Your Friday Briefing: U.S. Admits Flaws in Afghanistan Withdrawal

Afghans trying to evacuate outside the Kabul airport in August 2021.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

U.S. admits flaws in Afghanistan evacuation 

The U.S. acknowledged that at the end of the Afghanistan war, the government should have started evacuations from the country earlier, a reversal from previous Biden administration statements.

The finding was tucked in a 12-page summary of the government’s review of the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which led to the swift collapse of the Afghan government as the Taliban seized control of the country.

As U.S. officials rushed to evacuate people from Kabul’s international airport, with Afghan allies hanging from airplanes amid a life-or-death scramble to escape the country, an Islamic State suicide bomber carried out an attack that killed as many as 170 civilians and 13 U.S. service members.

Details: The summary, produced by the National Security Council and characterized as part of an “independent review,” largely defended the actions of President Biden and his administration. It places heavy blame on actions taken by former President Donald Trump, including his deal with the Taliban to withdraw American troops by the spring of 2021 and his later failure to share relevant transition materials with his successor’s team.

Takeaway: The summary does not directly say that officials made mistakes as they discussed evacuating the country, but it says the government has changed policies to carry out such evacuations sooner when security conditions worsen.

Every detail of the elaborate reception offered by Xi Jinping to Emmanuel Macron seemed intended to flatter the French leader.Credit…Ng Han Guan/EPA, via Shutterstock

Xi and Macron call for peace talks

Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, and Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, appealed for a rapid return to peace talks to end the war in Ukraine. But Xi did not indicate whether he would use his close relationship with Moscow to push Russia to negotiate.

Greeted with great pomp at the Great Hall of the People, Macron told Xi that he was counting on him “to bring Russia back to reason” on Ukraine. Xi later went some way toward responding positively, and added that China sought “the protection of civilians. Nuclear weapons must not be used, and nuclear war must be avoided.”

His statement marked some implicit distance from Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. But it left unclear whether Xi might put any pressure on Putin to negotiate, as Macron requested, or whether Xi would speak to Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, who said last month that China could be a “partner” in the quest for peace.

Context: There have been no known peace talks between Russia and Kyiv since last April, and both sides have expressed negotiating positions that are anathema to the other.

Taiwan: China condemned the president of Taiwan’s meeting with Kevin McCarthy, the U.S. speaker of the House, in California this week. But Beijing has so far avoided the kind of military escalation that accompanied a visit by Mr. McCarthy’s predecessor to Taiwan last summer.

The changes removed or shrank references to India’s long Muslim history.Credit…Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

India purges textbooks

When Indian children began the school year this week, they were issued textbooks that either watered down or purged key details from India’s past — details that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party finds inconvenient to its Hindu nationalist vision for the country.

The changes took aim at references to the secular foundation of post-colonial India; the 2002 riots in Gujarat, where hundreds of Muslims were killed in days; and links between Hindu extremism and the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi.

Education officials in India said the changes were intended to avoid repetition and reduce the workload on children after the pandemic. Critics argued that the textbooks could give students a warped impression of India’s history.

Context: The textbook revisions follow other efforts by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party to erase prominent Muslim influences on India’s history and politics, including the changing of street and city names from Muslim to Hindu.


Asia Pacific

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, China, in January 2020.Credit…Noel Celis/Agene France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Chinese scientists confirmed that DNA from raccoon dogs and other animals susceptible to the coronavirus was found in early 2020 at a Wuhan market associated with many of the earliest known cases.

  • U.S. lawmakers were bombarded with criticism on social media from representatives of the Chinese government after congressional hearings about TikTok.

  • The French aircraft company Airbus agreed to double production at its Chinese factory.

  • A man in Australia faces charges for kidnapping a platypus.

Around the World

The police in Nantes, France, tear-gassed protesters on Thursday.Credit…Jeremias Gonzalez/Associated Press
  • Hundreds of thousands of French protesters took to the streets as the stalemate between unions and President Emmanuel Macron continued.

  • Armed groups in Lebanon fired a barrage of rockets toward Israel.

  • The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran held talks in Beijing, the highest-level meeting between the regional rivals in seven years.

U.S. News

  • The oil giant ConocoPhillips is preparing to drill in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, the largest expanse of wilderness in the U.S.

  • Children of immigrants — the fastest-growing group of American youths — have poverty rates more than twice those of other children.

  • Donald Trump was uncharacteristically subdued during his arraignment on Tuesday, according to two Times journalists who were with him in the courtroom.

The Week in Culture

  • Klaus Teuber created the board game Settlers of Catan, which achieved an alchemy of skill, strategy, persuasion and luck and sold some 40 million copies worldwide. He died at 70.

  • The Stinging Fly, a small Irish literary magazine, has served as a launchpad for major writers.

  • The actor Jeremy Renner spoke about recovering from an accident in which a snow plow ran over him.

A Morning Read

The plaque celebrating John Joseph at White Hills Cemetery in Victoria, Australia.Credit…Christina Simons for The New York Times

John Joseph, a Black American who moved to Australia to mine gold, was accused of fatally shooting a British officer in an 1854 rebellion and was then acquitted by an all-white jury. Joseph’s actions helped forge Australian democracy, but he wound up forgotten, in an unmarked grave.

Now, after more than 160 years, Joseph’s burial site and his legacy are finally being honored.


Weighing Picasso’s legacy

Was Pablo Picasso the 20th century’s greatest artist? Or does his personal life make it hard to appreciate his works?

Yes, writes the critic Deborah Solomon, who finds herself pulled between disapproval of the man and adoration of his art.

The 50th anniversary of Picasso’s death is April 8, and it is an occasion to consider the enduring influence of a deeply flawed art giant. Picasso created 13,500 paintings and innumerable other works that veered between abstraction and realism and entranced generations. But he also was a derelict parent, treated women boorishly and was disrespectful of entire cultures — even those from which he borrowed ideas.

But beyond simple hero and villain stories, Picasso is a fact of life. His influence lingers everywhere, in the fractured forms of contemporary portraiture and the digital collages of TikTok. We spoke to 10 artists about how Picasso has been metabolized and reimagined today.


What to Cook

Credit…Christopher Simpson for The New York Times

Butter mochi is a chewy, big-batch dessert that’s as comforting as cake.

What to Watch

In “Paint,” Owen Wilson plays an aging, libidinous TV painter in the mold of Bob Ross.

What to Read

In Monica Brashears’s debut novel, “House of Cotton,” a young woman impersonates corpses for grieving relatives.

Where to Go

How to spend 36 hours in Tokyo.

Now Time to Play

Play the Mini Crossword, and here’s a clue: “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” (5 letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. Have a great weekend. — Dan

P.S. Neima Jahromi is joining The Times Book Review as an editor.

“The Daily” is on China’s outreach to Africa.

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