Our Best Stuff on Ukraine and Afghanistan
Plus, the Dispatch Book Club is here.
Hello and happy Sunday. While it’s not officially summer for a couple more weeks, it sure feels like the season is in full swing. School is out, swimming pools are open, and I’m writing this essay from one of the kajillion baseball games our kids will play before August.
And of course, it’s time for summer movies. We took the family to Top Gun: Maverick on Thursday, and it’s everything that everyone says. It improves on the original in terms of story, acting, and visuals, and it might well save movie theaters as it reminds viewers that some films simply must be seen on a huge screen. It hits all the right nostalgia notes—a little Kenny Loggins, men playing sports on the beach while wearing jeans, an appearance from Maverick’s old rival, Iceman, plus a few things that are too good to spoil—without overdoing it.
It’s a well-made sequel of a beloved American classic, featuring the greatest movie star of the last few decades. (Grating personality and Scientology weirdness aside, Tom Cruise’s success is hard to argue with.) It will make eleventy billion dollars, even if China bans it for the grievous offense of including the Taiwanese flag on Maverick’s iconic bomber jacket. But it’s still resonating with me days later, and I’ve been trying to think about why.
What it comes down to is that it’s an important reminder that America can be good. There have been countless reasons to be disappointed in ourselves and our country over the last few years. We—and by “we” I mean the government and the people—bungled the pandemic response in a number of ways. Our democracy is fragile (check out this week’s coming January 6 committee hearings for an important reminder). We withdrew from Afghanistan in humiliating fashion and left the nation in tatters. Families in Uvalde, Texas, are burying their children while the local police force refuses to cooperate with the investigation into their deaths. We can’t even keep grocery store shelves stocked with baby formula.
The real world sucks sometimes. But then we can slip into a cool dark theater to watch Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a flawed man with immense talents and a rebellious streak that hasn’t withered over time. He’s presented with an impossible challenge and given imperfect tools to solve it, but he perseveres. And along the way, he learns to take wise counsel and overcomes some demons from his past. I won’t get more specific, because I assume most of you aren’t like my neighbor who’s already seen the movie three times.
So if you’d like a respite from depressing news and want to be reminded that we are capable of great things, hit the theater and check out Top Gun: Maverick. Thanks for reading, and have a great week.
The first hours of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were terrifying, but the weeks that followed were hopeful. We were relieved when the Russian convoy bogged down outside of Kyiv, we cheered when the Moskva sank, and I even chuckled when I saw a photo of an abandoned Russian tank spray-painted with the Red Dawn battle cry “WOLVERINES.” But now the war has moved to the Donbas region in Eastern Ukraine, and Russia is regaining its footing. In The French Press (🔐), David notes that this is unsurprising, highlights that we are seeing signs of sinking morale among Ukrainian troops, and warns that Ukraine’s initial technological edge is losing ground to Russia’s 20th-century weapons and tactics. “A long war looks likely, and while the Biden administration deserves credit for its indispensable efforts to help stave off an early Russian victory, the strategic challenge only grows more difficult,” he writes. For a less grim take, Giselle Donnelly explains that the Biden administration’s decision to ship medium-range rocket systems (after a gaffe and some confusion) is the right move, and argues that Biden is finally saying the right things.
Raise your hand if you believed the Taliban when it said last August, as U.S. troops were departing, “Our sisters, our men have the same rights; they will be able to benefit from their rights.” There was nothing in the Taliban’s brutal history that would suggest this would happen, and it hasn’t. Charlotte documents the many ways that the Taliban has undone the freedoms that girls and women enjoyed over the past two decades. Girls are being denied schooling, the Taliban suspended all female journalists from state-run media outlets, and issued a decree that women must wear burkas or niqabs, which are veils that cover the face while leaving only a slit for eyes. “There was a lot of magical thinking that went on, and a lot of pretending to believe things that people didn’t really believe,” Heather Barr, associate director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, told Charlotte. “I don’t think any of it was surprising, and I think that anyone who was listening to Afghan women knew better.”
Conservatives Who Tried to Derail Doug Mastriano’s Pennsylvania Primary Bid Consider Supporting Him in November
There's no doubt that politicians can make strange bedfellows. Presidential candidates can browbeat or insult opponents in a primary debate, only to make one of them their running mate when the dust settles. But it feels a little different when a political action committee spends millions to oppose a candidate, only to turn around and support the same candidate. That’s what’s happening in Pennsylvania, as Audrey reported this week. The conservative Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs seemed desperate to defeat Doug Mastriano, deeming him unviable as a general election candidate, in part because of his belief that the 2020 election was stolen. They even dropped their endorsement of Bill McSwain three days before the primary in favor of Lou Barletta, with the hope of consolidating support for the candidate most likely to block Mastriano’s path to the nomination. “No other organization has come close to spending the millions our connected political action committee has spent to educate voters about the dangers of a Mastriano nomination,” the group said in a press release. But now, Audrey reports, officials are meeting with Mastriano and considering an endorsement.
Exciting news for paid members! Sarah has launched her book club and she would like you to join her. Her major areas of expertise are law and campaigning, but her reading list is much more eclectic. “Why did English evolve as the most diverse language on the planet, how did Andrew Johnson survive impeachment, why do humans have sex, what did Rome look like the day Caesar crossed the Rubicon—if there’s an expert who is passionate about their subject, chances are that I will be too.” The Dispatch Book Club, for members only, will feature a community discussion and monthly podcast.
And don’t ignore the best of the rest:
While the Trans Pacific Partnership wasn’t a perfect free trade agreement, it was a pretty good one. That made it unpalatable to populist President Donald Trump, so he axed it his first day in office. In Capitolism, Scott Lincicome explains why that was so bad and why our subsequent efforts to improve trade with Asian nations have fallen short.
While we’re talking about Asia … Klon Kitchen touches on the problems with Chinese drones dominating the U.S. market in the latest edition of The Current. He offers up five ways the government can address the problem.
If you didn’t follow the minute-by-minute developments of the trial of Democratic lawyer Michael Sussman, who was acquitted this week on charges of lying to the FBI brought by special counsel John Durham, The Morning Dispatch has you covered.
It’s not necessarily that “the government is best that governs the least” as the adage goes, but government definitely has problems when it goes beyond what it does well. In the Friday G-File, Jonah asks the Biden administration to focus on policy rather than spending.
It’s been 75 years since then-Secretary of State George Marshall delivered the speech that launched his plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II. Nicolaus Mills argues that it’s worth revisiting the Marshall Plan as the West considers how best to support and rebuild Ukraine.
On the pods: On The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah has a great interview with Edward B. Foley and Nick Troiano about the problems with primaries and how to reform them. Jonah went all out for the 500th episode of The Remnant. Tune in for his conversation with Sen. Ben Sasse, and stay for some rank punditry with Chris Stirewalt and A.B. Stoddard. David and Sarah touch on a number of topics in Advisory Opinions, most notably the Supreme Court decision to block a controversial Texas social media law. Last but not least, David and Curtis Chang discuss gun violence and how to approach a tough subject like gun control on Good Faith.