FirstFT: Biden defends Afghanistan withdrawal

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Joe Biden was forced to interrupt his retreat to Camp David on Monday and return to the White House to address the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. His message to Americans was clear: he was not backing down.

In his first public remarks since the Taliban took control of Kabul and American television screens were filled with images of hasty evacuations and panicked Afghans, the US president showed no signs of changing course — or accepting blame.

“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said, defending his administration’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan almost two decades after they first arrived. “I have learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”

It was a consistent message for a man who first began pushing for an exit from Afghanistan more than a decade ago, as Barack Obama’s vice-president.

But Biden’s allies and critics alike also said it was a speech that underscored the president’s stubbornness. While that quality has underpinned some of his successes — such as ushering a bipartisan infrastructure bill through the Senate last week — critics said it could also result in a brittleness that prevented the president from switching course when the politics demanded.

  • The Taliban has renewed a pledge to grant amnesty to government workers and urged public officials to return to work.

  • Opinion: A mass international effort will be required to handle a refugee exodus, says our editorial board.

Five more stories in the news

1. Storm makes landfall in earthquake-hit Haiti Tropical Storm Grace reached Haiti yesterday and was expected to hit precisely the same part of the country still reeling from Saturday’s powerful earthquake, which killed more than 1,400 people and injured thousands.

A bulldozer removes debris at the site of at a collapsed hotel in Haiti two days after an earthquake struck the country
A bulldozer removes debris at the site of a collapsed hotel in Haiti two days after an earthquake struck the country © AP

2. US opens probe into Tesla’s Autopilot technology Washington has launched a probe into crashes involving Tesla’s driverless technology, after being repeatedly urged to by an independent regulator that accused the electric carmaker of releasing unproven software on to public roads.

3. Alberta’s oil producers hit record output but confront a dim future The White House’s call for more oil from Saudi Arabia and Russia last week raised some hackles in Alberta. The Canadian province is the US’s biggest foreign oil supplier by far.

Line chart of Petroleum imports by country (million barrels a day) showing Canada is the US's most important oil supplier

4. Private capital groups soar The largest listed US private capital companies have more than tripled in value since the depths of last year’s market sell-off, as investors benefited from hefty fees in the boom in unlisted assets.

Column chart of Combined market capitalisation ($bn) showing Shares in private capital firms have soared from Covid lows

5. Glencore backs British battery start-up The mining group has acquired a stake in Britishvolt, the battery start-up behind ambitious plans for a gigafactory designed to equip the UK’s car industry for an electric future. As part of the agreement, Glencore will also supply the gigafactory with cobalt, a crucial raw material in electric batteries.

Coronavirus digest

  • Gavi, the global alliance set up to ensure poorer countries receive vaccines against coronavirus, has agreed to an insurance structure for protection against non-payment by cash-strapped governments. The programme will protect Gavi should any of 21 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and continental Europe, which are self-funding their vaccine procurement, fail to come up with funds.

  • New Zealand will go into a coronavirus-induced lockdown from Tuesday, following the detection of its first local community Covid-19 infection since February.

  • GlaxoSmithKline and CureVac’s second-generation Covid-19 vaccine induced a stronger immune response than the first, according to an animal study.

Cutting pay for remote workers is a risky move and will expose who has more power: employers or staff, writes Sarah O’Connor. Follow our live blog for the latest coronavirus news and sign up for our Coronavirus Business Update newsletter.

The day ahead

US retail sales A wave of coronavirus cases has prompted a renewed focus on how the pandemic is affecting consumer spending in the world’s biggest economy. A report today is expected to shed light on the situation.

Fed chair hosts town hall Investors will be watching Jay Powell for any hint of movement in monetary policy.

Earnings BHP releases annual results today. European food delivery group Just Eat Takeaway.com reports, as does Sea Group, south-east Asia’s most valuable listed company. See our full list of tech earnings for the week in our #techFT newsletter. Sign up here.

What else we’re reading and listening to

Lex in depth: Remittance fintechs herald payments revolution Fintech start-ups are finally getting traction in their mission to disrupt banking. And remittances, smaller cross-border payments between individuals, have been an excellent entry point. Investors and developing nations are taking advantage of the shake-up of the old oligopolies of banks and traditional money agents.

Convoluted legacy systems are ripe for disruption by app-based services
Convoluted legacy systems are ripe for disruption by app-based services

A lesson in how not to handle a prize asset What’s an investment manager to do with an asset whose rate of growth is slowing and value is sure to decline? Those worth their salt would redeploy money and purchase different stocks lodged on the right side of progress. FC Barcelona chose to do the opposite, writes Michael Moritz, leading to Lionel Messi’s departure.

Insurers using AI to reshape the industry New technology is allowing insurers to produce individualised profiles of customer risk, but researchers worry that it could make it impossible for some people to find coverage. 

Chinese tech entrepreneurs grow wary of foreign funding While a seemingly trivial decision, raising renminbi or US dollars, the dominant two currencies funding China’s mass of start-ups, sets entrepreneurs on a path to two very different outcomes.

Bar chart of $bn showing Chinese start-up funding by currency and sector last year

How extreme weather is hitting airlines The potential impacts of climate change on the sector are far-reaching. Forced flight diversions and cancellations add costs to an industry that haemorrhaged billions of dollars during the pandemic.

Wellbeing and fitness

Lionel Barber on cycling Nothing beats taking to two wheels, writes the former FT editor. It’s like retreating into your own private world, always unforgettable, more so in the middle of a pandemic.

As Lionel Barber’s twin brother Stephen remarked, ‘cycling is the only sport where you get paid back for what you put in’
As Lionel Barber’s twin brother Stephen remarked, ‘cycling is the only sport where you get paid back for what you put in’ © Marco Kesseler

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