The Afghanistan Narratives

Source: US Air Force We usually try to be cautious about drawing narrative conclusions in the
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  1. Thanks Rusty —-keep us posted.

  2. The continuous spinning of narrative out of the swamp is both sad and maddening at the same time.

    Anyone remember a time when:

    1. everyone would realize that at least one aspect of the Afghanistan story is very simple: execution of the withdrawal demonstrated gross incompetence.

    2. one or more people, who were accountable for planning and executing the withdrawal, would be held accountable for the outcome

    When was the last time anyone in charge in the Washington swamp was held accountable ? On either side of the aisle ? Instead we get deflect, lie, defer, spin, finger pointing, avoid the obvious point, don’t talk about the 800 lb elephant, etc. Narrative.

    The stage is ripe for a populist uprising against the “elites” in power who are never held accountable for their failures. If there was a company whose primary focus was selling pitchforks, that stock would be a strong buy in current environment.

    What is the closest analog in 2021, to pitchforks and guillotines in 1789?

  3. It hard to believe that “experts” in the administration couldn’t see this coming. Did the military oversell that the Afghans were ready to defend against the Taliban, or was the administration not listening when told that they weren’t ready to fight? Is anyone anywhere surprised that the Afghan military and governing leadership cut and ran so fast?

  4. Avatar for mckett mckett says:

    Thanks Rusty. I would think that the death of distinction between news and opinion would imply that the transition to missionary narratives happens faster over time, right? The jockeying to frame every issue in the interest of each political gang’s overall narrative is so endemic that the talking heads already know most of what they will be proselytizing.

    On a further note the strongest feeling I have watching all this unfold is guilt. I was downtown on September 11th and like so many others lost friends and family. We (most of us) were unified in the decision made to take up the GWOT, but while our military went to war we mostly went about our lives. The mismanagement over the life of our engagement in Afghanistan as well as the past week may well be the product of raccoons but surely we have known for a while that raccoons were running the show and too many of us chose to do little about it.

  5. I have my batshit crazy conspiracy theorist idea that I’m going to keep to myself, but I have a question (somewhat on Rusty’s point 3):

    It occurs to me that the Military Industrial Complex was extremely successful in curbing Trump’s isolationist tendencies, something he harbored for four decades of public life (and they changed President Obama’s mind in 2011). And yet, in 2021 the military is obsessed with diversity training but “allowed” Biden a hasty and chaotic retreat. Why? What changed?

  6. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Yes, I think it happens more quickly, in part because of the death of distinction you mention and in part because of our new modes of media consumption. For example., we’re absolutely finding that the half-life of signals we develop for narrative structures is much shorter than for data 10 years ago. In some cases we find that the only signal that works is to bet against the detection of a mature narrative since, in some topics, that means it has already run its course.

    I also appreciate your 9/11 sentiments. It’s hard to remember how I felt, but I know what I supported (both wars) and how quickly I went back to my regular life knowing full well that members of the military were absolutely not - for decades at a time.

  7. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Without speaking too directly to my opinion on this, which I’m still forming tbqh, the framing you are describing is precisely the one forming around the civilian/military leadership disconnect.

  8. Avatar for mckett mckett says:

    Michael Lewis’ latest (The Premonition) suggested that over time the individual decision makers in the CDC became more concerned with not rocking the boat then with sounding the alarm; essentially taking an incorrect action was expected to personally be far more costly than being one of the many who did not act (or did not recommend an act). I suspect something similar at work here over the last year

  9. Greetings, fellow BCCT!

    Some possibilities I considered: security situation in Afghanistan requires US to come back in hot and use a lot of munitions; something else is about to flare up (lots of noise about Taiwan the last couple of days); suspension of Posse Comitatus onna conna vaccine deniers and/or white supremacists.

    First one is pretty unlikely, unless they pull the 25th Amendment on Joe.

  10. Avatar for kaimwa kaimwa says:

    I think in the coming months there will be a ramp up of the Al Qaeda boogeyman and how they might influence terrorist on home soil (Jan 6 agitators). Leading to an increase in surveillance military spending for domestic and terrorist abroad.

    I could be wrong but there’s an increase in Al Qaeda think pieces in mainstream news.

  11. Here’s one for you to consider Rusty. Today we heard the medical experts tell us they picked eight months for the boosters for oh so many slightly intelligible medical reasons when its pretty clear that boosters make sense after no more than six months. This is clearly one of those “nudge” white lies that lets them obfuscate the likelihood that the decision is purely logistical. We can’t deliver 100 million shots overnight but we can if everyone waits until eight months past shot two.

    The second currently building narrative is around the evil of Republican politicians opposing mask mandates with the likelihood that children will die as a result.

    My guess is that all of this is designed to lead to demand for national vaccine mandates (perhaps through employers, retail establishments, airlines, etc.), which a portion of the population might support, but which is clearly not a part of a current national consensus. Do you have any data that would help us analyze where this is heading and whether this will begin to crack the Republican meme about personal freedom or further harden positions?

  12. Avatar for Pat_W Pat_W says:

    VERY hard to believe. I suspect there were intel agents trying to get the information up the chain of command and having no success because this would reflect badly on those IN the chain of command. George Friedman wrote a useful commentary this week about changes in principles governing our military over many decades.

    After World War II the US became infatuated with managers and the Army did not escape. The manager and the warrior are different kinds of people.

    War is too dynamic to be managed by processes. Read the piece if you can access it.

    Parting with $200 to join Geopolitical Futures was a fine an investment as joining the Pack.

    More quickly relevant to your post is an article from the Washington Post here:

    The collapse of Afghanistan’s military that allowed Taliban fighters to walk into the Afghan capital Sunday began with a series of deals brokered in rural villages between the militant group and some of the Afghan government’s lowest-ranking officials.

    The deals were first offered in early 2020 and I remember seeing a brief reference to them at least a year ago by one journalist. Apparently they were described by Afghan officials as cease-fires, but Taliban leaders were in fact offering money in exchange for government forces to hand over their weapons.
    This was welcomed by lower Afghan army officials because to them, Trump’s deal with the Taliban made clear they were being abandoned. On the basis of these deals the Taliban could waltz through provincial capitals knowing they would meet no resistance. These are soldiers who were underpaid as higher ups embezzled their salaries and invented thousands of conscript names so they could collect those paychecks, while Biden moaned, “We paid their salaries!” Why did no one tell him? I suspect we are seeing the results of a grossly mismanaged US Army, as Friedman tries to describe.

    *I did not plagiarize from the links offered in this comment

  13. Avatar for Pat_W Pat_W says:

    I read a bit of research recently that said the vaccines’ effective rate was quite good at 6 months.

  14. Narratives forming will be an interesting watch. Personally, I am more curious about the real world fallouts from this. After Vietnam, the “big change” was a move into an entirely volunteer army. What will be the fallout from this? Robot/drone armies?
    And what about NATO allies?

  15. Funny you mention the Robot/drone armies. This was posted via the 1440 Daily Digest this morning. Boston Dynamic’s robots are becoming increasingly human like and very scary! Here is the link to the video. Atlas | Partners in Parkour - YouTube

  16. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    Even for real world items like this (which are interesting), I think they appear in narrative space first. Does this get us over the memetic hump of unmanned warfare as an inhumane and dangerous thing? (I hope not) Does the military/civilian disconnect bring the fact that drone warfare has already become a massive part of our operational capacity? (I hope so)

  17. Avatar for rguinn rguinn says:

    That’s absolutely possible on the 6 vs. 8 nudge, but I’ll admit that I haven’t researched it to comment with any credibility. And yes, the anti-anti-vax campaign occupies a pretty prominent space in the zeitgeist.

    But to your final paragraph about the vaccine requirement momentum, aren’t we already there? The dominos seem to be falling in the private sector, especially in leisure and transportation. For my part, I don’t think those have any hope of cracking the personal freedom narrative regime. The only guesses I had for possible narrative / missionary actions on that front would be (1) religious appeals to reframe vax as being about the impact on others or (2) the appeals of national GOP leaders. Both of those have been tried and failed. At this point, if maximizing vaccination rates is still feasible, the only weaponizable narrative seems to me to be putting all the chips on FDA approval, since that has been the nominal point of resistance. Tell people that their concerns have been heard, give them an avenue to feel reasonable and change course without losing ego or identity.

    Barring that, I think we’re in full political polarization mode on this topic until further notice, and any browbeating from here is really just to give the person delivering the beating warm justice fuzzies.

  18. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    The operational reality of running schools with a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated staff is turning brutal as schools experience adult absence rates that are too high to sustain long term. The complexities of running hybrid (vs fully remote) make it a nearly binary decision and one that has meaningful social consequences (shutting down schools puts incredible pressure on home life for folks that are not homeschooling).

    With Delta rising…the toxic cocktail mix that we have in front of us is, well, something else!

  19. As for increasing vaccination rates.
    FDA approval would help.
    Enabling those harmed by the vaccines, or their survivors, to have recourse would also help.
    After that it gets tougher.
    There is also the category I call the coercible. Efforts seem to be ramping up to get them to conform. Through employer mandates and trying to freeze them out of society.
    After that is the uncoercible. It would take remarkable effort to get them to conform. They quite likely have sufficient resources to be able to remove their services from the labor pool and are willing to forgo participation in what society has to offer. Depending on how zealous they are in their belief it might be best to just leave them alone.

  20. After the stunt they pulled with Biogen I’m not so sure. Had you asked me two years ago if I trusted the FDA completely I would have said yes. But today? Man I don’t know. I hope you’re right, and I suspect you are. But a very motivated voice could weave together a narrative about the FDA’s hasty recent approval of a non-working drug and make it stick for some unknown percentage of the population.

  21. @Desperate_Yuppie
    Interesting this is the first I heard of the Aduhelm issue.
    Thank you for sharing it with me.
    For some of the hesitant people it would be good for them to at least have a name attached to the approval if there proved to be issues later.

    Hope youŕe feeling better.

  22. Yee… First off thanks for the narrative breakouts via Quid. Fascinating stuff for this data nerd; quantifying the talk-space.
    Two outcomes bubble up to mind. One is a “Wag the Dog” event that would deflect the unwelcome attention the administration is getting over the speed at which the Inevitable, Unmitigated Disaster Abandoned our Allies. Second is a growing narrative outlier backlashing around the military industrial complex, and how The Swamp needs war for the Eric Princes and others inside and outside the markets.
    There; .02 - spend it wisely. = )

  23. So what part of this adventure seemed to go particularly well? What was ever going to be a “good ending” to this? Did anyone expect a military superpower to sit still and get sucker punched by a group of bit players? How was there never going to be astounding collateral damage? Do we loose focus because the train wreck plays out over decades and then react with anger and anguish as the spotlight shines while the last act plays out and the curtain comes down? How does anybody involved in any of this pass the buck to the last guy left holding the bag and keep a straight face and why do we buy into it?

  24. Probably by removing the collateral well before the Taliban had a chance to do any damage to them. This administration wanted out, irrespective of the cost. That has consequences. And it’s an entirely human response, by the way. The young professional couple buying a house for $100,000 over asking price and then realizing two months later that they’re trapped isn’t all that uncommon. Whatever narrative is being spun it has its roots in a simple human emotion: buyer’s remorse.

  25. Wesley - this whole Narrative that everyone should have the vax has serious detractors. At The Daily Reckoning, Brian Maher wrote a very thought-provoking article on 8/6 called “Are Vaccines Making COVID Worse?” Extensive quotes by the pioneer of mRNA vaccines, Dr Robert Malone. He says that our government’s current program to vax everyone can’t and will never work. Best to read it yourself. It was also printed in a Washington Times article. The non-scientific translation - the more vaxed individuals we have, the more mutations we create. Dr Malone says that only the most vulnerable should be vaccinated, plus we should use other medicines as prophylaxis to take death off the table for everyone else. He lists about 6 different medications that are effective.

    The Covid virus is now out of the box, and there is no putting it back in. Unless you have serious underlying medical conditions, why take a vaccine that won’t stop you from getting it or transmitting it except to minimize the chance of death? And if you’ve had Covid, and now have natural antibodies, why take the chance of a horrific side effect if you already have better immunity than a vaccine can offer?

    The divisiveness I’m seeing over this Covid matter, and the tyranny being manifested in both government and its proxies, is disheartening. When I hear people suggesting ways to “make” people take the vaccines, I wonder what has happened to our humanity?

    “…it might be best to just leave them alone.”
    How about “it might be best to just leave everyone alone.” instead?

  26. Avatar for Pat_W Pat_W says:

    Barry, I read the above article, which is indeed disturbing, then cast about to learn more about Dr. Robert Malone, who is repeatedly being referred to as 'the pioneer of mRNA vaccines." I found this article, Is "mRNA vaccine inventor" Robert Malone "being erased from Wikipedia" for his claims about COVID-19? - RESPECTFUL INSOLENCE investigating both this claim and the facts behind the burgeoning conspiracy theory claims that Wikipedia is trying to erase Dr. Malone from it’s page about mRNA vaccine history.

    I’m not going to cover all the facts here, as anyone can cut and past the link to read about it. Long to short is that Malone’s claim appears exaggerated at best, and if there is a conspiracy within the wikipedia page referenced, it’s a conspiracy to inflate the guy’s reputation. It is not known yet if Malone himself is leading the efforts to inflate his rep on the wiki page, or if it is done by some friend. It began only in June and the designated Wiki editors have had to repeatedly take down the changes.

    This makes everything the guy says questionable. I do not say it makes him wrong, but that we should be skeptical. I have noticed in the past few years many intelligent friends who know how to do research don’t bother to verify things they post in social media, which ET notes probably is. Be careful- the internet eats brains.

    I do not trust experts- I investigate them. Even the best will be wrong about something.

  27. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:


    I recently saw a very good talk by Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic where he discusses (briefly) the “false presupposition of the democratization of expertise”. Effectively the idea that in today’s world everybody’s opinion counts.

    It’s both an excellent presentation on how Delta has exponentially infected most counties in the state in less than a month as well as a really balanced talk by a medical professional with vast expertise in this field sharing some good perspective on how to think about Covid.


  28. For those who may be interested in data about flights into/out of Kabul here is a link:
    Kabul Airport for plane spotters

    Here is a post by one of the web site founders: August 20: Afghanistan airspace report

    Flight histories of military aircraft are not kept - which is certainly reasonable - but if the information is allowed one can see what aircraft is currently at the airport (C17 and C130J - no civilian planes of course) or check the “most watched” tab for inbound/outbound flights. (Note: some information might be subscriber-only.)

    I’m not sure how this information contributes to any narrative, beyond my own admiration and gratitude that there are flight crews flying into and out of KBL for evacuations.

  29. This quote from the article really tanks it for me:

    “However, from a scientific standpoint, COVID-19 vaccines are no longer experimental after they’ve undergone phase 1, 2, and 3 clinical trials involving tens of thousands of subjects and have now been administered to hundreds of millions of people with a good record of safety and efficacy.”

    A fair treatment of this vaccine would require a clinical trial regime lasting probably 5 years or more. “A good record of safety and efficacy” over what, 8 months? I detect a real axe to grind, and more than a few nudges.

    With so much political pressure to approve, and the classical regulatory capture mechanisms like the DoD’s famous public-private revolving doors, I just don’t have any faith in the FDA’s stamp of approval here.

    To me, Dr. Malone is a dime-a-dozen self-promoter with a real but peripheral relationship to a controversial subject. Does he know what he’s talking about? Probably not. He is Bizarro Feigl-Ding, to be ignored, but not censored.

  30. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    In an effort to spot the water in which we swim - is a fair treatment of this vaccine a clinical tril régimen of five years or more? It sounds like a good standard and it is what the FDA and the drug companies want us to think…however, I’ve also read reports that this is one of the most studied vaccines in the history of vaccines and it is being analyzed with technology that is far superior to what we had back in the day (whenever that was).

    Not suggesting anything about Malone. Just saying that if we are going to be true to the principles of ferreting narratives and abstractions intended to nudge…there is room to question what the FDA and the drug industry want us to believe.

    I have no experience here…so it’s a genuine question not an effort to oppose your points about Malone.

  31. Pat - you may have missed my point… I would never say that Dr… Malone is the last word, but that our HIGHLY politicized vaccination movement has its detractors. Politics and medicine, IMHO, should never be mixed, especially in creating an environment where those questioning the vaccine are punished, called ‘terrorists’ and even fired from their jobs. If Chodorov is even partially correct, that “Everything the government says is a lie”, then can we limit our reading to what the government is telling us directly & through its proxies?

    Albert Malone is a doctor with experience in that area, and should not be quickly dismissed because he also believes things that you don’t necessarily agree with. One belief disagreed with does not always invalidate another. His position on vaccination is clear - not everyone should receive the vaccine. His reasoning is laid out, and based on his experience in vaccines, genetics and how virus’ mutate. Caution in how quickly a vaccine should be accepted for use, especially without long-term testing, is an admirable position for any doctor. “First, do no harm.”

    I share your distrust of so-called experts, but we do not grow or learn if we do not read, digest, test and make our beliefs based on as many counselors as we can. Proverbs 12:15.

    I don’t agree with everything anyone says, but I believe everyone has something to teach me. And facts continually change as we learn more - there is no such thing as settled science.

  32. Most of my career has been in a pharma-adjacent field, with a fair amount of interaction with the FDA. Time to market (for patent lifetime and making-your-quarter reasons), is paramount, and any vendor is eager to get things cleared as quickly as possible. I have complained countless times to my colleagues about some fresh PhD in Rockville proposing ridiculously onerous standards in order to show off how Serious! and Professional! he is.

    I’m on the other side of this one because we were marketing a strictly-less-risky-than-surgical device that FDA insisted on scrutinizing like a surgical tool. In this case, it’s the first application of a new technology that is strictly more invasive than its predecessors. So yeah, give it at least as close scrutiny as, say, a new blood pressure medication. And that’s usually multi-year.

    The systems the vaccines interact with are far too complicated to be simulated or even studied in high resolution, so I don’t think there’s any substitute for watching over time and honestly tallying the good and the bad.

  33. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    That was super helpful. Thanks! It is getting harder and harder to extract the information from the noise.

  34. The video from Dr. Poland at Mayo posted by Zenzei is worth watching for the quality of the data presented and the questions he gets from his colleagues. I think Ben was on the mark when he said calling the variant Covid-21 would go a long way to reminding everyone that we are facing a very different virus than the one we have developed vaccines for. As such, the other strategies that lower risk (good mask, social distancing) are in play even though we had all hoped the vaccines would change the situation. In pandemics, and investments, hope is not a strategy.

  35. Avatar for Zenzei Zenzei says:

    To @Landvermesser point about long cycle effects - one of the things he discusses in the video is that we still don’t understand the long term health effects of having had Covid. I know that in the EMS/medical community this is being ardently discussed.

  36. The big question mark to me on the vax are the long term question marks. Fertility issues? How many got pregnant last year and had babies? What was the rate of birth defects or fertility issues vs control group? Cancer rates?

    Remember the children of thalidomide? Their children had side effects from the thalidomide their mothers took while pregnant. That’s 3 generations of potential side effects right there.

    Disclosure: I’m vaxed but I’m male and not having more children (fingers crossed)

  37. Thread creep is interesting. I see the title and want to jump into the conversation. And the tail of the conversation looks nothing like the begining. Just an observation.

    However, I did want to share that I just finished reading Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan 2017 by Scott Horton, yesterday. Very timely.

    It’s a brutal, punch-in-the-gut read that demonstrates the enormity of narratives and gaslighting taking place globally.

    Throughout the book, the question of “Why are we in Afghanistan?” is asked over and over. The question is deeply discussed but is never really answered. The reader is left with making their own conclusions. On the surface, it was about stopping terrorism, stopping the spread of communism, creating a democracy for the people in Afganistan, access to minerals, or ensuring the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. But the evidence points to less benevolent reasons and more to political power, the perverse incentives for military career advancement, and the enriching military-industrial complex, among other reasons.

    With regards to today’s goat rodeo in Kabul? Horton clearly presaged this outcome. The only possible “wins” in Afghanistan were permanent occupation or complete genocide of the Afgan population.

    It’s worth reading. I promise you that your opinions - which have been handed to you by manipulated media - will be changed.

    …and the gaslighting continues. E La Nave Va

  38. Thank you for the book recommendation.
    Also thank you for pointing out thread creep. I too have noticed this and have found it disorienting to say the least.

  39. I often wonder why we didn’t carefully study the performance of the USSR in Afghanistan in 1985.

    I recently read the book “Shantaram”. Wow. You want to know what India/Pakistan/Afghanistan was like back then (and likely now) read that book. Sure, there’s a number of critical narratives that question the author’s authority, or integrity, but damn that’s a good book. Also extremely long, dense, psychically painful, and populated only by antagonists, it seems.

    That part of the world is more than “not the droids you’re looking for” different. It’s a f*ckin’ tribal nightmare where everyone is armed to the teeth, with vengeance on their breath. It’s mired in tribal warfare a thousand and a half years old, and no one, not the USSR, not the US, not the UN, is going to change it.

    So, in the first place, why the hell were we there? Oh yeah… I don’t remember. Someone was hiding there who knew someone who knew someone that was a Saudi citizen and member of their royal family, and who was complicit in the 911 attacks. Or was that in Pakistan? Dunno. Doesn’t matter.

    We should never have been there. It didn’t make sense in 2001, it still doesn’t. Blame any number of administrations for remaining there. How many American soldiers died or were permanently shattered? A f*ckton. Each one of those sorry bastards, I feel for. And what did we achieve? Did we get what we came for? Sure, we finally snuffed bin Laden (that’s who that was!), but at a tremendous cost to our citizens and to our reputation, and prolly made future life for Americans a little more difficult.

    Cheers - Jon

  40. Thanks @Zenzei for the link to this informative Mayo Clinic video. Dr. Poland delivers an passionate, thoughtful, and sobering summary of the statistics of the ongoing pandemic. AFAIK, none of this info have I heard in the media.

    This is what I expect from science done well.

    Cheers - Jon

  41. Why did the media turn on the administration on this issue in a way they have not for anything else yet? IMHO it is because journalists were among those abandoned in Kabul. When bad things happen to others, it is human nature to feel bad but not outraged; when bad things happen to us or to me, it is an outrage. I think we are seeing the “that could have been me” reaction by reporters in the US.

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