US Afghanistan

Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban group's top political leader, third from left, arrives with other members of the Taliban delegation for talks on May 28 in Moscow.

After nearly two decades of fighting, the United States is arguably closer than it’s ever been to leaving Afghanistan behind, working through negotiations with the Taliban last week to broker a peaceful conclusion to the longest war in American history.

For some, the news was welcome: the United States can currently say it is at war with no fewer than seven countries and, in Afghanistan alone, American operations there have amassed a count of roughly 2,400 servicemen killed since the early 2000s.

Top conservatives on the House Armed Services Committee – including Rep. Liz Cheney – however, have urged caution over haste in the discussions last week, calling the Taliban’s proposal a “phony deal” that would put America’s security “in the hands of the Taliban” – an entity that has, so far, failed to denounce the terrorist group Al Qaeda.

This, she believes, puts the United States in bad position, as Afghanistan would not hesitate to harbor extremist groups with an aim to hurt the United States – something she said remains a very real threat to national security.

“The head of Al Qaeda has pledged allegiance to the head of the Taliban, they fight together, you’ve seen the Taliban refuse to criticize or walk away from Al Qaeda and refuse to recognize the elected government of Afghanistan,” Cheney said in an interview with the Star-Tribune last week in Casper. “I think we can’t responsibly put our security in the hands of the Taliban. While we’d all prefer to have some negotiated agreement, we’d first like to be sure the entity on the other side of those negotiations is an entity you can trust to do the right thing and will help to prevent those safe havens from forming. I don’t believe the Taliban is the group to do that.”

But among conservatives, criticism of the United States’ foreign policy has been growing. In Wyoming, U.S. Navy veteran and current House Majority Whip for the Legislature, Tyler Lindholm, has begun an appeal effort to Wyoming’s delegation in Washington in an effort to bring the troops home. In the national press, a growing number of conservatives nationally are raising their voices against military action abroad.

“Many people do ask why the U.S. should initiate hostilities against other states when it doesn’t have to, and a lot of Americans object to getting involved in conflicts where there aren’t any U.S. interests at stake,” wrote American Conservative’s senior editor Daniel Larison in the June 29th edition of the magazine. “We know that even “limited” interventions often expand, and we know that even when they remain limited they can still do more harm than good.”

Signs of a burgeoning movement among conservatives against endless war have been peeking through in Congress. In the recent reauthorization of the mandatory National Defense Authorization Act, 27 Republicans in the House voted to join their Democratic colleagues in a measure to prohibit any military strike against Iran without explicit congressional approval – a surprising turn following years of acquiescence to executive power under the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Cheney acknowledged that a debate has been brewing in Congress – evidenced earlier this year during heated Congressional debate over Trump’s controversial decision to draw down the number of troops in Syria. However, she held steady on her stance – particularly on Afghanistan – saying that the conditions for the United States’ withdrawal from the country would require the Taliban’s unconditional acceptance of America’s terms.

“I do think there is a debate and discussion going on with Afghanistan right now,” said Cheney. “But I come back to the notion that if I thought we could pull all of our forces out of Afghanistan and rely on the Taliban to prevent terrorist safe havens, then I would support doing so. But I just don’t think that’s the case.”

Meanwhile, tensions abroad have been escalating among all the United States’ traditional adversaries. Geopolitical tensions with Russia over its Nord Stream 2 pipeline and its nuclear arsenal continue to be of concern, while the nuclear capabilities of Iran and North Korea – as well as renewed frictions with China – have created a national security environment described by Cheney as “more complicated and more complex than it’s been at any time since World War II.”

“I think what needs to be done for us as a nation is to do everything we need to keep the country safe,” Cheney continued. “If you look at a situation like Afghanistan for example, our goal and objective there is to prevent safe havens, to prevent a situation where terrorist organizations can again establish the kind of base camps they used to train and plot to attack us on 9/11. In so many cases, if we don’t fight there, we make it easier for them to attack us here.”

A quick note about that Cynthia Lummis ad…

You may have noticed a recent advertisement pushed by Cynthia Lummis’ campaign on Facebook calling out House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic-controlled Congress for pushing a budget bill that increases the national debt to unprecedented levels of spending.

“Earlier this month, Democrats in Congress pushed through a Budget Deal to raise spending by $320 billion over the next two years—with only $75 billion in offsets,” she wrote. “This is unsustainable and unacceptable. Washington needs a hard dose of reality.”

The only problem: It wasn’t just Democrats: A majority of Senate Republicans (29 out of 52 of them, including Sen. John Barrasso) voted for this deal. No shortage of Republicans in the House, Rep. Liz Cheney included, voted for it as well.

What was notable, however, was how Lummis followed it up, posting a speech by retiring Sen. Mike Enzi two days later praising his work in fighting the national debt while framing herself as a suitable replacement to fill a similar role after his retirement in 2021.

“Senator Mike Enzi has been a tremendous champion for Wyoming people and fiscal conservatives across the country,” she wrote. “He continues to be laser focused on fixing our broken budgeting process, reducing spending, improving transparency and making government more accountable. In Washington, I’ll continue his work to put our country back on a fiscally sustainable path.”

The Week Ahead

Monday: Tribal Relations Committee meets in Fort Washakie.

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Tuesday: None.

Wednesday: None.

Thursday: None.

Friday: None.

Weekend: Wyoming Republican Party’s State Central Committee meets in Greybull.

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Wyoming Politics

Star-Tribune Editorial Board comes out against anonymous influence in Wyoming politics: Wyoming’s laws make it easy for outside political interests to influence our politics with considerable anonymity. And the penalties for violating those laws are exceedingly weak. (via Trib.com)

Rancher skeptical of new trade agreement: At least one Johnson County cattle producer isn’t convinced an agreement signed by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Aug. 2 will be much help for the cow-calf operation she runs with her husband, Luke, in the French Creek area northwest of Buffalo. “I know there are a lot of things that do affect the cattle industry,” Goddard said. “I think (trade agreements) are focused more on the big corporations – they’re going to help them. They’re not going to help the small producer.” (via The Buffalo Bulletin)

The ACLU believes Wyoming can cut its prison population in half. But is it feasible? Wyoming could save $20 million and reduce incarceration by more than one-sixth if it deeply cuts prison sentences for drug crimes and altogether ends prison terms for possession conviction, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. (via Trib.com)

Around Wyoming

In a harrowing blog post last week, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis wrote that Wyoming’s leaders need to prepare for action to offset looming and dramatic declines in coal over the coming years, with the anticipation that more mines in the region will close.

“State and local leaders in Wyoming and Montana need to accelerate their preparation, planning and assistance for dealing with these changes, even as they grapple with the displacement and financial devastation to families and communities that has already taken place,” they wrote.

Big investment firm escapes Blackjewel bankruptcy ‘unscathed’: According to filings in bankruptcy court, Riverstone Holdings LLC, an energy investment firm, propped up Blackjewel with millions of dollars in loans while making deals to recoup its investments. According to court filings, Riverstone’s net benefit could be about $40 million. Meanwhile, Blackjewel owes Campbell County $37 million in taxes, owes Wyoming $11 million and owes the federal government $60 million in mineral royalties, half of which would have gone back to Wyoming. (via Wyofile)

Fewer grizzly bears being euthanized after record year: Through mid-August, nine grizzlies have been euthanized in Wyoming in 2019, data from the U.S. Geological Survey says. At the same point last year, 17 grizzlies had been removed in conflict management actions. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, under the direction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, removed a record 32 grizzly bears from the ecosystem in 2018. (via The Powell Tribune)

John Barrasso was in Goshen County visiting the site of a collapsed irrigation tunnel and meeting with workers there, according to a Facebook post by the Goshen County Irrigation District on Tuesday. He also attended a roundtable discussion on Economic Opportunity Zones in his hometown of Casper on Thursday, joining Rep. Liz Cheney, who spearheaded the event.

Mike Enzi joined his colleagues in touring Wyoming over the recess, including a visit to the Wyoming State Fair in Douglas.

Liz Cheney remains skeptical on a possible deal with the Taliban that could lead to a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, saying on Monday any such deal should be made public and come only if Taliban leaders renounce Al Qaeda, the terror group behind the Sept. 11 attacks. She also visited the Veterans Association of Wyoming’s director in Cheyenne to discuss veteran care.

Have any tips or suggestions to make this newsletter better? Let me know! Call me at 307-266-0634, email me at nick.reynolds@trib.com or follow me on Twitter, @IAmNickReynolds

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Politics Reporter

Nick Reynolds covers state politics and policy. A native of Central New York, he has spent his career covering governments big and small, and several Congressional campaigns. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2015.

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