Feature 08.24.2021 10 minutes

Afghanistan and the Limits of Woke Discourse


None of the usual excuses serve to explain a major foreign policy disaster.

Over the last ten or 15 years, the Left has outmaneuvered its opposition on virtually every issue of national importance. Immigration, racial politics, the rights of sexual minorities—in all these cases and many more, the Left is able to redefine the political field along its own woke terms. Virtually every question in public life has been successfully cast as a question of dismantling white supremacy, with the sides drawn as starkly as possible.

While the Left may have lost limited, procedural battles here and there—the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice or two, the elimination of tax deductions favorable to blue state millionaires—no one questions the fact that the constant hollering about systemic racism has shifted the window of debate to the left.

Immigration, housing policy, the staffing of symphony orchestras, minutiae of voting rules, the teaching of math—all these issues can be defined and dominated by reference to the legacy of white supremacy. In those few cases where race seems not to pertain, the contiguous domains of #MeToo, trans rights, or climate change usually cover the dispute and allow the Left to determine the direction of debate. But race blankets everything.

Until Afghanistan. The botched withdrawal of our small but persistent presence from the obstreperous, Central Asian shithole extraordinaire has stunned the Regime. We watch as one spokesperson after another stumbles nonplused into a linguistic void because there are no white supremacists to blame. Neither Ted Cruz nor Tucker Carlson nor “the Koch Brothers” (one of whom is dead, though that hasn’t changed the formulation) ordered the military out of Bagram Air Force Base. The Oath Keepers did not encourage a resurgent Taliban to seize Kandahar, nor did anti-vaxxers convince the Afghan army to sell its weapons. It would be a stretch even for Jen Psaki to connect the collapse of the Ghani Administration to the retreat of glacial ice cover in the Hindu Kush, and from there to Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords.

The Biden administration has nowhere to hide at this moment, and the Afghan Disaster is revealing a major, important schism in the Regime. It seems clear now—or at least highly plausible—that the retreat was intentionally botched. After a 20-year occupation, is it seriously to be believed that no one ever gamed out an efficient departure? Leaving the aid workers and Blackhawks behind—that was the plan? Dunkirk and Napoleon’s flight from Russia were models of logistical precision compared to this. The military-industrial complex (MIC)—consisting of top-ranking generals, defense contractors, the foreign policy establishment, the “intelligence community,” etc.—opposed the withdrawal. Military schoolboy Trump, a softy for a man in uniform, couldn’t say No to the generals, which is why he didn’t get us out earlier.

When Biden, possibly because he felt he owed it to the white working class that has borne the brunt of Forever War casualties and which he has exploited as a pretend member for decades, forced the issue, the MIC basically threw a toddler’s tantrum and, essentially, removed its own diaper and spread its contents around the playroom. Fine, the MIC said, you want to break our rice bowl, upend our gravy train? How about we show you what it looks like when we get mad.

The media establishment has demonstrated fulsomely how happy it is to run cover for the Regime’s lies. But in this case, the New York Times and the Washington Post and MSNBC, among others, are being asked to choose sides in an intramural dispute within the walls of which they eat their bread. When it’s a question of Trump v. World, there’s no question whose side to take. But when one Regime faction stomps on the toes of another Regime faction…let’s be serious. Chris Wallace will shred his credibility all day long in a Trump/Biden debate, but there’s no way he would abase himself by impugning the credibility of the generals. Biden will be in office for a little while more, but the Intelligence Community is forever.

Afghanistan is a major problem for anyone who has gotten used to explaining the world strictly in terms of how American blacks are disadvantaged by society. Our discourse has been locked in a diving bell for so long that ostensibly intelligent people have forgotten how to look at reality and make observations and draw conclusions. The professional explainers are like stroke victims trying to describe breakfast.

The mess in Afghanistan is a fact, it’s ugly, it’s not going away, and it was caused directly by choices made in the White House. It is going to cripple the Biden Administration and will probably—hopefully—scuttle plans to pass another $4.5 trillion in pointless spending. It may hasten the ascension of Kamala Harris, who knows how to take orders and do what she’s told. And it demonstrates the limits of woke discourse to shape political narratives.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

Suggested reading from the editors

to the newsletter