Department of Cheering
We know defeat, but do we know surrender?
“We don’t negotiate surrenders.”
-former DOD Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, speaking to the press in 2001; quoted in the NYTimes, August 23, 2021:
A notable shift in the press coverage surrounding the evacuation of Kabul: women journalists are asking the tough questions. (Pentagon Q&A, MSNBC and YouTube)
Senior White House Correspondent Kathy Kay was asked to comment (Alex Witt, MSNBC, Saturday, August 21) on the riff that the press was sounding “hawkish” in its criticism of Biden’s reaction to the Taliban takeover. ‘Our job,’ replied Kay, ‘is to criticize the decisions and policies that affect us.’
And now Monday’s Pentagon Q&A. Predictably, the military establishment played coy, arguing that (‘as you know’) it is better not to reveal “tactics” in the midst of a humanitarian crisis.
One is reminded of the voice of Ellen Willis (1941–2006), ‘informed’ feminist and advocate for informed social and cultural discourse:
My education was dominated by modernist thinkers and artists who taught me that the supreme imperative was courage to face the awful truth, to scorn the soft-minded optimism of religious and secular romantics as well as the corrupt optimism of governments, advertisers, and mechanistic or manipulative revolutionaries. Yet the modernists’ once-subversive refusal to be gulled or lulled has long since degenerated into a ritual of despair at least as corrupt, soft-minded, and cowardly — not to say smug — as the false cheer it replaced. The terms of the dialectic have reversed: now the subversive task is to affirm an authentic post-modernist optimism that gives full weight to existent horror and possible (or probable) apocalyptic disaster, yet insists — credibly — that we can, well, overcome. The catch is that you have to be an optimist (an American?) in the first place not to dismiss such a project as insane.
- from “Beginning to See the Light: Pieces of a Decade,”, quoted by Margalit Fox, NYTimes, November 10, 2006
‘American optimism’ is a con game. ‘Optimism’ is the refuge of false social and cultural reckoning.
Who said the ‘counter insurgency’ effort was accomplished with Bin Laden’s killing? Who said Al Qaeda was defeated? Is this how it works? A terrorist leader is killed and life returns to normal? The once defeated folks showing the guns in the Presidential Palace, Afghanistan’s seat of power, now have the guns and the prisons and tomorrow’s hostages. This is not normal. Cursing and violating women is not normal. Disregarding public safety is not normal.
A humbled American President facing diving poll numbers for attempting to bring resolution is not normal.
We cling to false comparisons between the fall of Kabul and the fall of Saigon. By any military assessment, these two events are precisely the same — they are defeats.
The critical problem is that when America quits ‘foreign soil,’ in victory or in defeat, those souls who signed up for America’s team suddenly find themselves hostages to dangerous forces hostile to America. There is no safe haven. No embassy roof with idling Hueys. No relief from betrayal. The harsh reality of a nation quitting its presence, rationalizing its withdrawal, vacating the appeal, lingers and pervades the livelihoods of the citizens.
We have invested in an area of the world and we seek bringing the ‘note of democracy due.‘ Is this how it works? A generation away lies the “city on the hill?” Markets will remain open for the benefit of all?
Is this how it works?
Our allies in this fight portray the awkward silence of betrayal. America is wealthy, America is a military power. America is defeated.
In this area of the world lies the detritus of empires: where imperial adventures, ‘experiments at nation-building,’ were defeated: England, Russia, America. America is left without an embassy, without a presence, temporarily with only an airport, economic sanctions and a chastened counter-intelligence network. And 20,000 “hostages.” Certainly more. A handful is enough disgrace. Is this how it works?
Our foes have not only gained territory; our foes have gained the weapons we left behind. The metaphor(s) of hostage-taking is painfully real: today’s killing tools are tomorrow’s killing fields.
We have surrendered to militarism. We are hostages now.