The four months that have passed since America’s debacle in Afghanistan have made it increasingly clear that this was a model that was successful from commanders and managers’ perspectives. It is therefore highly likely that it will be repeated on other battlefields.
It may sound absurd at first, but it needs to be looked at from the perspective of the individual actors.
American winners . . .
Military command. No one was forced to shoot himself after a shameful defeat, as was done in the old days. No one was shamefully demoted. There was no purge of the General Staff. There has been no radical reform of the armed forces’ leadership. There have not even been reports that anyone’s pay has been cut. The military continues to focus on “critical” issues like appointing transgender admirals and outing dangerous extremists: young white guys who actually do want to fight the enemy. To sum up, another successful event.
Politicians. President Biden was badly damaged by the Afghan debacle, but it’s questionable whether he can fully appreciate that in his mental state. Everyone else has profited from it, including those parts of the Democratic Party and the White House staff who are pushing Kamala Harris. No one has been fired and no one has been rushed to court, so for them it was a successful event, too.
Consultants and experts. It may have been the case that someone’s contract was not renewed, but there was no big blowout. The media simply offered the explanation that Biden didn’t listen to good advice. Now there will be new contracts signed for analysis and recommendations that will drag on for years with zero results. The more astute ones will recommend that the military instead focus on climate change and sexual minority issues — which it would anyway. Afghanistan was therefore a success for them as well.
Weapons manufacturers and military equipment suppliers. The taxpayers paid to arm the Taliban. No contract has been terminated and the military’s budget has not been cut. Let’s move on!
Bankers. The United States went into debt with the war, will be paying it off for decades, the banks will reap profits from it, and the bankers themselves are getting management bonuses. Isn’t that great?
The results of the Afghan colonial adventure are similarly positive for multicultural activists, who will work to integrate “refugees,” as well as for sponsors of the West’s Islamization and other groups.
People act on the feedback they receive, and in this case, the feedback is clearly saying, “Keep it up! Do this again and again.”
. . . and American losers
Suppose the Americans really wanted to change Afghanistan’s situation by moving it towards our idea of human rights. They would support a local Kemal Atatürk or Hafez el-Assad who would modernize the country. Such a leader would build a wall on the border with Pakistan, send girls to school, tolerate other religions, ban the worst parts of Islamic law, and introduce some very limited elements of democracy. The West would have to tolerate the fact that modernization would come with a level of brutality that is normal in those countries. Afghanistan would nevertheless become a better place to live and would stop generating terrorist groups. If the local liberal dictator were a real leader, however, he would probably unleash local nationalism, be unfriendly to multinational corporations, buy some weapons from China and Russia, and look skeptically at his American advisers. The West would have won, but each of the above groups would be worse off than they are today.
But let’s go back to what actually happened. Were there also losers in America and Western Europe? Of course! And there were many others:
- soldiers dying needlessly in a distant land;
- their families;
- taxpayers; and
- those who will be victims of Afghan criminality in the United States and Europe.
None of of these groups have enough political and financial power to do anything about it, however.
Welcome to the world of the CPP (Chief PowerPoint Officers)
We see the same trends in Europe. No act of violence by migrants has been followed by the resignation of a minister or a law enforcement chief, the sacking of those responsible for migration policy, or anything else. Not even the disgraceful case of the British government sending a boat to Libya and bringing the jihadist who massacred children in Manchester two years later has led to anyone being held to account. No inclusion activist is going to get in trouble when their inmate, after having been labelled a model, commits murder. No judge gets in trouble when he releases someone who then commits murder. Even the expert who recommended it doesn’t lose his job.
Those who criticize it, by contrast, get in trouble. It’s a perverse feedback system. The more damage you do, the better off you’ll be.
If we analyze this phenomenon, we immediately notice that its basis is lying. This is logical, since it has been going on in the Western world for decades. Social programs that worsen the poor’s situation are hailed as successful and their managers are rewarded. In Brno in the Czech Republic, a program that turned a few flourishing, quiet, safe streets into a ghetto received an international award. And these incidents are not exceptional.
Programs that are demonstrably devastating to the environment are being rewarded, and there are more and more of them. All it takes is for someone to say that it will bring some very vague and abstract benefit to the planet. In the name of protecting the Earth, millions of batteries full of heavy metals are produced, meadows and fields are being replaced by solar collectors, natural fertilizers are being replaced by chemical ones, the soil’s ability to hold water is being destroyed, and natural diversity is replaced by dull reforestation. These consequences can be read about in specialist journals.
Is anyone losing their jobs? Are ministers resigning because of this? Will this lead to other such actions being halted? Again, we see the same combination: lying and perverse feedback.
Let’s not forget that the same principle now applies in the corporate sector. No CEO is judged by whether he actually helps customers. It’s all about profit — although not always. It’s not unusual for a company to be in the red, everything is falling apart, and yet its managers spend years leading shareholders by the nose, telling them that it’s not their fault, that it’s somehow a success, or that they can collect stellar bonuses. They have been able to do this quite legitimately in recent years: production has stagnated, but diversity has increased and the corporate climate impact has allegedly decreased. Success! They get away with this because, among other things, investment fund managers are usually on the owners’ side, and they only want to present good news. The ability to make amazing PowerPoint presentations triumphs over actual achievements.
The roots of great deceit
Since at least 2014, top US policymakers were receiving distorted information about what is happening in Afghanistan. An analysis by the Center for Strategic Studies has pointed out that since that year, the distortions have been systematic: Their structure was adjusted so that they continued to capture direct combat engagements (in which the Americans or Afghan Army special forces won almost every time), but stopped short of addressing who actually controlled the territory in question. Other information also disappeared from the reports, completely obscuring the fact that an insurgency was underway and that the insurgents were clearly in the ascendancy. An image was created of a fairly stable country where, although there were occasional terrorist attacks, the situation was generally manageable.
This was far from the only falsification. In other projects, the construction of schools was reported, but the fact that Afghan families then refused to send their children to these schools was conveniently left out.
Indeed, the people who made these decisions at the highest level may have thought that they were dealing with a more or less modernized country with fairly free conditions that was simply dealing with peripheral problems. It was therefore logical that last summer, they thought they were dealing with a peaceful exit, not a retreat in panic. They perhaps believed that they were leaving equipment and other resources to the Afghan government; if they had not, they would have faced criticism for abandoning their ally.
But in fact something completely different was happening in Afghanistan.
Little scams and big conspiracies
Several readers have written to me that such forgery is not possible. There were tens of thousands of people who served in the occupation forces, and they rotated quite often. It is not possible that no one was there long enough to bring in enough information about how things were really going in Afghanistan.
This is a good opportunity to explain the difference between a fantasy-conspiracy theory and a description of human behavior using general rules.
A conspiracy can take place, for example, when a group of people invents a fictitious school in a remote town, producing fake photos of it on a computer, making up the names of its students, falsifying progress reports, and collecting money for it. This might be successful if only one school was fabricated and the group of conspirators was no more than ten people. My readers are right that in real life, it would be impossible to keep something like this a secret for a long time.
But then there’s the other option: the psychological, social, and economic laws that motivate people to lie. Take these examples:
- A captain is rated by how satisfied the colonels are with him.
- A colonel is rated by how satisfied the generals are with him.
- Generals are rated by how well they please the press.
- The press wants to hear that Muslim society is basically harmonious and that most of the ideals of Western policymakers are being fulfilled in Muslim societies. It is only Donald Trump’s voters who are threatening the world. We can criticize the Taliban and ISIS if we explain that they are the Muslim equivalent to Trump voters and euroskeptics.
Law of the crowd
The crowd is afraid of otherness. It is the case also for crowds of top-level managers and politicians. If there is someone with a clear view and the ability to tell the truth, he is quickly declared undesirable. The entire bureaucratic system will rise up against him: journalists, politicians, managers, and senior military officers. He has no choice but to resign.
The third law: A culture of counterfeiting exists across industries. Businesses falsify their financial statements (although they cannot do so indefinitely) and the prospect of new products. Governments falsify the results of their programs. Non-profits falsify reality to create the appearance that there is a scary problem, and receive grants to solve it. They all lie about migrant integration and crime. After all, even when selling products, marketing is playing an ever-greater role and technical features less and less of one. The impression created by a PowerPoint presentation or a media image is more important than reality.
Can we therefore expect fair and truthful reporting on a war in a small, remote country? This applies not just to Afghanistan, but to all other conflicts, and to major projects in general. When you read that your government has given money to a non-profit for a wonderful project somewhere in Africa, what do you really know about it?
No country for real men
My critical readers were right. Many people in the field must have known what the situation in Afghanistan really was. The people who were willing to talk honestly about it and who wanted to solve the problems never get into decision-making positions, however. Maybe somewhere there will be a military troublemaker, or a product manager troublemaker, or an editor troublemaker. With any luck, they can hide in their organizations and remain there for years — but they definitely won’t get promoted. The higher we go, the more carefully the world is cleansed of such people.
A similar principle applies to the same extent everywhere, across ages and cultures. But would you want to be in the shoes of a general or intelligence chief who is being decorated this year, knowing that one day he will have to explain to Vladimir Putin or the Chinese leadership why he has been issuing false reports for years?
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