Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

America: The Chernenko Years

The Afghanistan debacle as a condensed symbol of the US ruling class's bankruptcy
Screen Shot 2021-08-20 at 4.50.00 PM

I have been out for most of the day. This morning I heard from a couple of well-informed sources about particular Taliban atrocities that have not yet been made public. These are the kinds of things that bring tears to your eyes. One of them in particular I cannot stop thinking about. It is one of the worst things you can imagine. These will all become public soon — I am not authorized to write about them.

None of this had to happen. If the United States had evacuated its people from that country in an orderly way — for example, if we had kept Bagram until all Americans were out — these things would not have happened to Americans and vulnerable Afghans who helped us. This is a stain that will always be with us. Biden, Blinken, Milley, Austin — they should all go. Again: Biden did the right thing by getting us out. But the way he did it was unforgivable.

And it’s not over. There are still a lot of Americans there, at the mercy of the Taliban, those monsters. They really are monsters. Remember all the things ISIS did, including making captured girls into sex slaves of its fighters? Yes, that’s happening now. We are in a very bad situation, and it could easily get much worse, I am reliably told.

I don’t believe a thing our senile Commander in Chief says about any of this now.

Look at this scoop by Bloomberg:

Y’all know that I have a weakness for pessimism. How can anybody with clear eyes, seeing all this, have any confidence in our leadership? I’m not talking only about Team Biden in place now. I’m talking about the generals who ran this war for the past twenty years. I’m talking about Bush, Trump, and Obama — but especially Trump and Obama, who had reason to know that this was a pointless war.

I’m already seeing signs that the recriminations are shaping up along partisan lines. This is a shame. The failure in Afghanistan is not something you can pin on Democrats alone, or Republicans alone. It is on our entire regime. One of my readers who is a player in the conservative foreign policy establishment e-mailed me when I was in Hungary to tell me that everybody he knows in that world is certain that Hungary is a neo-fascist state, and needs to benefit from a US-instigated color revolution. The reader knows personally that this is crackpot thinking; he was just trying to indicate to me that our best and brightest thinkers are totally blinded by ideology, and their own arrogance.

Here is a powerful essay from the Swedish public intellectual Malcom Kyeyune, who reflects on the perilous geopolitical moment we are now in. I’m going to quote from it here, but you should read it all. Excerpts:

What makes this moment in history so, well, historic, is the almost inescapable sense, shared across the political and national spectrum, that we are watching something very similar before our very eyes: the American empire is burning, and nobody knows what to do about it, much less how to put the fire out.

There may be a deeper aspect to this than a lot of people might perceive at present. On the level of pure geopolitics, the utterly embarrassing debacle of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan can only serve to make China more bold in any future confrontation over Taiwan. The American eagle is faltering, and its rivals will not sit idly by for long. But this is probably the lesser of the big consequences of Afghanistan. There is another, much more significant implication of the collapse of the American project here, one with much more acute bearing on the immediate future of American society itself. To understand why, it’s useful to reflect on a certain political and historical point made by Carl Schmitt in his by now nearly hundred year old essay, whose english name is often rendered as The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy. The essay is well worth a read in full today, and the reader might be surprised (or maybe not) at how relevant many of the descriptions of the ongoing political crisis in 1923 may seem to us today, nearly a hundred years later. The most relevant passage, however, deserves to be quoted in full:

 ”In the history of political ideas, there are epochs of great energy and times becalmed, times of motionless status quo. Thus the epoch of monarchy is at an end when a sense of the principle of kingship, of honor, has been lost, if bourgeois kings appear who seek to prove their usefulness and utility instead of their devotion and honor. The external apparatus of monarchical institutions can remain standing very much longer after that. But in spite of it monarchy’s hour has tolled. The convictions inherent in this and no other institution then appear antiquated; practical justifications for it will not be lacking, but it is only an empirical question whether men or organizations come forward who can prove themselves just as useful or even more so than these kings and through this simple fact brush aside monarchy.”

What Schmitt is saying here is very important, and it might very well end up being the true cost of the Afghanistan debacle. Every ruling class throughout history advances various claims about its own legitimacy, without which a stable political order is impossible. Legitimating claims can take many different forms and may change over time, but once they become exhausted or lose their credibility, that is pretty much it.

Kyeyune explores the meaning of Schmitt’s claim, concluding

What Schmitt is saying is that when the legitimating claim for a particular form of elite is used up, when people no longer believe in the concepts or claims that underpin a particular system or claim to rule, the extinction of that particular elite becomes a foregone conclusion.

He goes on to say that Afghanistan is a symbol for “an entire worldview and historical epoch.” It was supposed to be the place where armed humanitarianism drove back the forces of barbaric darkness, and created a better world, one where women didn’t have to live under miserable oppression, among other advances. We can laugh at the gender studies degrees from Kabul University, says Kyeyune, but it’s no laughing matter that Afghan women were more free because the US routed the Taliban.

Even more to the point, he says, is that Afghanistan was the graveyard of technocratic managerial liberalism. The NGO class of experts had free reign, and virtually unlimited money, to remake Afghan society — and failed. The belief of the technocrats that they can shape the world to their will by the sufficient application of force, intelligence, and technique. These primitive monsters  defeated them, just as their kinsmen defeated the Soviet version of modernity.

More Kyeyune:

I suspect we are currently witnessing the catastrophic end of this metaphysical power of legitimacy that has shielded the managerial ruling class for decades. Anyone even briefly familiar with the historical record knows just how much of a Pandora’s box such a loss of legitimacy represents. The signs have obviously been multiplying over many years, but it is only now that the picture is becoming clear to everyone. When Michael Gove said ”I think the people in this country have had enough of experts” in a debate about the merits of Brexit, he probably traced the contours of something much bigger than anyone really knew at the time. Back then, the acute phase of the delegitimization of the managerial class was only just beginning. Now, with Afghanistan, it is impossible to miss.

It is not just that the elite class is incompetent – even kings could be incompetent without undermining belief in monarchy as a system – it is that they are so grossly, spectacularly incompetent that they walk around among us as living rebuttals of meritocracy itself. It is that their application of managerial logic to whatever field they get their grubby mitts on – from homelessness in California to industrial policy to running a war – makes that thing ten times more expensive and a hundred times more dysfunctional. To make the situation worse, the current elites seem almost serene in their willful destruction of the very fields they rely on for legitimacy. When the ”experts” go out of their way to write public letters about how covid supposedly only infects people who hold demonstrations in support of ”structural white supremacy”, while saying that Black Lives Matter demonstrations pose no risk of spreading the virus further, this amounts to the farmer gleefully salting his own fields to make sure nothing can grow there in the future. How can anyone expect the putative peasants of our social order to ”trust the science”, when the elites themselves are going out of their way, against all reason and the tenets of basic self-preservation, to make such a belief completely impossible even for those who really, genuinely, still want to believe?

Like I said, read it all.  

Kyeyune says:

[I]t is quite obvious that the epoch of the liberal technocrat is now over. The bell has well and truly tolled for mankind’s belief in their ability to do anything else than enrich themselves and ruin things for everyone else.

This is where Wokeness intersects with the catastrophe in Afghanistan. This same liberal technocratic class has decided all of a sudden that the United States is choking on white supremacy, and must be re-educated, or else — and is injecting the pure poison of racial division into the American body politic. This same liberal technocratic class has decided all of a sudden that “male” and “female” are abstractions, and is convincing thousands of young people to destroy their minds and their bodies for the sake of realizing their supposedly true selves. This same liberal technocratic class decides what the rest of us can and cannot talk about, and uses its power to punish anyone who says things it doesn’t like. This same liberal technocratic class tells us a leader like Viktor Orban is a villain because he refuses to open the borders of his country to Muslim migrants, and because he doesn’t want the children of his country propagandized to chop off their breasts or chemically castrate themselves.

This liberal technocratic class is destroying law, business, medicine, and science, all in the name of its ideology — and it is expecting the rest of us to live by the lies it tells itself about itself.

No. Forget it. Live not by lies! The lies of these incompetent rogues are tearing apart our country. When will we have had enough of it?

I can’t stop thinking about the story my European friend told me about his time doing graduate work a couple of years ago at Harvard. The American students would ask the professors not to talk about certain topics because it was too triggering to them, and the professors complied. This was not a one-off thing. My European friend concluded that the American ruling class of tomorrow is too psychologically fragile to deal with reality. He left Harvard afraid for the future of the West. What are these people who pee their pants with anger when someone misgenders them going to do when faced with problems in the real world, which isn’t an Ivy League rubber room?

I see that Donald Trump is having a rally in Alabama this weekend. Another opportunity for grift, and diverting the justified outrage of people into cynical self-serving theater. Maybe he would have handled the withdrawal better than Biden (hard to see how it could have been handled worse). But don’t be fooled into thinking Team Trump was any smarter:

Click on that tweet and read the whole thread. We will never turn this around if we don’t look at reality square in the face. We are governed by people who are bringing us to ruin. They don’t know what they’re doing, but they have every confidence in their right, indeed their destiny, to do it.

I predict that the ruling class will institute a social credit system to hold on to its power, if they have to — that is, to protect themselves from the people they despise and misgovern. Prepare.

I know, this post is out there even for me. But I can’t get out of my head the fates of these Americans left behind by our idiotic withdrawal strategy. You’ll be hearing soon about what happened to them. It cries to heaven for … well, if not vengeance, then at least some sort of accountability.




Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now