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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sept. 9

Trump’s flawed approach to Afghanistan

He blew it by inviting Taliban to Camp David and not including Afghans in a peace deal.

The process and product of President Donald Trump’s policy on Afghanistan is deeply flawed.

Most of the focus is now on Trump scuttling a previously secret Camp David meeting with representatives of the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Peace talks, by definition, are between adversaries, if not enemies. It’s not wrong to explore diplomatic solutions to conflicts with leaders of North Korea, Iran and other nations, and talks with the Taliban to try to end a conflict with no clear military solution is appropriate - under the right conditions.

The ad hoc Camp David gambit did not constitute the right conditions.

Symbolically, lending the stature of the presidential retreat to the Taliban - just days before the 9/11 anniversary - was insensitive and nonsensical. And the failed maneuver would have elevated unrepentant adversaries with the prestige of a presidential meeting without commensurate value in return. It’s unfortunate Trump didn’t learn from the three meetings he has had with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has not stopped his nation’s weapons proliferation.

Trump’s stated reason for canceling the Camp David meeting seems disconnected to the ongoing carnage in Afghanistan, too. Citing the death of Army Sgt. 1st Class Elis Angel Barreto Ortiz, Trump tweeted: “What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?”

The Taliban, that’s who. Sixteen U.S. service personnel have already been killed in Afghanistan this year, and more than 2,400 have lost their lives since the Taliban-sheltered al-Qaida killed nearly 3,000 in the 9/11 attacks. Untold numbers of Afghans have been victims, too.

Every death is tragic. But Ortiz’s was not singular, and the terrorist group didn’t just suddenly ramp up its nihilism in order to negotiate.

The Taliban reportedly indicated that its leaders would only attend the Camp David meeting if a negotiated settlement with the U.S. had been announced. Meanwhile, Trump also invited Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for separate talks, perhaps in hopes of negotiating a grander deal, or at least sparking a more productive process between Ghani’s government and the Taliban. That’s unlikely, given that the Taliban rejects the Afghan government as illegitimate and has threatened to target the country’s Sept. 28 presidential election.

Trump should have insisted that Ghani’s government be party to any deal in the first place, especially since it may soon have to contend with a Taliban emboldened by its newfound diplomatic standing and an accelerating U.S. troop withdrawal.

Trump was right to mourn Ortiz’s senseless death. But he should really, not just rhetorically, honor him and all who have served by insisting on a peace process that more directly involves the people U.S. forces have been fighting for. War-weary Americans understandably want an end to the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. But the best way to achieve that is to not create a vacuum that could quickly be filled with an all-out Afghan civil war.

___

The Free Press of Mankato, Sept. 10

McConnell needs to lead as session begins

Why it matters: As Congress returns to work important legislation is at risk of being ignored as the Senate majority leader fails to take a leadership role.

Congress is back in session, carrying with it a sense of gloom.

While there are several issues a majority of Americans want addressed, GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is showing little interest in doing anything except blocking any legislation passed by the House and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

For his part, President Trump has offered little interest in promoting a legislative agenda.

Awaiting action is approval of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, one thing Trump does want Congress to act on. Democrats have been working with the administration to try and get changes to the agreement that address labor standards in Mexico, environmental protections and ensures that the agreement can be enforced.

Hopefully there can be an agreement so the trade deal can be passed, which would help bring some benefit to Midwest farmers and others who have been hurt by America’s withdrawal from NAFTA and the trade war with China.

But movement on other important legislation looks bleaker.

Congress has to fund the government or risk a federal shutdown. Those talks have been derailed by Trump’s shifting of $3.6 billion from military projects for the border wall.

Imposing more election security before next fall’s elections should be a top priority after the Mueller report detailed the extent of Russian interference in 2016.

But hovering above all the other issues is gun regulation, with a majority of Americans supporting certain changes in the law to address gun violence. McConnell has recently said he would allow debate on gun bills but only after he gets direction from the president on what he would support. While Trump initially said he supported some legislation he more recently has backpedaled after talking with the head of the National Rifle Association.

McConnell and his GOP caucus have abandoned their duty to provide legislative leadership, instead leaving any decisions on an agenda with Trump. While presidents have always and understandably held great sway in setting legislative goals for their party, Congressional leaders have still forwarded bills they believe are necessary and wanted by the people who elected them.

Hopefully the Senate will find the strength to deliver meaningful bills before recessing.

___

St. Cloud Times, Sept. 7

As lawmakers do nothing, businesses adopt gun control measures

If it seems like we just wrote about this a few weeks ago, it’s because we did.

Following the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left more than 30 people dead and dozens more injured at the beginning of August, we (as well as millions of Americans) called upon lawmakers to enact common-sense regulations to help reduce these horrifying events.

And as you likely know, nothing was done.

Then, on Aug. 31, another mass shooting occurred in Odessa and Midland, Texas. Eight people, including the shooter, were killed and 25 people, including three police officers, were injured.

It doesn’t seem to matter who is killed - shoppers, school children, moviegoers, concert attendees, bar patrons, former co-workers - our lawmakers seem unable to place any value on the life of their constituents.

Because our elected officials have not taken action, corporations affected by the shootings have decided to stand up and take matters into their own hands to protect their constituents - their customers.

Walmart became a surprising champion of gun safety when it announced Tuesday it will discontinue sales of certain guns and ammunition and request customers no longer openly carry firearms in its stores - regardless of state laws that allow it.

“We believe the opportunity for someone to misinterpret a situation, even in open carry states, could lead to tragic results,” Walmart CEO Doug McMillion said in a statement sent to employees Tuesday. “We hope that everyone will understand the circumstances that led to this new policy and will respect the concerns of their fellow shoppers and our associates.”

In the company’s new firearms and ammunition guidelines, the nation’s largest retailer stated it now only sells “long guns for hunting and sport shooting, including shotguns, single-shot hunting rifles and light sporting rifles, as well as BB and pellet guns.”

It will no longer sell ammunition for handguns, short-barrel rifles such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber that, “while commonly used in some hunting rifles, can also be used in large-capacity clips on military-style weapons.”

It has also stopped selling handguns, which were previously only sold in Alaska stores.

While calls for a boycott of the retailer seem to be gaining traction on social media, there still seems to be plenty of cars in the parking lots and shoppers in the stores here in Central Minnesota.

Walmart isn’t the first major retailer to curb its gun sales. Dick’s Sporting Goods earlier this year decided to stop selling all guns and ammunition at 125 of its stores. That move came after the retailer already had stopped selling high-capacity firearms and last year required gun buyers to be 21 and older.

And guess what? People still shop there.

“We feel like we are striking a responsible balance between the interests of law-abiding citizens who are exercising their legal rights and the safety concerns of our associates and customers,” Dan Bartlett, Walmart executive vice president of corporate affairs said during a call with reporters after the company’s announcement.

This is what our elected officials need to do: Find a balance where everyone is protected.

Walmart goes above and beyond federal requirements when selling the firearms it offers. Our lawmakers should consider implementing these rules for all gun sales in America:

- Federal law permits a gun sale after three business days, even if a background check is delayed. Walmart will only sell a firearm after receiving a passing background check.

- The point of sale for firearms is videotaped and firearms in the store are secured in a locking case.

- Walmart only sells a firearm after receiving a “green light” on a background check. This goes beyond federal law, which only requires the absence of a “red light” after a three-business day waiting period. Walmart requires a “green light,” regardless of the time period.

And again, as we said earlier this month, it’s time for our elected officials to try some common-sense rules when it comes to guns:

- Require background checks for all gun purchases online and at gun shows.

- Do more to regulate high-capacity weapons, like in-depth background checks, mandatory training and even liability insurance.

- Ramp up resources for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms so that gun sellers are reviewed more often and with more scrutiny.

- Fully fund comprehensive mental health care. More resources for mental health care could help prevent mass shootings.

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