The site uses cookies that you may not want. Continued use means acceptance. For more information see our privacy policy.

The Sad Result in Afghanistan

Nation states do not operate on magic. They operate on action and belief in the cause of society.

Act sooner, and trigger collapse sooner. Act later, and trigger collapse later. The most salient fact about Afghanistan—or any country—is that it can only stand if the people are willing to hold it up. Nation states do not operate on magic. They operate on action and belief in the cause of society.

The belief that holds up democracies is the same belief holds up strong men. It is the belief in the persistence of the power structure that holds a nation up, not the power structure itself. The difference for weak-core nations like China and Russia is that the authoritarian imposes the belief in power by threat of violence, where the democratic structure’s belief is by invitation. The authoritarian says, “You must build our society,” while the democrat asks, “Would you like to build society? And how?”

The media, as surprised as most at the precipitous fall of Afghanistan’s government, has gone into overdrive to try to deflect from their own unpreparedness for the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. All of that is set atop the worry over how women and girls will fare under an archaic belief system imposed by lupine violence.

But after 20 years, more than eight percent of America’s life, the government and military were not functional enough to fight. The international community did not rally to the cause. The anti-democratic axis supported the Taliban. The Afghans were ill-trained, perhaps. The plan for saving allies was half-cooked. The thing fell apart.

Congress has the power to declare war. If they want to send troops back, they need only pass a declaration. If they want more liberal refugee policies, they can pass that law. If they want to investigate or even to impeach Biden for a two-decades-long string of mistakes, that’s their prerogative. The media can crucify him until the cows come home. They can buy their nails by the barrel, their crosses by the cargo ship.

Congress will investigate the exit strategy, and if there were particular planning problems and lessons to be learned, and if there are ways to still save people who otherwise would fall under Taliban boots, I hope Congress gets there with all haste. God knows that we need Congress to step up and take more responsibility, that the executive can’t do it all, and that congressional ownership for the output of our national government is sorely needed.

But whatever the findings of the media and Congress, they must own their shares of the blame for not being more proactive in reporting. There were some in both camps that tried and failed to force refugee policy changes. One hopes investigations will focus on why they were ignored, both from an administrative and a legislative standpoint. One suspects the reasons are several, including a lack of State Department partnership with the military in overseeing policy development, lack of legislative bandwidth (both in terms of political prioritization and in terms of funding).

It doesn’t change the sad facts. The Afghan government had 20 years to push for a better-trained military, to design and set up better logistics. Maybe they could have bought Toyota trucks, copied the Taliban. Maybe some other formulation of military. They did not. Our allies did not refocus the training either. The last president—Donald John Trump—struck a world-class-turd of a deal with the Taliban, and given Biden wanted to exit, he chose not to try to leave by picking a new fight.

I don’t see how much blame can be laid at Biden’s feet on this—with the caveat that is based on current reporting. If the media or Congress finds different information, that will change. I know people want to blame Biden, because the situation sucks. But unless you’re calling for a return to Afghanistan, it’s hard to understand what could have been much different. Without a remnant force of Afghans defending their cities, it was always going to go like this.

If they had begun pulling people out earlier, it very well could have signaled the end and I would have written this, slightly modified, back in May or whenever. Or maybe not. Again, if the media or Congress can produce credible reporting that the administration rejected a reasonable alternative that would have worked better, let’s hear that if and when they are able to say it. And then let’s also hear why it wasn’t loudly voiced by the media or enacted by Congress.

There will be resistance to the Taliban, unless they decide to beat their swords into rakes and use their trucks for farming. Perhaps the opulence of the new cities will restrain them, as they whiff the possibilities of modernity. Perhaps not. But there will be Afghans who will fight for a free Afghanistan. They may not be many, but they will exist and will persist. Some day, we all can hope, it will come.

In the meantime, blame President Biden, if it makes you feel better. It doesn’t do anything for me. I feel pretty shitty about the whole thing, but I know that staying in Afghanistan wasn’t going to change this result. That’s something only Afghans can do.


We must stop these infernal cartoons before we are all damned to the fireworks of hell.

Crude cartoon of a buddha with flamboyant coloration.
This cartoon insults some or all of the gods.

Cartoons really make us angry. All their funny little shapes and colors, insulting the myriad true gods. Like Hobbestrial of the Second Tiger Realm (salmon be unto him), turned into nothing but a stuffed animal to amuse a child. These cartoonists suck all that is holy out of the world and must be stopped.

The very idea of cartoons, simplistic representations of reality meant merely to amuse and insult, is at odds with everything we stand for as a people. We are deep people with deep needs and desires and only the spirit of the true gods can nourish our blighted spirits.

But how do we stop these diabolical pensmen? With their three-panels and their thought bubbles, how can we cease their blasphemies? Should we place banana peels in their vicinities? Surreptitiously put matches into their shoe-seams and ignite them? We have not the technological know-how, nor the ingenuity, but the gods will give us insight!

Yes, with the gods’ help we shall defeat these reckless painters of satire. Maybe we should buy billboard space and exhibit the worst of their crafts in public, to raise awareness. Or wear t-shirts bearing their work inside a circle with a crossbar. But we will await instructions from the gods. They know best, after all.

Over the centuries, we have dealt successfully with so many forms of insult and oppression against the gods. We have ended Vaudeville, we have stopped the telegraph, the use of witchcraft, the carrying of pocket potatoes, and bloodletting is all but vanished. How did we do it? By the gods, of course.

And soon the gods will instruct us on how to make the cartoons of today the powdered wigs of the past. They will bless us with their unfathomable wisdom of how to rid the world of cartoons. We have tried violence (oh, so much violence we have tried; you would think we’d try something else, but the hint from the gods, we do not seem to get it). We have tried canceling our newspaper subscriptions. We have even tried laughing at the cartoons until they feel bad and go away. Nothing has worked.

But surely the gods will come through. They must. It is either us or the cartoons, we cannot live in harmony with them. And surely the gods will choose us, for we do not insult them. We do not make the gods look bad. The cartoons do that.

ISIS versus Al Qaeda

A look at why Al Qaeda denouncing ISIS may be more about Al Qaeda maturing than ISIS being more radical.

I kept hearing about how ISIS must be the batshittiest of crazy ever (at least of modern pseudo-Islamist terrorist and paramilitary groups) because Al Qaeda, the leading brand, has called them out for being too extreme. Whether this is all in the cynical fun of television news, or whether it is a serious point meant to illustrate just how much batshit these guys have stockpiled is unclear.

I think it’s the latter. I think the media actually trusts Al Qaeda’s judgment on this one. Like listening to the guy with singed eyebrows when he tells you (in a maniacal giggle) not to try to relight that firework, son. Shrug.

The media probably isn’t allowed to admit to itself, much less to the public, that radical groups that survive long enough to acquire the kind of cachet that Al Qaeda has tend to become more legitimate over time.

The biggest single reason is the money. Once they have the money, it becomes hard to justify the same tactics that were driven by lack of funds.

Where you couldn’t afford to buy most black market weapons, with money you can. Where you didn’t care about pissing off non-violent religious groups because they were part of the problem, now you’re trading money with them to try to shape the community influence and culture.

The second reason is that the former leadership was either captured or killed. The second generation, seeing the effectiveness with which the top row got wiped from the slate, doesn’t want to be dead or locked up. In part this is about the organization and their loyalty to it: they know how much internal turmoil and struggle that leadership changes put on an organization. And of course, it’s also self-preservation.

So just for the record, Al Qaeda saying ISIS is a heaping pile of the bat’s previous meals should not only be taken as one extreme group pointing at another, but as one naturally self-legitimizing group that is in fact less extreme than even a few years ago.

Which gets to the second part of the relationship. Groups like ISIS typically break off from groups like Al Qaeda, for the very reason that a group like Al Qaeda will condemn the extremity of a group like ISIS. The minority of a maturing group will wish to continue with the old tactics of utter destruction and murder. And they will feel frustrated, cuckolded by the new fold that the group is gravitating toward.

They see the new regime as a sellout, a slight against what the organization should be. So they split off. Maybe they are more extreme by a bit. Maybe even the earlier form of the originating organization prohibited some behaviors considered too much, and the new group adopts them. Maybe they do things to try to gain recruits away from the original group. They have to have a selling point, of course. So they tend to use the idea, “we’ll jihad the infidels twice as hard as anyone, or your money back.”

But as long as we cannot understand such organizations as a society, we will continue to allow our leaders to understand them badly on our behalf. So we should not buy into hyped up notions of evil or of it being all about religion. We should try to understand why terrorism exists, how it arises and how it passes away.

If you reread this post and insert Tea Party and Republican or some of the newer ecology-minded groups and Greenpeace, or basically any social movement ever (oh, and also replace terrorism/violence with the relevant activities of those groups; small detail, that), you should see the same basic pattern of organizational development at work.

Okay, but what about situations where legitimization does not quell the violent urge? These organizations are typically when the only legitimacy is the violence itself. Slave owners, for example. Dictatorships where the people would obviously change their government but for the force of violence. And so on. They are not entirely legitimate. They are legitimate toward their peers (e.g., other nation-states), but not toward their citizens.

Prison culture often hinges on this facet. If the main understanding of prisoners is that the institution is illegitimate (toward them) and only existing by violence or threat of violence, then prisons will be violent. If the prisoners have respect for law, believe there is a mission of rehabilitation and service to the prison, the violence will be minimized (barring the presence of other violent forces). We also see this in financial institutions (including otherwise legitimate governments faced with the opportunity to sell natural resources to private companies), which often undertake economic violence toward those it feels no need to act legitimately toward (i.e., the poor).