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The Kabul Grand Hotel: it sounds like the setting of a movie, the backdrop for international intrigue and failed ambitions.

But the hotel is not a Hollywood fabrication. It exists, although it isn’t open for business. It’s a shell, an abandoned, half-built 209-room monstrosity perilously close to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, making it a huge security risk.

So the mothballed structure must be heavily guarded, courtesy of U.S. taxpayers.

It was supposed to be a Marriott, but the hotel giant cut ties with the project, citing security concerns. And now a U.S. government oversight agency has issued a report on the rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan accusing the project’s minders of allowing a default on $85 million in loans.

The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction functions like an auditing agency for what could be considered the Marshall Plan of Afghanistan. SIGAR provides a constant drip of reports chronicling the struggles, few successes and abject failures, such as the hotel and the luxury apartments that were supposed to be built next to it. The loans were made by the Overseas Private Investment Corp., a government financing agency that uses private funds to finance development abroad. OPIC has stated that it continues to seek a resolution on the loans.

The hotel and the apartment complex were intended to provide Afghans jobs, and to house diplomats, investors and others who would be part of strengthening Afghanistan after our troops and coalition forces pulled out.

The SIGAR report showed pictures of the properties, missing walls and windows, along with furnished model rooms, covered in dust and lacking electricity, water or other utilities. The promised August 2013 opening of the apartment building was termed “blatantly false and unrealistic.” Like so many projects SIGAR investigated, this one was plagued by waste and fraud, compounded by lack of oversight.

More than a year ago, SIGAR Special Inspector General John F. Sopko warned, “Afghanistan’s problems extend far beyond its borders, and we ignore them at our peril.”

Afghans were one-quarter of the million migrants and refugees moving across Europe in 2015, leaving because of the lack of jobs and insecurity in their homeland. That ought to remind us how important it is to get these national reconstruction projects right, and what happens when they fail.

This latest SIGAR report comes at a crucial time. As Donald Trump prepares to take over the presidency, it remains to be seen whether he will take interest in such rebuilding efforts. His isolationist campaign rhetoric suggests that he will not.

The same day the SIGAR report was released, outgoing President Barack Obama was meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin.

In a news conference after the meeting, Obama explained America’s ongoing mission in places around the world like Afghanistan. The United States is “the voice that insists on rules and norms governing international affairs, the voice that helps to steer the world away from war wherever possible; that’s our voice more often than not,” Obama said. “And we’re not always successful, but if that voice is absent or divided, we will live in a meaner, harsher and more troubled world.”

There is a moral lesson that accompanies Afghanistan. And it should be heeded by those who would prefer the U.S. wash its hands of such complicated efforts, favoring an America-first or -only premise. Consider how our military landed back in Afghanistan. And that more than 2,300 U.S. soldiers died there, with an additional 20,000 wounded. The bloodshed continues, too.

For nearly 10 years in the 1980s, the U.S. backed Afghanistan as it fought the Soviet Union. But when the Soviets pulled out, the U.S. lost interest in the country and did not take as active role a role as it should have in reconstructing the war-torn country. The vacuum proved to be fertile ground for the Taliban.

We know what happened next: It sheltered the terrorists who masterminded the attacks in the U.S. that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

The role of the U.S. as a force to help stabilize nations is central to battling global terrorism. It needs to continue, in concert with other allies. A lesson of the Kabul Grand Hotel is that we don’t pay enough attention to what we’re doing in these state-building efforts. We must not give in to those who say we should just close up shop and leave Afghanistan to its own devices. Rather, we have to make all our efforts and resources count.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752,, @msanchezcolumn


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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