‘Adults,’ ‘Progress,’ and Disaster

Is there anything to add to the avalanche of disparaging commentary on the national humiliation that is the Biden Administration’s handling of our departure from Afghanistan? I’m not sure. 

True, the scandals keep coming. As I write, it was only a few days ago that someone leaked and Reuters published the story about Joe Biden’s July call to Ashraf Ghani, then president of Afghanistan, now a multi-multi-millionaire thanks to the $169 million of American taxpayer money which he stuffed into bags before leaving Afghanistan for the United Arab Emirates. During that call, Biden made the president of Afghanistan an offer he couldn’t refuse: military aid in exchange for lies. There is a “perception around the world,” Biden said, that “things aren’t going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban. And there’s a need, whether it is true or not, . . . to project a different picture” (my emphasis).

Opinions differ about whether this conversation constituted an impeachable offense. Were it Donald Trump making the call, you can bet your burqa-wearing seventh wife that Nancy Pelosi would have articles of impeachment drawn up before the cocktail hour. For Biden, not so fast, though it is an occasion for thought that someone—presumably someone in the Pentagon or the State Department—leaked the audio and transcript of the conversation. That’s a felony, but these days only Republicans get charged for that sort of bad behavior. The question is: what does it portend that someone in the deep state apparat excreted that embarrassing tidbit? Was it a warning shot across the bow of Biden’s sinking skiff? 

It’s also pretty scandalous that the Biden Administration, still reeling from the news that the United States left a zillion dollars worth of prime, made-in-the-USA military hardware behind in bases across Afghanistan in its rush to hightail it out of that god-forsaken country, is now hit with the news that they ordered federal agencies to scrub public records listing the nearly $83 billion worth of military matériel—airplanes, Black Hawk helicopters, armored vehicles of every size and description, some 600,000 assault rifles, various pieces of artillery, and countless rounds of ammunition—proffered as a tasty trifle for the Tally-bahn toffs. 

There are going to be more such news stories, about the fate of the hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies left behind (not “stranded,” according to Jen Psaki, just abandoned), about the behavior of the thousands upon of thousands of fundamentalist Afghans who have been transplanted to the United States, about what the Taliban is doing with all the merchandise of death we kindly gifted them. So the autopsies will keep coming and will furnish ever more detail about this gigantic political failure.

A week ago, a favorite media meme was that Americans were not interested in foreign affairs, especially events occurring in a pre-modern fundamentalist backwater, and that therefore the whole embarrassing episode would soon blow over. 

It doesn’t look that way, does it? It’s hard to know where this ends, how to predict how much damage it will do to Biden and his puppetmasters, and how it will affect the international standing of the United States. Were I a betting man, I’d say there was every chance that future historians will look back at the Great Afghan Fumble of 2021 and say, “There, it was there and then that the United States took a large public step towards its own diminishment,” much as historians now point to the disastrous Battle of Adrianople in 378 AD as a turning point in the fortunes of the Roman Empire. We shall see. 

For the moment, however, it is already clear how events of August 2021 in Afghanistan are being understood. On Friday, with a signature clarity that is simultaneously bitterly amusing and scarifyingly revelatory, Tucker Carlson laid out some of the main categories of interpretation. Two are ironic and deserve scare quotes—“adults” and “progress”—the third is the 150-proof naked truth: disaster.

The adults—or , rather, the “adults”—were first up. Carlson played clip after clip of prime time media mavens reacting to the election—i.e., the installation—of Joe Biden as president. Now at last, they said in unison, one yapper after the next, the “adults are back”: the country had shuffled off the bad orange man dragging it down. Henceforth it was sunlit uplands and responsible, “normal” adults as far as the eye could see. The montage certainly was amusing for the fatuousness it revealed, but Carlson underscored an important, less amusing point: what we saw here were “the most childish people in the county celebrating adulthood.” 

Indeed. For what those talking heads meant by “adults” were “people who are willing to pretend that everything is fine when it is very much not not fine.” And this brought Carlson to the issue of progress—or, rather, “progress.” He then presented a sort of time-lapse series of clips going back to our first years in Afghanistan, in the early 2000s, and showed general after general and bureaucrat after bureaucratic lauding the “progress,” which was almost always said to be the “significant progress,” we were making in Afghanistan. Clearly, the word had come down from on high: “project the illusion of progress,” no matter what. 

Twenty years of “progress” and what do we have to show for it? Failure in every direction. 

Carlson included a clip of our clueless Secretary of State, Antony “Winkin” Blinken, a man whom even John McCain understood was a moronic incompetent who was “dangerous” for America. Carlson shows Blinken lying about how many Americans we have left behind in Afghanistan and then assuring the world that our engagement with Afghanistan includes an important “diplomatic” as well as an abandoned military side. Like what? Like the $787 million of your tax dollars spent on “gender studies” programs in Afghanistan in order to undermine “the patriarchy,” etc. He quotes from a tweet by Dr. Bahar Jalali, “Historian” and “Founder of the First Gender Studies Program in Afghanistan,” who on August 30 sadly noted that, after eight-and-a-half years teaching at the American University in Afghanistan and founding the first Gender Studies program there, it was all being “snatched away so needlessly.” 

This was almost as delicious as the brief video making the rounds portraying some preposterous female academic trying to introduce “Fountain,” the urinal that Marcel Duchamp guyed the Western art world with back in 1917, to a room full of Afghan men and women. Watch it. As Rod Dreher noted in The American Conservative, it is a “sign of American decadence and stupidity in Afghanistan that cannot be improved on.” Dreher quotes from the acerbic, stiletto-like report in The Spectator World

But all this wasn’t just a stupid waste of money. It routinely actively undermined the ‘nation-building’ that America was supposed to be doing. According to an USAID observer, the gender ideology included in American aid routinely caused rebellions out in the provinces, directly causing the instability America was supposedly fighting. To get Afghanistan’s parliament to endorse the women’s rights measures it wanted, America resorted to bribing them. Soon, bribery became the norm for getting anything done in the parliament.

Exactly. The irony, as Carlson points out, is that the very people who once accused the United States, and the West generally, of “cultural imperialism” are now engaged in the mother of all culturally imperialistic projects. 

That brings us to the last category, disaster. That, alas, needs neither quotation marks nor explanation, for it is plain for all to see. 

 

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: JONATHAN ERNST/AFP via Getty Images

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