Edited by Sam Thielman
So MAGA – and me! – supported Donald Trump’s 2020 deal with the Taliban for withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the rapturously-reviewed REIGN OF TERROR, I described the deal as the only valorous act of a disgraceful presidency. But now that Joe Biden has gone through with it, after his own fashion, the luminaries of Trump’s administration are trying to find a point of distinction so as to blame the human carnage in Kabul on their successors. Vindicating REIGN’s analysis, they’re doing it by returning to the politics of the War on Terror.
Mike Pompeo, who oversaw diplomatic envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s 2019-20 negotiations, is testing out the old John Kerry/Mitt Romney/Trump-on-the-Iraq-withdrawal position: pretending that the problem is the implementation, so as to conceal that they supported the policy. Pompeo, too thirsty for continued relevance, somehow didn’t have a better answer in a softball interview. “They've been focused on critical race theory while the embassy is at risk,” Pompeo said, demonstrating his respect for your intelligence.
Stephen Miller is different. Last night on Twitter, Miller brought back another old template from the Forever Wars, one that puts a more recent MAGA phenomenon in perspective. He extracted the nativist ore from the carbonized husk of the war.
In response to the reports that Biden is seeking to bring to the U.S. 2,500 Afghans who served the United States during the war, Miller tweeted that “Biden & his radical deputies will use their catastrophic debacle in Afghanistan” – watch Miller wash Trump’s hands of this decision – “as a pretext for doing to America what Angela Merkel did to Germany & Europe.” By that, the Camp of the Saints fan is referring to MAGA’s view that Merkel compromised the racial and civilizational integrity of Europe by seeking to admit Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS. (Set aside for a moment that Europe has a deep Islamic heritage; I am simply begging you to read about the Ottoman Empire and al-Andalus.)
Underscoring the point, Miller continued that Biden wants to import “many hundreds of thousands” of Afghans into the United States. I’m not going to link to his tweets. But it needs to be pointed out that Miller is inventing this figure as propaganda.
THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION IS NOT admitting many hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, let alone the millions of them necessary to save peoples’ lives ahead of the reprisal killings expected to come under the Second Taliban Republic of Afghanistan. As I mentioned in Monday’s Discontents newsletter – check out the newsletters of Discontents’ many affiliates, as Forever Wars is now among them – officials I’ve spoken with say that they’re hopeful they can get thousands of Afghans out. But they’re still prioritizing people who worked for the U.S.-led coalition, western media, western aid organizations, etc. Those who didn’t are already dying horrific deaths as they try to cling to departing C-17s.
But you can’t refute propaganda with fact or context. Propaganda plays on fear – in this case, a fear that defines the 9/11 Era. It mingles effortlessly with an anxiety of decline, an anxiety that weakens the will to struggle against an extractive economic system that ensures ever greater wealth concentration. That system is the mechanism of the actual decline, the one that happens when precarity gets distributed upward into what used to be the middle class. In place of material and historical analysis, analysis that lights the way toward the dignity of socialism, nativists deliver – and, I presume, sincerely experience – the cultivated anxiety of a cultural decline.
In this specific instance, it is the fear amongst white people that their position atop the American racial caste system is threatened by airplanes full of guys in wraparound shades (and their families), whom the Americans called things like Rex or Mo as they translated what the captain wanted to convey to the tribal elder during the Key Leader Engagement.
As you can read in the critically lauded REIGN OF TERROR, Miller’s ilk did this again and again over the last decade. They treated a cultural center in lower Manhattan like it was Mehmet II turning Hagia Sofia into a mosque. They claimed there was a “civilization jihad” underway to ensure “piecemeal submission” to Islamic law. They portrayed the people fleeing for their lives from ISIS as ISIS, who would enter through a supposedly porous border that they saw as a metaphor for a supine America, which is to say a racial caste system under attack.
“Stealth jihadis use political, cultural, societal, religious, intellectual tools; violent jihadis use violence,” Newt Gingrich said in 2010, ahead of running for president. “But in fact they’re both engaged in jihad, and they’re both seeking to impose the same end state, which is to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of Sharia.”
TO REPLACE WESTERN CIVILIZATION. Long before fascists in polo shirts lit tiki torches to declare in Charlottesville that Jews would not replace them, people with real political, economic and cultural power treated Islam in America as a beta test for their replacement theory. The fascist might say sharia law instead of Zionist Occupied Government but antisemitism and Islamophobia are the same fucking thing.
Miller, to the shame of his family, knows what he is doing. In office, he decimated refugee admissions as part of a project to keep America white. What he’s really doing is constructing a nativist’s palisade. He’s not spouting his propaganda because he thinks it’s true. He’s doing it so it can never become true.
I listened to Joe Biden’s Afghanistan speech this afternoon. I waited to hear him say that America will do the only honorable thing and admit Afghan refugees en masse. I waited to hear him argue that these are people who are desperate, who have lived through horror, who want their children to know safety. Instead he said that America will continue to prioritize its own citizens, other allied foreign citizens, and a somewhat expanded pool of Afghans who worked with Western organizations. Then he added that he will “maintain a laser focus on our counterterrorism mission there [in Afghanistan] and in other parts of the world.”
It was War on Terror politics masquerading as the end of a war. Until those politics are directly challenged – dare I say replaced –there will be no way for America to act honorably. There will only be a way for America to consign millions of vulnerable people to the fate that its disastrous wars prepared for them. But Biden and worse people, like Emmanuel Macron, prefer to leave those politics unchallenged, as if we haven’t just lived through what happens when nativism grows in strength.
Housekeeping note. We’re publishing on a bit of an irregular schedule this week. I have a very good problem: a lot of media interest in REIGN, particularly given the human nightmare in Afghanistan. But that’s leaving me with far less time to write this newsletter than I wanted this week. So tomorrow, Sam’s going to publish his first Forever Wars piece. I edited it and you’ll like it a lot.
As well, if you haven’t become a paid subscriber yet, please consider paying. The first month of this newsletter has been free for all readers. Next week that’s going to come to a close, and I’ll start telling stories that are too hot for unpaying subscribers. I will also soon release very exciting projects that only paying subscribers will be able to access. It’s going to be worth this vague-posting. So please, if you like this newsletter, make it sustainable if you can afford to pay.