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Lee Smith: Botched Afghanistan Withdrawal the Culmination of 20 Years of Corruption and Failed Leadership

Afghanistan was a “20-year-lesson in how corrupt our leadership has become,” says journalist and Epoch Times columnist Lee Smith. In 2011, he authored “The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.”

“Did the United States go to [Afghanistan to] impose gender studies throughout Central Asia? … Or did it go to give gender studies professors a job?” Smith asks.

Smith breaks down why he believes the U.S. mission in Afghanistan spiraled into “an enormous offshore laundering operation.” And now, “the counterterrorism mission has been turned on American citizens,” he says.

Jan Jekielek: Lee Smith, it’s so great to have you back on American Thought Leaders.

Lee Smith: Thank you, Jan. It’s always great to be speaking with you. It’s a real privilege and pleasure.

Mr. Jekielek: Lee, we’ve been talking a bit about the realities of this whole Afghanistan exit, and the realities of the whole 20 year engagement. And you have a very different perspective than I’m used to hearing. 10 years ago, you wrote a book. I’m going to reference it here quickly, “The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations.” After 10 years of trying to figure out how 9/11 happened, it was your answer to that question, kind of like your quest. Now you’ve taken that knowledge another 10 years forward. So tell me, what is it that you’re seeing exactly?

Mr. Smith: That book was about, and as you’ll remember at the time, the big question that everyone was asking was, “Why do they hate us? Why did 9/11 happen? Why do they hate us? My answer was, “It’s not about us. We’ve taken it too personally.“

And of course, I’m a native New Yorker. So being in New York on September 11th, and being covered in the ashes of your neighbors, it’s a terrible thing. I take it personally. I went to the Middle East to find out what was going on.

The answer is it’s about all these different struggles inside of the region itself. In so far as that can be projected on Afghanistan, what we see now is that Afghanistan itself is not a coherent nation. The people who are now running it, the Taliban, are these Pashtun tribesmen who are galvanized by a fundamentalist version of Islam. Their struggle is with many other different groups inside of Afghanistan.

This is one of the reasons why Afghanistan is not a coherent nation. And that is one reason why, it’s the local reason why America’s efforts to turn Afghanistan into a democracy was always doomed to fail. What I mean by the local reason, the Afghanis would not be able to hold their side up. There are problems with the United States mission in Afghanistan, the 20 year mission, that are only about the United States. So we had two different sides that have their own problems. So what was going on for 20 years was a catastrophe in the making.

With Joe Biden’s withdrawal, I agree with the baseline reading that it’s chaotic. It’s dangerous, and people are getting hurt. But I also believe that it reflects America’s 20 year mission in Afghanistan, which was also chaotic. There was no plan for that either. So that this is happening, and unfolding the way it is now should come as no surprise to us.

Mr. Jekielek: That’s really interesting. You recently wrote this piece in Tablet, which I found to be incredibly useful and thoughtful, but it almost says something that’s a little bit different. The title is “Assabiya Wins Every Time”. But essentially the case you make is that assabiya translates as coherence, or an ability to work together?

Mr. Smith: Cohesion. It’s really a political term used by Ibn Khaldun, a medieval Islamic historian, one of the greats. But yes, group solidarity, cohesion.

Mr. Jekielek: So you’re basically saying that this loose grouping of tribes essentially made it very difficult for the Afghans to keep up their end, as you describe it. But they actually had a lot more cohesion than America. That’s the case you make, correct?

Mr. Smith: Absolutely. The Taliban as a singular force has much more cohesion and their fight was for primacy in this particular region where they live. Our leadership is confused, not only about what to do in Afghanistan, but also what’s important to do for the United States. One of the points I make is they are so deracinated, so alienated from their own society, that they tried to graph the effects of our civilization onto a foreign society that needed to be bribed to accept those gifts. We spoke a little bit about that before.

At first, American leadership wanted to build a democracy there. And I said, “Well, let’s tailor our results. Let’s be a little more modest, how about a national police force or a military?” But these are the effects of our civilization. You have to have a nation before you can have a national police force or a national army. It’s like designing Christmas tree ornaments, if you don’t have a Christmas tree.

So the problem with us is that our leadership is incoherent compared to something like the Taliban, which is very coherent—bound by the same tribe, bound by the same version of the same religion, and determined to rule. Those are all very, very important features. Those are the necessary features of leadership.

Mr. Jekielek: It reminds me of something that I saw that the Taliban had basically one goal, and the U.S. had 18. I don’t know if it’s actually 18, but that’s the idea here.

Mr. Smith: I don’t think they had any goal, frankly. I think I saw that same picture where there were all these different posters on a wall. Here’s what the U.S. wants to do here and there. I don’t think there was a goal. Whatever goal the United States had, or whatever the stated goals were, unfortunately, were a cover for something corrupt and something rotten. And that’s the other issue about Afghanistan. It wasn’t just there wasn’t a strategic plan or a strategic vision of what the United States would do there. It was also corrupt and corrupting.

And so that’s why everyone who is now saying, “Well, everyone agreed that it was time to leave Afghanistan after 20 years, after thousands of American deaths, after trillion spent.” No, in fact, in Washington DC, there was no one who wanted to leave Afghanistan ever. And so that’s a major problem, how corrupt and how corrupting this mission was.

Mr. Jekielek: You’re going to have to break this down for me, because everybody’s saying, as far as I can tell, that we needed to leave, that it’s the right thing to do. Well, not everybody, but there seems to be some kind of consensus. People are saying, “Well, it’s just the way that it was done that’s problematic.” But you’re saying that nobody or virtually nobody wanted to? Tell me more.

Mr. Smith: In Washington, no one wanted to leave, a lot of people. When we describe Washington and we describe the Pentagon, which is the world’s largest and most powerful bureaucracy, they talk about the the Pentagon and defense lobbyists. They talk about weapon systems and they talk about people like Congresswoman Liz Cheney defending the defense industry. Liz Cheney was very much against withdrawing from Afghanistan. She made that case against president Donald Trump. So there was a constituency inside of Congress against withdrawal.

But the important thing that people don’t quite understand is because we’re used to thinking about it, again, in terms of political alignment. People on the Right are warmongers. They like war. They like defense systems. They like donations coming from the defense industry.

It’s also on the Left. Washington is a Democratic city, the people who actually live there. I lived in Washington for many years. I can tell you, there are no neighborhoods where Donald Trump walked away a winner. There were no neighborhoods that voted for Mitt Romney or John McCain in Washington DC.

It’s a Democratic city. It’s a constituency of Democrats. The reason that Washington got so large in the last 20 years is because of the amount of money that was coming in, especially through Afghanistan. I have a relative who works at a company that became a company worth over hundreds of millions of dollars because of the USAID work, the development work they did in Afghanistan.

So the money wasn’t just going to people on the Right. It’s not just going to defense contractors. It was going to the Left as well. The nice people that we see wearing the pink pussyhats at the women’s march and stuff like that, all the people on the Left who were protesting against Donald Trump being a fascist and Hitler—all of their 401ks were tied up in Afghanistan.

The amount of money that was going through Afghanistan on the Left and the Right is astonishing. That’s how the city grew by over a hundred thousand. I think at this point, probably by many, many more. I had that statistic a few years ago. So no one in Washington wanted to leave Afghanistan.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s interesting that you say that. This actually reminds me of a Spectator article that I read while we were preparing for this piece. The title is, “Did Gender Studies Lose Afghanistan?” They look into this inspector general report on the Afghanistan military effort. And they say that north of 3/4 of a billion dollars were directly spent on gender initiatives in Afghanistan. That’s a huge amount of money.

Mr. Smith: Afghanistan is a place where people laundered money to their own constituents. I did see that. I saw the clip of the young woman who I think has a British accent, she’s talking about Duchamp. She’s talking about the “R. Mutt” urinal, which she’s explaining to a bunch of Afghanis, and it has to be translated. So not only is the art not understandable, but the language in which she’s explaining it even has to be translated.

This was for Americans, and for Westerners. That money was for them. It was paying them off and keeping them on side with these different initiatives. That’s what it was. Most of these things had nothing to do with the people who live in Afghanistan. They had to put them out there.

Goodness knows how many people were really instructed in gender studies. Most likely the fewer the better, but this was all to create jobs for Americans and other Westerners, if you saw the young women teaching there. Remember how many gender studies grads our universities produce these days, and how many women’s studies grads, and how many race studies grads.

There’s not enough jobs here in the United States to do that work. So they’ll send them abroad to teach that same nonsense. And that’s what it was. They’re throwing all this money at Westerners. They’re paying them to go there and they’re getting danger pay and they get overtime and they get everything. So much of the money that we spent when we talk about the trillion spent in Afghanistan, we’re talking about it was mostly spent on Westerners.

Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. So you’re saying this is one piece of a much broader effort that essentially works the same way?

Mr. Smith: Yes. There were important things that were built. For instance, there were lots of schools. The U.S. went in, and this is actually something that often the Pentagon and the State Department and others would collaborate on, going to different neighborhoods and building schools.

But here’s the thing. When you build a school in a particular area, because you’re putting a school in—and we know this in the United States—when we step away from it, you are empowering one area. One area has a better school, a better school district, a better football team, a better music department, and a better Spanish department. So people want to live there and people are attracted to that.

When you do that in a place like Afghanistan, you are empowering certain warlords or certain tribal leaders at the expense of others. So you are throwing off the balance of power there. You’re not building it for Afghanistan the nation, you are empowering certain people and hurting others in a dynamic that we have still have no understanding of how it works.

So I’ve heard different people saying, “Well, there were times when we would go back a month or so later, and there’s no more school that standing there.” So even the good things that the United States did were mistaken. They were not appropriate.

We face this all the time with a national police force when we’re talking about how we help the Palestinians with aid. Yes, help build a police force, help build a group that can help protect Palestinians. We can call it whatever they want, but that’s not how they see it.

They see it as a way for processing money to do different favors for different members of the tribe, for different clients. That’s what we were doing. So when we were not paying our own clients, meaning other Americans, we were helping them distribute money to their own clients.

So the things that were supposed to have gotten built in order to build democracy or an army or a police force or schools, it was a waste. And so you have to ask yourself, “How did they not understand this?” For over 20 years they didn’t see these institutions torn down, and that the Afghan national army was a joke, that it was never going to happen?

Of course they understood it was a joke. That’s what I mean when I say this is an American issue, fundamentally. Once we looked reality in the face, we said, “Big deal. It’s still helping us pay a whole bunch of people. And it’s processing a whole bunch of people through important systems. That’s all that matters.” It was an enormous offshore laundering operation for money, for reputations, and for prestige. It’s far and away the most shameful and most corrupting military engagement in our history.

Mr. Jekielek: This is obviously a huge indictment of the U.S. leadership. But this is more than just spending money. This is many people’s lives, American and Afghani.

Mr. Smith: Yes, it’s terrible. We all know this. You and I spoke about this before. You and I, when we walk down the streets of our cities and our towns, we see young men who don’t have legs. A lot of these young men served in Afghanistan or Iraq, so there is the human cost. There are children who grew up without their fathers or mothers. So the human cost is just enormous.

Then when you look at the level of corruption, when you look at why people are doing it, people were not looking at for the welfare of Afghanis, and they were not looking out for the welfare of American citizens. It’s terrible.

So that was really the point really of that piece, not just to talk about how powerful the Taliban was because of this very intense focus on primacy and how this group was cohesive because of a shared religion, shared tribe, shared environment.

My point here was that America is still a great country. You look right now, people are scrambling. How do we help the Afghanis? Don’t we owe them something? They helped save American lives. America’s a great country with great people.

Our leadership does not deserve this country. And over the last 20 years, they’ve proven that. This leadership is delirious and deracinated. They are so removed from the needs, from the ambitions, and from the strengths of this country. That’s a shame, and Afghanistan showed us that along with other things. But Afghanistan shows us that most clearly—a 20 year lesson in how corrupt our leadership has become.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s obviously very difficult to hear these things, and I’m not even American. I want to talk about your expectations of the Taliban at this point. This is the other thing. I don’t hear this being said this way, but the Taliban won.

Mr. Smith: Yes. We’ve all seen that the rationale given for having to stay in Afghanistan, that the reason we need troops there, is because Afghanistan will once become a haven for terrorist groups, as it did before in 9/11. Remember the Taliban ran Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and they hosted Al-Qaeda.

Are there still elements of Al-Qaeda and ISIS inside of Afghanistan? Oh, absolutely. I have no doubt about that, but when people talk about why we need to stay in Afghanistan to make sure they don’t wage operations against the U.S. homeland, the question is, how would they do that? The Taliban has no air force. The Taliban has no navy.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country. How would they manage terror operations against the United States unless of course they were given visas. How would they get across American borders to wage these operations? And of course, this is one of the issues that Donald Trump was actually addressing when he was talking about a travel ban from different Muslim majority countries with which we do not have good security relationships.

So for instance, the reason that there was a ban or a projected temporary ban on Iranians coming to the United States is not because there’s something especially bad about Iran, but because the regime that runs Iran, we have no relations with that regime. So the idea is somehow that they’re going to process their nationals, and we’re going to understand who those nationals are. That’s reason to be concerned.

Saudi Arabia—everyone understands the different problems the United States has had with its longtime ally, Saudi Arabia, and how 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. However, after that, the United States and Saudi Arabia developed a system so that the United States would know everyone who was leaving from Saudi Arabia and coming to America, so that Saudis were on the hook for that.

Now believe me, there was a shooting in Florida, and that’s a big problem. And that’s up to the American government to go back and start holding people responsible. But if we have no relationship at all with different regimes, you can’t hold anyone responsible. Again, this was a nonsensical excuse if we’re worried about the Taliban waging spectacular terror operations in the United States.

It’s very easy to stop that. You stop people at the border, and you say, “Sorry, you’re not getting here. You’re not entitled. It’s not a human right to come to the United States.” Unfortunately, we’ve seen our leadership break over this. It’s the fear of being called a racist or an Islamophobe, when again, it has nothing to do with race.

It has nothing to do with Islam. It has nothing to do with the particular nationalities, or particular people. It has to do with the regimes they live under, but our leadership is too vain and too arrogant to even protect us from that. And so what do they do instead? They say, “No, to protect us from the Taliban, we must keep American forces in Afghanistan indefinitely.”

Mr. Jekielek: There’s all sorts of finger pointing going around right now, both in terms getting visas to the people who are working with the U.S. military directly, for example, or just simply the whole chaos around the actual withdrawal. There’s the fact that there’s a lot of very valuable equipment left on the ground. So, you’re giving this general indictment of the US leadership. How does this finger pointing work? Who’s ultimately accountable? Or is it nobody?

Mr. Smith: It happened under Joe Biden’s watch. So of course he’s accountable for what’s happening right now. I certainly don’t mean to exculpate him. He must bear responsibility for this. It’s under his watch and also the military leadership, and the intelligence agencies in the United States. But what we see right now, which is what they’ve been doing for years, is that they leak to the press and they’ll say, “Hey, it’s not us. Don’t blame us. We had nothing to do with it.”

So again, this is Washington. This is who inhabits Washington. Men and women with balsa wood spines. “Washington honor,” is that you will do something because you’re scared. No one is going to stand up and say, “You know what? We didn’t get it right. Now we have to get all our boys and girls out of Afghanistan, out of that airport. I don’t care how we do it, but I want all of them out by yesterday.”

That’s not how Washington works, but I don’t mean to just indict Beltway mentality in general. This is very specific. It happened on Joe Biden’s watch. I will say, though, I’m surprised, but happy that Joe Biden finally did act and said, “Yes, we’re going to get people out of Afghanistan.”

So I actually do think he deserves credit for that. And when people say, “No, he doesn’t deserve credit for that, because everyone always wanted to get out of Afghanistan.” That’s not true. Donald Trump wanted to get out of Afghanistan. And for a while, Barack Obama did too. In Washington, that’s basically it.

Again, when people say that we all in Washington wanted to get out of Afghanistan, that’s nonsense—not the Pentagon, not the CIA, not the State Department, not even places like the FBI, where they were doing counterintelligence missions.

These are the two big boondoggles right now in Washington. Counter-terrorism missions and nation building. Everyone wants to talk. Everyone is happy to insult the State Department people about nation building, how dumb that is, how naive that is, and how ignorant that is. No one wants to talk about the dangers of the counter-terrorism mission, even though we’ve now seen what that means.

They understood that as the money was going to dry up in terms of doing counter-terror missions in the Middle East, whether it was Afghanistan or Iraq, they turned that mission around on Americans. That’s simply what we’re seeing when we see the FBI, DHS, and the White House saying, “The big threats right now are white supremacists and domestic terrorists.” That’s just a money-making machine, counter-terrorism.

So that’s why they had to turn that around. They saw their funds drying up regarding Afghanistan and regarding Iraq and other places throughout the region. That’s why they turned it on Americans. So these are the two extremely—once you get underneath them—two extremely nasty and wasteful initiatives, nation building and counter-terrorism. But those were the two pillars of how money was processed, and how Afghanistan was used to launder money coming back to American institutions.

And it’s not just the public sector. It’s not just government agencies. If you look at the different work that people have been doing in Washington, whether it’s think tanks or NGOs, all of this is taxpayer money that was floating the private sector as well. It’s just insane, and all pushing the same thing.

You had the NGOs that were pushing nation building, and you have the think tanks who were pushing counter-terrorism. So when people say, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe how quickly they flipped, and now they’re turning this on Americans.” They have to because that’s their funding stream.

So again, it just gets to the bottom of how corrupt and corrupting the 20 year long mission in Afghanistan has been. The end is not the embarrassed withdrawal from Kabul. That’s not the end. The culmination is that the counter-terrorism mission has been turned on American citizens. The culmination is that the nation building mission has been turned to split this nation, and to polarize the United States. That’s the result. That’s what Afghanistan looks like. That’s the real catastrophe. And again, that’s 20 years of bad American leadership, not just Joe Biden.

Mr. Jekielek: So, Lee, do you think this withdrawal could have been done better?

Mr. Smith: Yes, Kash Patel, of Kash’s Corner on Epoch TV, Kash wrote a piece recently explaining how the Trump administration had a solid withdrawal plan, which they handed off to the Biden team. And apparently it was all ignored. So absolutely it could have been done better.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s good that you mentioned that because Kash’s Corner, its season two inaugural episode is coming a little later this week.

Mr. Smith: Great.

Mr. Jekielek: This is exactly what we’re going to be talking about.

Mr. Smith: I’d be interested to hear it in more detail, exactly what they had planned. I hope that this administration will swallow its pride and use some common sense and implement some the most useful aspects of the Trump’s administration’s plan.

Mr. Jekielek: Do you expect the Taliban to be somehow accepting of the people that are left behind, which is one of the talking points that I’m hearing right now.

Mr. Smith: No, I don’t. First of all, we saw what they did beforehand. And second of all, this is what happens after wars. The losers pay a very heavy price oftentimes with their lives, and the victors stamp on their necks. This is clearly what we will be seeing.

No, the Taliban is not going to pretend that they’re moderate. They’re going to enforce their own vision. They’re going to enforce their own worldview, and they’re going to take revenge. But remember, it’s not just taking revenge against people who worked with the Americans. There are Taliban guys who worked with the Americans for different reasons, even if the Americans didn’t know that they were Taliban.

It’s because this is the ruling force now. And they were thrown out by the Americans. So anyone who sided with the ruling force from other tribes, from other communities from other religions, they’ll pay a price. That’s what power looks like. That’s how it operates. So no, the idea that they’re going to be moderate or forgiving, I don’t think we’re going to see anything like that.

Mr. Jekielek: What do you expect is going to happen given where things are on the ground right now, from your vantage point?

Mr. Smith: I sure hope the United States does not go back in force. That’s one thing that I certainly don’t want to have happen. The Taliban is going to rule as much as they can. Afghanistan is ungovernable, as the United States saw. They’ll rule Kabul. They’ll rule a few other cities perhaps. Will there be other terror groups who find shelter there and use Afghanistan like a hotel? Yes, absolutely.

So it will revert to its former state. In a sense, the American footprint will quickly be erased. People talk, by the way, and I’m sure you’ve heard the line. Everyone knows the line about Afghanistan being the graveyard of empires. Here’s an important thing to remember. Healthy empires don’t go to Afghanistan. It’s empires that are in trouble that go to Afghanistan for all sorts of mixed-up, confused reasons.

It’s not Afghanistan that brought down the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was in big trouble, before it went into Afghanistan. The United States was in big trouble before it went into Afghanistan. And again, I’m not saying that the United States is looking like the Soviet Union. Our leadership has big troubles, though. And Afghanistan exposed them more clearly. If there’s one thing we should be grateful for, we should be grateful to see what our leadership actually looks like, that it’s incompetent and vain, and new American leadership is already forming.

Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. But in Afghanistan, there is actually one province at least, Panjshir, which is not under Taliban rule. Ahmad Massoud is the commander there and is vowing to, unless they’re willing to work with him, fight to the end. That is what he’s saying.

Mr. Smith: There’s probably going to be American bureaucracies that will want to, if they’re not already, back him and continue fighting the Taliban. Why they want to do this is a mystery to me. The thing is there was never any strategic interest. The United States never had any strategic goals or strategic interests in Afghanistan, ever. None.

You can say the Soviet Union may have for different reasons. It’s their region. It was on their border. But the United States, has no strategic interest, especially after we discovered Osama Bin Laden left Afghanistan soon after 9/11, and after the Taliban’s abilities were degraded, and after it was pushed out of Kabul in 2001. It might well have been like, “Okay, that’s a warning. Don’t do it again. If you do anything like this again, we’re going to come back and we’re just going to knock you around again, and we’ll hurt you.”

That wasn’t the decision. The decision was we’re going to stay. The United States could never find a strategic interest. So the idea that right now we would work through different foes of the Taliban to continue fighting the Taliban, you have to ask yourself, “Why, for what purpose? Just to fight the Taliban?”

Does the United States have a strategic interest in Afghanistan? I don’t see one. They haven’t been able to find one in 20 years, but there are countries that do have strategic interests in Afghanistan. The most obvious one is Pakistan, and many have noted the relationships between Pakistani intelligence and the Taliban. That doesn’t mean that Pakistani intelligence is driving fundamentalist Islam throughout the world.

The way that Pakistan sees Afghanistan is Afghanistan is its strategic depth. Let’s say that there’s even a non-nuclear standoff between Pakistan and India. Where does Pakistan go to regroup? What does the Pakistani military do? That’s how they’ve seen Afghanistan for a long time.

Afghanistan also has a border with China in the Uyghur province. So the way that the Chinese Communist Party has seen it, it believes that stability in Afghanistan is important. But it what it doesn’t want, or what it says it fears, is extremist outfits housed by the Taliban coming into China, through Xinjiang and causing instability there, or even waging terror attacks.

That’s its rationale anyway. What we really see is that in a sense this is a soft underbelly of the Belt & Road initiative. So there are strategic actors there. The United States is not one. The idea that the United States would continue to fight for something there is nonsensical, but would not be surprising given the nature of our leadership right now.

Mr. Jekielek: I want to talk about China in a moment, but what about the trillion dollars worth of rare earth minerals, which of course the U.S. needs deeply.

Mr. Smith: This was something that Donald Trump campaigned on. He said one of the stupidest things about Iraq was how much money the United States spent in Iraq and came out of it with none of the oil. And he’s absolutely right.

However people want to put it, when you go to war, you don’t go to war just to make other people’s lives better. How does this help Americans? If it brings down the price of oil for Americans, it might seem crass to say so, but these are facts. This is why people go to war throughout history. To serve the interests, to serve the goals of the people at home, and to serve the ruling powers.

This did not. So the idea that now we would abandon rare earth minerals is, again, all constant with that. Why are we doing these things? Did the United States go to impose gender studies throughout central Asia? Did it go to enrich gender studies, or did it go to give gender studies professors a job, because all of these jobs are already filled in the United States? What was the purpose of all these different things?

The obvious reasons for which people go to war throughout history did not happen. None of these things came to enrich the people back at home who were sending their young men and young women off to places like Afghanistan and Iraq. They got nothing from this.

Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk about China briefly. It’s being described as a Chinese Communist Party propaganda field day, so to speak. Basically you see the CCP spokespeople saying, “The U.S. is a laughing stock.” More importantly, “The U.S. doesn’t have your back, Taiwan.” I’m embellishing here a little bit, but the U.S. doesn’t have your back. “Actually, we’re the ones who are going to be making decisions from now on.”

Mr. Smith: That’s just another data point in a very bad record. Beijing is right to laugh about how we handled COVID-19 as well. We broke our economy. It affected everything. We changed the way we elect presidents. We have locked people down. It’s not as bad as Australia yet.

Now the United States, for everything it says about human rights and liberty, there are different places around the country that are imposing vaccine mandates, including in one of the greatest cities in the world, at least up until January 2020, New York City. But now what is it? Now to move around New York City, to do anything, to enjoy the things that used to make this one of the greatest cities in the world, you need a vaccine passport. That’s the only way you can get into a bar. That’s the only way you can get into one of New York’s great restaurants.

So if you are the Chinese Communist Party, and you hear the Americans messaging all the time about democracy and freedom—look, the Chinese Communist Party is totalitarian. They don’t let their people do anything. Oh, sure, Shanghai’s a lot of fun, but look at the party, look at what they do. These are gross people. They imprison people. You have to have a social credit system.

Even before Afghanistan, the Chinese Communist Party was chalking up victories at America’s expense, self-inflicted losses for the United States. New York is a self-inflicted loss. It’s not just about messaging. It’s about how Americans live. But again, what we’re seeing is a parade of corruption, a parade of wanna-be totalitarians.

Certainly if you’re the Chinese Communist Party you say, “Well, there’s another win for us, and there’s another one too. Now let’s see the Americans mouth off in the op-ed pages of the New York Times about our social credit system, about how bad we are. We’ll just turn the mirror around, and we’ll show them all of their fancy restaurants, who gets into their fancy restaurants and what do they need, and who doesn’t get into their fancy restaurants.”

Tragically, it’s another bad showing for the world’s oldest democracy. Again, I want to repeat though, this is not America as a country. It’s about American leadership.

Mr, Jekielek: You mentioned earlier you’re seeing new leadership emerging. What did you mean?

Mr. Smith: It’s not just political. This country is not just about politics. It’s not just bi-partisan politics. Politics is a reflection. It’s supposed to be a reflection of who we are. Politics is not the most handsome reflection of any nation. There’s no redemption in politics. There’s no love in politics.

Where is redemption and love? It’s in faith, it’s in family, it’s in community, it’s in the country, it’s in the love of our country. So to come back to what we were talking about with Assabiya before, there was no group solidarity in politics. That’s factionalism. You have different factions.

But if you’re talking about how people get together, and they take care of their communities, and they take care of their families. They coach Little League. They work at a community kitchen to help the poor. This is leadership. After all of this corruption has been exposed, after all the disgusting things about our leadership has been exposed, I believe that people will find strength from smaller units, not from being a part of the Republican party.

One of the amazing things about Donald Trump’s campaign, really the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen in my lifetime—I hate to turn this into politics, but you’ll see where I’m going—he would get up and he would speak to crowds of tens of thousands, however large the audience was. And he would read off the political stuff off a teleprompter. It’s almost like he didn’t care. He has to do because it’s a [inaudible].

But what was the moving stuff? The moving stuff is when he’s joking with people, when he’s talking to people as people, when people are shouting up to him and he looks at them and shouts back and says something. A friend wrote this in a piece for Epoch Times, and called it “The Church of America.” That still exists.

We as Americans, we still have all of these things. We have our families, we have our communities, and we have our country. The leadership that we have right now does not deserve how great we are, and how amazing we are. So that’s what I mean. Leaders will emerge, maybe not on the political scene. I’m not talking about the 2024 elections. I’m not talking about 2022 midterms.

I’m talking about people who will lead their communities. People who will lead their cities and their villages, and their school boards and their American Legion baseball teams. That leadership will grow and grow and remind us of what this country is. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s not about various political initiatives. It’s the strength of a country. It’s the strength of a country that understands itself, that has a vision of itself, and that respects itself. That’s a lot. That’s a tremendous thing, and that’s what we have.

Mr. Jekielek: I hear your sentiment. I also hear a lot of Americans, some of them friends, not seeing what you’re seeing right now, and frankly, being deeply concerned and deeply disturbed by this.

Mr. Smith: Yes, absolutely. And they’re right to be. There’s been a campaign, it’s a campaign of demoralization and desecration. This is what we’ve been seeing for a while. Look at what happened during the George Floyd riots. “America is rotten at its core with systemic racism.” America is this, America is that. It’s meant to demoralize Americans.

Other Americans were doing this by the way. They’re stomping on our history. They’re stomping on our heroes. They’re stomping on the legends about the greatness of the American people. Look at what’s happened with the 1619 Project that’s been endorsed by the establishment. That comes from the New York Times. An actual project saying the founding of America is racist. “It’s nothing. You all think it’s 1776 and your liberties and freedom. Nonsense. It’s really racist garbage.”

It’s a campaign of demoralization and desecration. That’s what they’re trying to do. And it’s been very successful with lots of people. We’re under fire. There’s no doubt about that. What I’m saying is our return to our communities and to our families that will make us strong. That will give us the strength to withstand this campaign against us, against the foundations of our nation. It’s not by congressional campaigns.

Thank God for the good people who are going to run good congressional campaigns and who are going to win and represent their district in the House, or good senators who will represent the American people. That’s all very important.

What I’m talking about is what other Americans can do, where they can find the strength to withstand these attacks. You look around your communities, and this community is not racist. All of our communities are strong, and we need to make them stronger and continue to build them. Because definitely we are under assault.

It comes from our own leadership—that’s the amazing thing—the people who are trying to tear the country apart. It’s not the gender studies professors. They’re not helpful. The people who are trying to tear the country apart hold positions of leadership, not just the political elite, but the corporate elite, the academic elite, the cultural elite, as well as the media.

The foundations of our great country are under assault. I do not doubt that at all. I think I mentioned this to you before. We all as individuals, we undergo personal travails whether it’s the death of loved ones, family, friends, whether it’s the end of a relationship, or a divorce, whether it’s losing a job, losing a home. We all go through these terrible personal travails. And yet we get through them, often with terrible scars. But we get through them. We survive.

Right now as a nation, we’re going through a terrible trial. No doubt about it. But we forget that we’re going through this trial with lots of other people. There are neighbors and friends who say, “I feel the way you do. I’m sad, I’m scared, I want to help. What do we do?”

The first thing is to recognize it’s all of us who are undergoing this at the same time. When you undergo a personal travail, oftentimes it’s just you. Maybe a family member, a loved one will be there, a priest, a rabbi, a psychiatrist, but here it’s your neighbors.

Here, it’s all of us. That’s our strength. So that’s why I’m hopeful. That’s why I’m optimistic. And that’s what I mean about the rise in leadership that people will start to understand. It’s not just about political officials. It’s about all of us. It’s about community leaders, and family leaders.

Mr. Jekielek: Lee Smith, it’s such a pleasure to have you on again.

Mr. Smith: Thank you so much, Jan, for inviting me on. I really appreciate it.

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