How Did This Happen?

     …grunt…wheeze… Sheesh! Getting rid of that Curmudgeon nuisance was a trial. He pops in at random hours, grabs the keyboard, and refuses to let go. I had to lever it away from him with a crowbar. (A few blows about the head and shoulders helped, too.) But all is well once more, at least for the moment.

     Now, on to the serious stuff: How did this happen?

     Did I hear that correctly? There are 10,000 Americans in Afghanistan? Civilians, I presume, as our troops were flown out well before this. What were those 10,000 Americans doing there? Giving courses on critical race theory and gender fluidity?

     Under what dimly imaginable circumstances, in answer to what compelling need, would we have more American civilians in that hellhole than armed, battle-ready troops?

     It could be a manifestation of our most destructive conceit: the notion that we can engage in “nation-building” of the sort we undertook in Germany and Japan after World War II. But beneath that madness lies another phenomenon that’s even more irritating: the insistence of every portion of the federal bureaucracy on getting a piece of everything. This tendency manifests itself most powerfully in the tensions between the Departments of State and Defense.

     Some years ago, I wrote:

     It’s not too much to say that averting war regardless of its desirability or justifiability is near the top of every State Department functionary’s list of priorities. In this pursuit, the State Department will often find itself opposing even peacetime operations of the military designed to improve its effectiveness, such as the acquisition of new weapons or the enlargement of its ranks. Tom Clancy provided a fictional example of this in his novel The Cardinal Of The Kremlin. The State Department set its face against the perfection of an American anti-missile defense, in no small measure because it would reduce the desirability of arms-control treaties with the Soviet Union.

     In the real world, we often find the State Department opposing military decisions, for example about troop deployments or weapons development, specifically out of fear of the reactions of other governments. Objectively, if those decisions made the United States stronger and safer at an acceptable cost, it would be madness to oppose them. But to a State Department loyalist, who has no control over the instruments of force wielded by the Defense Department and whose primary goal is to avert war at all costs, what matters most is the reactions of those other States. If they make unpleasant noises or military adjustments of their own, the State Department man instinctively assesses the risks of war as increasing. Other governments know this, and exploit it.

     Not every new State Department employee enters his responsibilities with all these attitudes already in place, of course. But over time, the department’s institutional incentives and outlook will filter out those who fail to adopt the dominant view in Foggy Bottom: War always means failure — for the State Department.

     When a foreign war has erupted and our military has gained its objectives, the State Department functionary’s most imperative impulse is to grab a piece of the action. If he can, he might salvage something for the Department from what he would otherwise regard as a failure. The consequence is a flood of State Department personnel into the country at issue. Those persons might have no genuine justification for being there. However, their presence is a statement to the White House that State is “on the job,” and not a mere spectator to the war. It also provides a rationale for a funding increase in the next Congressional budget.

     And of course, where State goes, other federal departments will try to follow. There’s visibility, prestige, and money to be had from getting in on the act. Besides, those conquered savages plainly need someone to turn them into omni-tolerant liberal Democrats! The troops in theater soon find themselves babysitting significant numbers of civilians whose reasons for being there are dubious, to say the least.

     It’s the seedy underbelly of the “nation-building” conceit.

     I could be wrong about the above. I often am. But the dynamic that propels a huge portion of federal bureaucracies’ decisions and actions surely operates just as effectively after an American expeditionary force has conquered its opponent as during peacetime. So I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that of the thousands of civilians still in Afghanistan, the great majority were sent there by the State Department, in hope of reclaiming something from its “failure” to avert war in the first place. Bureaucrats are just that way.


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    • SiG on August 19, 2021 at 11:39 AM

    FWIW, I’ve heard that most of those 10,000 (and as many as 40,000) are contractors.  I take that to read military; former troops or special operators. Possibly care and maintenance of hardware and the bases themselves?

    Incredibly mind-numbingly idiotic handling of this.  I just heard that the general who ran this is the one who ran our leaving Iraq, which gave rise to ISIS.  Obviously too stupid to be in charge of anything.


  1. One indicator that a war is coming – Tom Clancy’s books in the library are all out.

      • Polimath on August 19, 2021 at 10:47 PM

      I wonder which book is relevant now. I’ve read most, if not all of his originals and stand alone writings. the last fear year before his passing it was co-authored and weak dismal pulp from unknown writers who got notoriety from Tom. I miss him.

  2. I have a proposal for the Taliban:

    We give them every State Department kleptocrat to do whatever they please with.
    They leave us alone.

    I think it’s a fair trade.

    • Daniel K Day on August 20, 2021 at 2:12 PM

    How many of that 10,000 began serious study of Pashto, Dari or Tajik when they found out they were going to Kabul? How many of them bore in mind that the English-speaking Americans, Brits or Afghan interpreters were a tiny minority among the 4 million in the city and they’d get some degree of respect and perhaps even friendship, and occasionally, more informed views of the situation in the country, if they showed the respect to learn at least one of the local languages?
    I lived in a foreign country for 14 years, and I was appalled at how many of my fellow expatriate English teachers made a barely-minimal effort to learn the local language. I’ll step off my pulpit now.

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