticism in the past.

It still strikes me as weird at how surprising it was to intelligence leaders, though. They seemed genuinely shocked that ANA soldiers wouldn't want to just go down and die for a doomed cause in some Gotterdammerung.

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Not sure I buy that. There seemed to be a pretty concerted effort on the part of the so-called Blob to run a propaganda campaign via stupid/overly-credulous/extremely cosmopolitan bits of the media and discredit the withdrawal, even to the point of trying to undo it.

I don't really trust leaks saying that the intelligence community was blindsided by this because it just seems designed to make the decision to leave look worse.

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The situation was acceptable to the US because the Taliban were no longer attacking American forces, per the negotiated agreement under Trump and the Taliban's expectation that we were leaving anyway so there was no need to rock the boat.

Had we violated that agreement, we would have faced a more aggressive Taliban seeking to kill more Americans.

Joe did it right.

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It was a pointless pissing waste of money and the occasional American life to prop up a state run, in the main, by child rapists piling up money in foreign bank accounts and entirely dependent on unsustainable levels of foreign aid to feed a rapidly growing population. The longer it went on, the worse the ultimate outcome will be.

As is, in the next half century a quarter of the population is going to starve to death and the refugee flows are going to collapse Pakistan, necessitating that we and India destroy their nuclear arsenal on the ground.

As importantly, the low-commitment, low-casualty status quo was made possible only because Trump had made a credible promise to the Taliban that we'd be gone soon enough and Biden seemed to intend to follow through.

What, you think 5,000 American troops acting as a handful of buckshot were actually stiffening the ANA's 400,000-strong bucket of spit?

No, the Taliban basically agreed not to shoot us or too many Afghans if we'd slowly leave with our tail tucked between our legs. Stop leaving, and that deal falls apart and we need to push another 40,000 troops back in to stabilize the security situation.

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I don't remember the exact details, but it's broadly true. Attacks mostly ceased when Trump gave the Taliban a timeline for US departure.

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Yep. I think Afghanistan will be the biggest delta between current conventional wisdom and the future judgment of history. IMO the bravest and best thing he did in his presidency.

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I may be a party of one on this, but I'd similarly classify Obama's decision on Syria (non-intervention) one of the greatest moments of his presidency. Yes, he had previously used ill-advised language concerning "red lines." But you don't commit the country to a potentially disastrous war because one of your speechwriters made a mistake, no matter what the Washington Post says.

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Honestly believe that if those incredibly striking images of what looked liked hundreds (maybe thousands) of Afghan people chasing a gigantic American transport plane (and in a few cases trying to hold on and falling*) hadn't been beamed into American living rooms and smart phones, the withdrawal would have had an enormous amount of success. I think those images were so arresting it just put the perception of the operation on a path that couldn't be dislodged; that it was a complete screw up when in fact it went about as smoothly as can be imagined**

I suspect the other thing this episode showed to me is if there is an area where US media is perhaps the most conservative as an institution it's foreign policy. And no I don't mean just; we need more military spending or more wars (although there is that). But more in the sense that, outside of a handful of foreign correspondents most "straight" reporters are probably paying as much attention to foreign affairs as your typical "swing" voter. So when a foreign policy story suddenly becomes "A1" story, reporters end up going to all the same sources which form "The Blob". And I actually think this is where "The Blob" gets a lot of its power. And the secondary reason this episode was seen as a fiasco instead of a triumph.

* Andrew Sullivan's essay on substack is a great piece and the prime reason I suscribe to his substack. It's beautiful writing and just another example when he keeps his emotions in check, he can an amazing writer. Just a shame that by his own admission he's a pretty fiery guy and let's his emotions get the better of him in his writing and especially on Twitter.

** As has been noted before, the fact that the Afghan military forces melted away so easily and the Afghan government fell basically instantaneously was just proof to me Biden made the right choice. Basically 20 years of funneling money to a Potemkin village.

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What is crucial for the future peace of stability of Europe and indeed the whole world is that “Russia fails and is seen to fail” as Johnson aptly put it at the beginning of the war. Whatever the final settlement , it must not be possible to construe it in any way as a win for Russia. It must be crystal clear and beyond any possible doubt that Russia made a grave mistake trying to revive 19th century style imperialism and defy the post ww2 order l, and paid very dearly for it with *no silver lining*. Russia itself and the entire world watching must be deterred from taking any similar approach in future.

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I mostly agree, but “codifying the 2021” line of control elides one of the major challenges to a negotiated settlement of the conflict. How can Ukrainians trust Russia to abide by any agreement? When Russia invaded in 2014 Ukraine already had a written security guarantee from Russia that wasn’t worth anything. I’m not saying a deal isn’t possible, but I think there needs to be NATO membership, or some other mechanism to ensure that the peace deal provides something more than just a few years for Russia to rearm and invade again.

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I would support full NATO membership, but I think an equally true answer is that the foreseeable future for Russian economics and industry is bleak, and I think it's more likely than not that Ukraine just having time to breathe and reorient their force structure around western weapons with fully trained crews would fully guarantee their sovereignty.

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Agreed. This conflict only ends with Putin in his grave or otherwise convincingly expelled from power. Until that happens there are going to be nothing more than pauses in this war. It’s going to take new leadership to regain trust with the West (and Ukraine). Putin is in too deep.

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I have no objection to nato membership if ukraine makes major territorial concessions

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Define "major."

If they boot Russia out entirely except for Crimea (let's face it, the Donbass does not actually want to be Russian), and make the Russian government recognize the result as the legal border, why make any further concessions?

That's hardly a guaranteed outcome but it is a very possible one.

Frankly my preferred outcome is doing our utmost to pitch Russia into a new Time of Troubles and letting it decline into irrelevancy.

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Do you have a suggestion as to why Russia would respect a treaty obligation? They're in the Ukraine in violation of their previous treaty commitment.

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Do you have a source for the Donbas preferring Western to Russian influence/control?

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There was a survey of some sort within the last 10 years - about 75% of the Donbas was pro-Ukraine, as opposed to Crimea which was more split. And of course being invaded isn't going to lower that percent.

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Agree 100 percent about Ukraine. It's masterful and really speaks to his leadership within the administration since this is far too big to be the will of one man.

On Afghanistan, it was a courageous decision, but the Administration seemed to be caught by surprise that it went so badly. Maybe it was a messaging issue, but they should have prepared a domestic audience that there were likely to be casualties. If he didn't believe in the Afghanistan governments ability to persist he maybe shouldn't have been so publicly supportive of it.

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Of course he did.

That's half the point of the article; it's not a politician's job to tell the truth, it's to achieve an outcome. Had he admitted that the ANA was going to fold like a house of cards the moment we left, which our then-current intelligence estimates seem to have pointed at now that they're slowly leaking out, we'd have never left.

The same campaign that cranked up to armchair quarterback the decision to leave and its implementation would have instead cranked up to "Save Afghanistan" and he'd have had a fight on his hands in Congress and the security establishment. Instead, he did his level best to blindside those same actors and left them scrambling to enact a half-assed PR campaign that was so worthless even Fox didn't whine about Afghanistan in the mid-terms.

I don't care how many bald-faced lies were involved, let alone how many half-truths. Leaving was always going to be an attempt to outrun our shadow and it's a bloody miracle it went as well as it did.

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I think having the President loudly badmouthing the Afghan government while it was still nominally in control and we hoped would be able to hold out while we were in the process of leaving would not have been the smart thing to do.

The abrupt collapse of the ANA was probable but not certain. Telling everyone before the fact that they were going to collapse would have made it a certainty.

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Biden.

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Agree on Afghanistan. It was Biden's finest, most courageous moment. He acknowledged twenty years of failure and cut the cord rather than kicking the can down the road

As for people who say the evacuation was botched, well, they're fools. Getting the hell out of town in the midst of defeat is never pretty.

Regarding what the outcome in Ukraine will be, we're just going to have to see how it plays out. Future conditions will dictate what Ukraine will or will not have to do. I don't know and you don't know. We should give them the tools for victory and see if they can make it happen.

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There’s even a good way to phrase the formula for peace. “At the end of the war, Ukraine will control every inch of territory it controlled at the beginning.”

The fact is, both the West and most Ukrainians acquiesced to the seizure of Crimea. If only Obama or Trump had tried to organize a real self-determination in Crimea, this war might have been avoided. American policy was decadent for saying Crimea was Ukrainian without taking effective action to make that stick. There’s also the fact that Crimea is ethically Russian and very few people there want to be Ukrainian.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

There’s just no need to commit to any of these outcomes right now. The idiots who want to start committing to negotiations today are, as MY notes, idiots. I know that’s not what you’re advocating, just putting my oar in.

Let’s see how long we can boil the frog before the need for a negotiated sentiment becomes clear, and then negotiate on that basis.

What seems apparent, to me at least, is that the Ukrainians are very likely to tire of the huge sacrifices they’re making before our much smaller ones, or even the somewhat smaller ones Europe has shouldered (backed itself into by crap energy policy if one is a cynic) become unpopular enough to force us to stop transferring equipment.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

David R., thank you thank you thank you for being the person who finally talks sense.

I have so had it with people leaping to predict the shape of peace negotiations and final post-war structures and blah blah blah. Why the damn rush? The war is going to play itself out, and one side or the other is going to wind up with a decisive advantage or after long, bitter fighting both will be exhausted and we'll have a stalemate. But that will reveal itself only after many events have occurred no matter what bright, earnest ideas we put forward now.

We weren't doing a lot of debating in 1942 about Germany's place in the post-war world and nor should we have -- well, maybe some think tank types should have been thinking and writing about it quietly. As Nancy Pelosi always say, "You fight the war, and then you figure out the peace arrangements."

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Ukrainians are destroying statues of Pushkin as unwanted Russian influence -- in other words, Russia has burnt its bridges with Ukraine for at least a generation, and Ukrainian will rightfully want a deal that inflicts some punishment on Russia, not just a return to status quo ante.

If Russia would agree to hold a referendum in Koenigsberg on whether its residents would rather become part of the EU than stay in Russia, then perhaps the Ukrainians would be open to a deal where EU peacekeeping forces are stationed on the border between Ukraine and Russia and Crimea gets to vote on what to stay in Ukraine or join Russia. Or something else, but not something that expects the Ukrainians to just stifle their righteous anger at Russia for what it has done to them.

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I remember saying in 2014 that the Ukrainians should offer to have some third party democracy (India?) take temporary control over Crimea, keeping both the Ukrainian and Russian governments out and then hold a referendum that both sides would accept.

Crimea would obviously vote for Russia, but Ukraine would be able to accept that under those circumstances, and it would set a precedent that Russia would be loathe to follow for Donetsk and Luhansk.

Probably not an option now, but a plausible approach in 2014.

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double plus like. It seems like there’s a big ethnic difference between the western and eastern portions of donetsk and luhansk. maybe it would have been better to do the votes at a smaller geographic level.

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At some point, Ukrainians will tire of dying and freezing and the West will tire of paying the bill.

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It's pretty clear that that point will be far past what so many people (you?) think it was going to be.

Sure, in the abstract they would have breaking point, but I don't really get the point of statements like this that come off sounding flip. Respect their strength and wish them continued strength in facing one of the most criminal aggressions in the past >70 years.

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One question is whether the Ukrainians will tire first or the Russians will.

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Ukrainians have better channels for expressing tiredness

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That’ll happen when Russia decides to cool it with the “Home Depot-quality drone” attacks, as a retired US general described them.

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No, Crimea is ethnically Russian, Ukrainian, and Crimea Tatar. Russia and the Soviet Union took steps and continue to take steps to engineer its population, up to and including mass ethnic cleansing.

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I never knew there was a referendum or that Crimea voted for independence

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Let’s be clear that this isn’t some natural process. Russia is actively forcing Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars and imprisoning those who resist Russification.

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After Russia's huge population transfers and being under Russian control it will be a foregone conclusion. They have successfully

manipulated their way to winning a referendum because many of the people who would vote against them don't live there anymore.

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c.f., Tibet and the PRC

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Xinjiang, rather.

Tibet is still 90% Tibetan and quiet due to income transfers and security presence.

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Ah, I thought I'd read the government was importing large Han minorities into Tibet as well.

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I believe Biden has significantly reduced drone strikes as well, which is a huge win. It might help to be out of Afghanistan and not having ISIS to fight, but the numbers for Somalia and Yemen and way down too, which I'd give him credit for.

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Vaguely with you until "Reversing Trump's EPA red tape deregulation."

Which is just amusing, because you and I both know that Trump did no such thing. He basically just tried to remove the EPA's ability to consider certain kinds of air pollution in cost-benefit analysis.

Didn't *touch* the NEPA process for construction, didn't streamline permitting, didn't move to a shall-issue model for approvals for linear infrastructure, didn't rationalize OSHA rules for site work... literally nothing. Jack fucking shit.

Just "we'll let owners of point sources pocket a bit more money by skimping on emissions mitigation at the cost of sick and dead locals".

You want to talk about doing anything useful, I'm all here for it. I work in project delivery and I know exactly how fucked up it is. But Trump's rules changes were, as usual, a handout to a few narrow industries with broad costs and consequences for the rest of us, not an actual supply-side reform.

The GOP has been at the rhetorical game of "let's do smart reform on the regulatory state" for 42 years, 6 presidential terms, and several sessions worth of trifectas, and they have achieved precisely *nothing* except occasionally facilitating some rent-seeking. The last president to effectively bring off certain kinds of broad, sensible deregulation was Clinton, before him Carter.

At some point you need to apply a critical eye to whether or not the right telling the truth about wanting this, lol.

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Social conservative upset Democratic president is doing Democratic things.

Also, it's amusing to me that now conservatives wnat to point to Europe as an example when they're on your side on something, but I'm happy to say America is the leading edge of social progress, as opposed to the Euros.

(Yes, I know Matt and other centrist people living in D+ infinity districts are also upset about certain parts of the Biden social agenda.)

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Does the fact that the European consensus regarding gender dysphoria treatment is more empirically-rooted and produces better outcomes than the very recent American consensus not count for anything? Or is the goal just to maximize “progress”?

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Always fun to be cc’d on a newsletter to an audience of one 😉

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This felt like a message to McCarthy, is that what you mean? He’s basically saying “Y’all can make deals with this guy and that’s a good thing if you are a Republicans who wants to see some Republican policy reforms and not just a political knife thrower”.

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founding

I had to stop halfway through this to check if it was written by a guest author. I guess part of the "slow boring of hard boards" includes the occasional hagiography to the leader and his staff.

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But is the thesis really wrong?

I’m not sure. Unless things really go to hell between now and November 2024, DeSantis is going to have his work cut out for him and Trump has no hope. Biden allowing himself to fade into the background and quietly cajole Congress into getting a few useful things done was basically exactly what the zeitgeist demanded outside the overly online communities of wingnuts.

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I think the thesis that the Biden administration is at its best when its running like Biden as opposed to "rather than by his merger into the generalized goo of progressive politics" is correct. Unfortunately, there has been way more of the latter than I think Matt would publicly acknowledge. The President has the most power in foreign affairs and that's where I think his administration has been the most Bidenish and been the best. On the domestic front, its very clear that his administration started off with a LOT of progressive goo and as that has failed, they have retreated to more Bidenism.

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That's how *every* administration starts as far as I can tell, but I don't disagree.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

I suspect it’s the combination of Biden’s passions and energy contrasted with his staffers. I bet most of the letter know very little of the world, care less and understand nothing. Their obsessions are purely domestic.

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I had to stop halfway to see if Matt had written this after conducting a sit down interview with the president.

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I mean, I actually did enjoy it, but it was definitely an unusually friendly tone.

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Maybe a reaction to our weekend thread that had him making Godfather-style threats.

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It's known as a "beat sweetener." With Ron Klain, aka MY's White House BFF, leaving, he needs to make sure the channel stays open.

JK, of course. I agree with everything MY says about Biden.

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He's got the Secretary of the Treasury. Not exactly the same as COS, but pretty good.

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Re-reading the article with this comment in mind, I think Matt is trying to spark a Biden McCarthy bromance.

The paragraph he left out is that Democrats can keep McCarthy in the speaker’s chair if McCarthy acts sensibly enough to be worth keeping.

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Excellent point about Biden and House Democrats possibly becoming McCarthy’s best possible defense against the absolutely insane members of his own party.

With that in mind, I’m rather hoping that the debt ceiling standoff forces McCarthy and the majority of the House Republicans to make a deal with the Democrats when a minority of Republicans push for a politically toxic solution. Eg, pushing their ridiculous and broadly unpopular replacement of income taxes with a sales tax. Should those manics dig in their heels, then I’d imagine the majority of Republicans would have no choice but to deal with the Democrats.

That could be the start of a lasting bipartisan coalition as McCarthy and the majority of House Republicans need the House Democratic votes to protect them against the crazies in their own party that would demand vengeance in removing McCarthy. While I wouldn’t count on this outcome, the wishful thinking makes it easier for me to accept our current debt ceiling standoff.

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It amazes me how many people in politics and other fields have a hard time distinguishing between what they want and how to get it (i.e., strategy). Just saying here's a thing, it makes sense, let's do it is the most straightforward, but it's often not the most effective. I'm glad the Biden administration seems to be good at figuring out how to get stuff done, although I hope not too many of the plans backfire, like the inflation-fanning stimulus.

To be fair, I could probably benefit from more strategic thinking in my own work and marriage!

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founding

I think part of the problem is that politics involves a group of people working together, but talking in public. When an individual is engaged in negotiations, that individual understands that they should have a clear private view of their objectives, but should only make public whatever statements will help the negotiation. But when a group is engaged in negotiations, members of the group often don't understand that supposedly in-group communication still set the tone for negotiations with the out-group. Demanding reassurance that your coalition members actually have your interests at heart is a natural thing to want, but unless you have truly private communications, it causes problems for negotiation.

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On immigration and the border, Biden is stuck between one half of the Democratic party that wants open borders and doesn't really believe in the concept of national citizenship, and the other half of the party that doesn't believe that stuff but also can't afford to alienate the first half. Biden squared that circle by ignoring immigration and the border, and instead made it the problem of his unpopular vice president, which has not gone well. It's telling that Biden did not visit any immigration facilities until after Democrats lost their Congressional majorities. Republicans are divided on what legislation to pursue, but if they coalesce around something will Biden and Congressional Democrats actually want to bargain?

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Claiming that "half of the Democratic party...wants open borders and doesn't believe in the concept of national citizenship" is a hilarious overstatement. I'm not saying there are zero members who think this, but come on now

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I think there’s a half-ish plurality of the Democratic Party that wants open borders in the same way that the NRA wants no gun control or Planned Parenthood wants no abortion restrictions. They will say that that characterization of their views is meant to paint them as extremists, but in practice they can’t articulate any limiting factor they’d actually accept.

Personally I am 90% a Caplanian open borderser, but I don’t think most people on “my side” here have thought it through, but just see poor immigrants and think bad things happening to them is bad and there don’t need to be any trade offs to stop doing the bad things.

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I think that a large part of the perceived extremism of lobbying organizations like PP or the NRA is just fear that giving up any ground will lead to meaningful losses later.

I'm familiar with the gun control debate, and I know a lot of pro-gun people. Many of them have told me that they believe universal background checks or special permits for handguns would reduce violence. They refuse to openly support these measures, because they don't think this is where their opponents will stop. The general pro-gun view is that the anti-gun crowd wants very unacceptable laws, so it's important to keep the fight in territory acceptable to the pro-gun crowd, rather than just giving up territory and having a desperate fight over nationwide gun registration or something.

I suspect that pro-choice advocates have the exact same mentality: if they come out against abortions at 30 weeks, they're more likely to end up fighting for abortions at 15 weeks.

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I don't know how much daylight there is between the Abolish ICE view and more broadly "open boarders" - they seem very similar to me - but 42% of democrats back in 2018 supported "get rid of of ICE". A "plurality" seems like a fair assessment to me - unless polling has changed drastically since.

https://www.vox.com/2018/7/11/17553330/abolish-ice-poll

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abolish ice was like defund police...a bad slogan, but worthwhile if you just use it to break the union and hire a new ICE with a different name/structure and a new police force with a different name and better personnel. both groups self-select for bullies and racists and the new forms would too, though.

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Nothing would make the US more like Europe than abolishing ice.

What next, tiny clothes dryers?

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Sure, it's a bit of hyperbole. That being said, while it's not the same thing, here's a poll saying that about half of democrats claim to believe that most or all asylum claims are deserving (I think this is just signaling more than an actually reasoned belief):

https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-12-16/poll-immigration-asylum-benefits-country

And here are the stats showing that courts reject about 50-70% of asylum claims (dating back 20 years):

https://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/630/

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Believing that most asylum claims are deserving is a wildly different concept then not believing in national citizenship. The latter is unvarnished hyperbole from this commentator.

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Closer than you think. Apologies for the trite analogy, but if you say everyone who shows up at your door deserves to be let in, does the door serve much purpose anymore? As Joshua points out, if you can't define any reasons to exclude, then it's essentially a distinction without a difference.

As I said, I think this is more signaling than deeply held beliefs. But it's still kind of frustrating that democrats as a whole refuse to come to terms with this issue. I'm hopeful something happens in the next two years.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

"if you say everyone who shows up at your door deserves to be let in, does the door serve much purpose anymore?"

Christianity requires very little of converts ("do you believe in Jesus?"), but, as a non-Christian, I continue to think the Christian–non-Christian distinction remains important.

(I know you weren't talking about religion, but both religion and nationality primarily identify tribal membership.)

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I think we're sitll at the point that yes, we could allow every person asking for asylum in, and in the long run, not much would change. If it's really worried about border areas, fine, greatly expand asylum, and every border town in Texas, Arizona, etc. gets a billion dollars that only go to help those people, not secure the border further.

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Do you know how many people whose claims are denied actually leave the country? That is, how many simply never show up for their hearings?

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Jan 25, 2023·edited Jan 25, 2023

It looks like a good number, tens of thousands, of deportation orders are issued in absentia. What fraction that is depends on what you put in the denominator, as there are multiple appearances required for each case, but DOJ says it's around 35-50% in non-COVID years.

https://www.factcheck.org/2021/04/factchecking-claims-about-asylum-grants-and-immigration-court-attendance/

https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1153866/download

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That sounds like a really serious abuse of the asylum system. Despite my being in favor of increased immigration, that's an intolerable situation.

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The Democrats who don’t feel this way are afraid to be seen opposing the ones who do, which makes the idea of open borders seem more popular than it is.

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Then why was Biden the only candidate not calling for open borders during the 2020 primary? Why did border crossings rapidly increase after Democrats took power? Why did NYC legalize non-citizen voting? If this bloc of the party does not have power and influence, none of these things happen.

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"doesn't really believe in the concept of national citizenship" is I'm sorry...ridiculous. Saying that Democrats are more likely to support measures that allow an easier path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is wildly different from what you are saying which you can see by the word "citizenship" in this polling https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/09/08/republicans-and-democrats-have-different-top-priorities-for-u-s-immigration-policy/

And you might want to add context that "non-citizen" voting was only for NYC municipal elections and was struck down by the courts. If you want to argue that NYC or SF city councils (or other local municipal governments) have (or had) some members well to the left of the median voter, no argument. But you have to contend with a) the recall election in SF that removed Chesa Boudin and b) the election of Eric Adams. Considering how well to the left both NYC and SF are to the nation, it's a pretty big repudiation of the claims you make that somehow half of democrats believe in things you say they believe in.

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founding

What I'm interested in is why so many urban school districts ban the parents of a large fraction of their students from voting in school board elections. It seems like a conspiracy of childless citizens to prevent parents from having any say in their children's education, if the parents aren't citizens.

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The bigger problem is setting school board and city council elections on weird dates in March or September, so only teachers and other government workers vote (for their own bosses).

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Imagine the "Simpsons" bus-driver-tapping-sign meme here with the sign reading, "Off-cycle local elections were overwhelmingly a progressive 'good government' innovation."

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Biden can probably let House members off the hook to vote their consciences on a measure which isn’t nationally unpopular, which would require reforms for legal immigration as well. The GOP clearly cannot tolerate those at present.

There is basically no chance that the GOP passes anything other than a clean border funding increase.

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I don't think we will get anything like a 2013 grand bargain. Changes to asylum law, the number of immigration judges and other enforcement officers, and where asylum claimants have to stay prior to hearings are certainly possible, if Democrats are willing to deal.

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Which is woefully insufficient and they should tell the GOP to fuck off.

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Incremental progress isn't acceptable?

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Sure, but this ain't progress.

I refuse to have my child grow up in the demographic equivalent of Bulgaria or Hungary, destroying their future because the GOP's leadership is made up of spineless imbeciles who pay too much attention to their borderline-white nationalist wing and decided to destroy what makes America, America in a fit of pique.

The Democrats must trade reform and expansion of legal avenues for skilled immigration for border security and asylum reform. Nothing less, and *nothing* for free.

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Even if no new immigration laws are passed in the next decade, which is the most likely outcome, America's demographics will look nothing like Hungary's. We will still accept millions of legal immigrants and millions more illegal immigrants will still come.

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Well, hopefully the democrats would get an increase in legal immigration (or at least a return to how it has worked before) in exchange. But the current status quo surrounding asylum is not really a win for democrats either, so both sides *should* be interested in fixing it.

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As I ultimately said once stripping the hyperbole out, "The Democrats should do their best to effectively enforce the border and process asylum claims in an orderly fashion, but do absolutely nothing that would have the effect of curtailing overall numbers unless the GOP gives up major ground around skills- and education-based immigration in negotiations."

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Jan 25, 2023·edited Jan 25, 2023

You're absolutely right, and this is underscored by the fact that the problem at the border is not primarily a legislative one, it's an enforcement problem. So it's all in the hands of the administration to fix it, or if their ideology prevents them, to not. Matt is being purposely obtuse in saying that Republicans don't have any policy proposals, because the main stance of border hawks is that it is pointless to pass any news laws while the current laws are being so blatantly ignored.

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This feels a bit like you leaving instructions for Zients.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

Good article. My impression of Kamala Harris is she shares this same good basic quality as Biden -- a flexible deal making champion of practical, inclusive normality. But her public persona was formed in the decidedly unrepresentative hothouse environment of California Democratic politics, which doesn't translate well to the national stage whereas Biden's was formed on the national stage. So Harris needs to recalibrate herself to be more in the middle of the country as a whole.

That will require her to go out among Americans, really understand this country at the ground level as it actually is, without judgement, until she is in tune with the pulse of real-existing American culture as a whole. Not just the drive-by diner interview that East Coast journalists do and call it a day, but an almost anthropological interest in lives, hopes and beliefs of the people who live here. If she can do that, she can be a strong successor to Biden.

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I’d suggest a regular schedule of low key visits to states Biden barely won or barely lost with a focus on unscripted meetings with the people who live there rather than campaign style hoopla.

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Paragraph #2 is great but how many politicians actually do that? Especially politicians at her stage in her career?

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But can you get rid of her cackle?

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I like her laugh, it's one of the few human features of her public persona.

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But many do not so it's a liability.

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I agree. For instance I don't believe Joe Biden has particularly strong opinions on the nuances of the transgender debates. He, 100% rightly, empathizes with a group of people who are incredibly vulnerable and experience violence at a higher rate than most Americans. Whether or not there are multiple sexes, multiple genders, etc. is probably not a topic he cares about: he just wants transgender Americans to be safer and happier.

The moral of this thought process to me is that Biden is not a wonk: he cares about the details because they can get to consensus, not because the details themselves are vital to Joe Biden. It's the opposite of Obama who cared about the particulars because he saw each piece as important. Obama/HRC wanted to make the perfect policy: Biden asks if the policies on the table improve the country, and then shrugs off the particulars. Both approaches have their benefits.

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Jan 24, 2023·edited Jan 24, 2023

"Whether or not there are multiple sexes, multiple genders, etc. is probably not a topic he cares about"

Biden's been impressively woke on this kind of stuff for a while- or at least way beyond what you'd expect from an old guy with his kind of background- even back during the primary he all but told a troll to fuck off when they tried to "gotcha" him about it:

https://www.newsweek.com/joe-biden-iowa-state-fair-gender-1453688

Hell, going back to TWENTY goddamn TWELVE- when gay marriage wasn't even a won fight yet- Biden was already ahead of the game and saying that transgender rights were "the civil rights issue of our time":

https://www.politico.com/blogs/politico44/2012/10/biden-says-transgender-discrimination-civil-rights-issue-of-our-time-147761

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Good one, Matt. I think America's current situation can be paralleled to the beginning of the Seventies: people are tired of living in a country that feels like it's at war with itself and wants to calm down. Unfortunately, the "solution" the Seventies came up with is the sort of cynical chic that dominated the decade. If Biden can offer us a better way to do it, I'm all for it.

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I would be too if it appeared that he was even trying to offer a better way. But he hasn't. From day one, he's tried to position himself as an propagator of the next New Deal. With massive majorities in Congress like Obama had that could have been possible. But that's not what he had, thankfully.

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I dunno, "pass what we can, tout it as an improvement, and stay the fuck off Twitter" seems to be working just fine with most folks.

If he can tamp down the hipster politics wing of the Democrats enough before and into the '24 cycle, so that whenever DeSantis says the word "woke" he's the only one saying it, and nothing has imploded in the meantime, he'll win reelection and continue attempting to make politics boring.

The "better way" isn't a matter of policy, it's to make most folks comfortable with reducing the salience of politics in their lives. Unlike this comment section, most people do not want to feel like they have to pay attention to this stuff 24/7.

If Biden can convincingly offer the electorate "thanks for voting, we've got this, you can forget about politics until October 2026 or 2028", then he's going to win unless the economic or geopolitical situation has deteriorated markedly.

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David, I think Biden's age will be a bigger factor than anyone here is letting on. No less an authority than Jimmy Carter said that he couldn't have done the job at 80. Having been both president and 80, albeit at separate times, he would know.

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Jimmy Carter isn't the best authority on how to do the President's job well.

(That said, Camp David and deregulation were really good.)

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Meh, Reagan was senile beyond any semblance of competence by 1982-3 and he did fine in '84 and was still fondly regarded at least through 2008.

"The job," as it were, is mostly hiring competent people and getting the fuck out of their way except to apply occasional pressure on allies or enemies. That's gone remarkably well, the main exception being the woke-ass communications staffers.

Color me unimpressed by the motivated reasoning the right keeps cranking out to explain how he's bound to lose in 2024. Cope piled atop more cope, even while they themselves are tying themselves in knots to figure out who their standard bearer will be.

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""The job," as it were, is mostly hiring competent people and getting the fuck out of their way"

I think Matt's point is the exact opposite. Biden's administration is best when Biden is *leading it* and worse when all the progressives in government run wild on their own.

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Is the Joe Biden he writes about the same as the one in the Whitehouse? The one who says he will change nothing after his party lost the House? The one who says he won't negotiate about spending cuts to get a debt ceiling deal?

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Fall also turned into winter, but Biden didn't change his policies to bring back summer!

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I think it’s somewhat telling that even Joe Biden gets businesses putting up street signs that say fuck Biden. I’d at least basically understand that level of vitriol for a Twitter left kind of figure but it seems to me the united ship may have sailed.

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The thing is, all this 'Fuck Biden' stuff seems performative. If you go online, the Right seems more upset at Fauci, random woke corporaions, etc. than Biden.

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I mean "Let's go Brandon" has been pretty big. Can't drive around Nassau County, Long Island without seeing this bumper sticker somewhere. I think once inflation started taking off (as well as Delta variant starting to take off), actual vitriol towards Biden became a real thing.

But I take your point that at least some of this performative vitriol is really just anger at Fauci or "the Libs" more generally.

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Have a friend who lived in the outer rings of the city of Philadelphia (so edge of the city, almost in the suburbs) . In driving to her house circa 2021, I see a bar/restaurant with "fuck Biden" pennant out front...in a district that likely went for Biden by at least an 80-20 margin (and likely wider than that).

Just an amazing example to me of how much the idea "people will make decisions based on their own self financial interest" is very often incorrect. I mean maybe this place is a cop bar or something (i.e. a place where the majority of the best customers are pretty hardcore Republican), but even still, given the political breakdown of the neighborhood, I have to believe having this flag outside was not good for business.

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I read "There’s a hokey element to it, and being fearlessly cringe is part of Biden’s appeal." to my 20 something daughter and she replied, "No. You have to be self-aware to be fearlessly cringe."

I would like to believe this take on Biden's motivation and philosophy but his public ineptness stands in the way and any reporting on his private competence doesn't show up in my reading. Perhaps it is too wonky, too subtle, and perhaps intentionally so in order to maintain his effectiveness?

Reading suggestions would be appreciated.

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The debate about 2024 is almost entirely about whether Biden would win or lose. But what should also figure into Democrats' thinking about whether or not he should run is what kind of President he has been and would likely continue to be. I think -- as MY ably lays out -- is that he has been a damn fine President. What other Democrat would be as good a President during the next term? None, I'd say. I'm still worried about his age and possible rapid decline, but based on past performance, I'd rather have him as President in 2025 than any other alternative.

That said, almost all second terms suck.

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Bravo! Thank you for not mincing words to support a decent President doing a quietly decent job.

His leadership has been inspiringly uninspiring lol. There’s unfortunately a real problem with this politically however - goobers like Biden need to perform to be well-liked - the earnest ones have a tough time campaigning on a shitty record.

Meanwhile we just have a shit ton of headwinds. Not least of which is a Republican House caucus intent on making government look incapable and dysfunctional. Not least of which is a cabal of authoritarians pricks in Asia that would rather see the US flounder, so they do everything they can to make Biden look bad, to empower the party that also wants to make US government look bad.

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How much of this was based on reporting vs punditry? Liked the article but the style made it hard to guess how much if it was informed by reporting.

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Biden is definitely an empathetic people person and a bit of a doer. It's his personality. Obama is a thinker. Trump is charasmatic. I think any personality type can be an effective leader but, especially in today's social media driven landscape, they need to have that "it factor" that makes people want to follow them. They have to be an "influencer" and be able to cast a vision. I don't think Biden has this in him, and it's probably his biggest downfall. "Not Trump" was a good strategy to get elected but it isn't much of a vision. And doing Trumpy things like stashing classified documents, even if on a much lower scale, makes him look like a hypocrite.

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This was a weird article that didn’t feel like it was in the authors own voice to me

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Matt, this read like it was based on or heavily shaped by interviews with high level WH staff who know Biden's thinking, perhaps even Biden himself. If so, it feels wrong not to cite it. Agreeing with their perspective wouldn't negate need to do so.

If not, it was strangely written. Lots of declarative "Biden thinks" instead of framing points as your interpretation of his actions.

If you did the interviews under deep background, some policy on doing this should be posted publicly.

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