by Victor Davis Hanson
The United States should be at its pinnacle of strength. It still produces more goods and services than any other nation—China included, which has a population over four times as large. Its fuel and food industries are globally preeminent, as are its graduate science, computer, engineering, medical, and technology university programs. Its constitution is the oldest of current free nations. And the U.S. military is by far the best funded in the world. And yet something has gone terribly wrong within America, from the southern border to Afghanistan.
The inexplicable in Afghanistan—surrendering Bagram Air Base in the middle of the night, abandoning tens of billions of dollars of military equipment to the Taliban, and forsaking both trapped Americans and loyalist Afghans—has now become the new Biden model of inattention and incompetence.
Or to put it another way, when we seek to implant our culture abroad, do we instead come to emulate what we are trying to change?
Take COVID-19. Joe Biden in 2020 (along with Kamala Harris) trashed Trump’s impending Operation Warp Speed vaccinations. Then, after inauguration, Biden falsely claimed no one had been vaccinated until his ascension (in fact, 1million a day were being vaccinated before he assumed office). Then again, Biden claimed ad nauseam that he didn’t believe in mandates to force the new and largely experimental vaccinations on the public. Then, once more, he promised that they were so effective and so many Americans had received vaccines that by July 4 the country would return to a virtual pre-COVID normality.
Then came the delta variant and his self-created disaster in Afghanistan.
To divert his attention away from the Afghan morass, Biden weirdly focused on an equally confused new presidential COVID-19 mandate, seeking to subject federal employees, soldiers, and employees of larger firms to mandatory vaccinations—right as the contagious delta variant seemed to be slowly tapering off, given the millions who have either been vaxxed, have developed natural immunity, or both.
Consider other paradoxes. American citizens must be vaccinated, but not the forecasted 2 million noncitizens expected to cross the southern border illegally into the United States over the current fiscal year. Soldiers who bravely helped more than 100,000 Afghan refugees escape must be vaccinated, but not the unvetted foreign nationals from a premodern country?
Scientists now are convinced naturally acquired COVID-19 immunity from a previous infection likely provides longer and better protection than does any of the current vaccinations.
Yet those who suffered COVID-19, and now have antibodies and other natural defenses, must likewise be vaccinated. That anomaly raises the obvious logical absurdities: will those with vaccinations—in reciprocal fashion—be forced to be exposed to the virus to obtain additional and superior natural immunity, given the Biden logic of the need for both acquired and vaccinated immunity?
We have Afghanistanized the border as well, turning the United States into a pre-state whose badlands borders are absolutely porous and fluid. There is no audit of newcomers, no vaccinations required, no COVID-19 tests—none of the requirements that millions of citizens must meet either entering the United States or working at their jobs. Our Bagram abandonment is matched by abruptly abandoning the border wall in mid-course.
Yet where the barrier exists, there is some order; where Joe Biden abandoned the wall, there is a veritable stampede of illegal migration.
Third-World countries suffer military coups when unelected top brass and caudillos often insidiously take control of the country’s governance in slow-motion fashion. The latest Bob Woodward “I heard,” “they say,” and “sources reveal” mythography now claims that General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, discussed separating an elected commander-in-chief from control of the military. Woodward and co-author Robert Costa also assert that Milley promised his Chinese Communist military counterpart that he would tip off the People’s Liberation Army of any planned U.S. aggressive action—an odd paranoia when Donald Trump, of the last five presidents, has proved the most reluctant to send U.S. troops into harm’s way. Coups, Juntas and Such
If that bizarre assertion is true, Milley himself might have essentially risked starting a war by eroding U.S. deterrence in apprising an enemy of perceived internal instability inside the executive branch, and the lack of a unified command. (So, Woodward wrote: “‘General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable, and everything is going to be okay,’ Milley said. ‘We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.’ Milley then added, ‘If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise.’”)
More germanely, when Milley called in senior officers and laid down his own operational directives concerning nuclear weapons, he was clearly violating the law as established and strengthened in 1947, 1953, and 1986 that clearly states the Joint Chiefs are advisors to the president and are not in the chain of command and are to be bypassed, at least operationally, by the president.
The commander in chief sets policy. And if it requires the use of force, he directs the secretary of defense to relay presidential orders to the relevant theater commanders. Milley had no authority to discuss changing nuclear procedures, much less to convey a smear to an enemy that his commander in chief was non compos mentis.
Milley has been reduced to a caricature of a caricature right out of “Dr. Strangelove”—and is himself a danger to national security. After Milley’s summer 2020 virtue-signaling “apology” for alleged presidential photo-op misbehavior (found to be completely false by the interior department’s inspector general); after leaked news reports that Milley considered resignation (promises, promises) to signal his anger at Trump in summer 2020; after his dismissal of the 120 days of rioting, 28 deaths, 14,000 arrests, and $2 billion in damage as mere “penny packet protests”; after his “white rage” blathering before Congress; after the collapse of the U.S. military command in Kabul; and after his premature and hasty assessment of a U.S. drone strike that killed 10 innocent civilians as “righteous,” Woodward’s sensationalism may not sound as impossible as his usual fare.
Milley should either deny the Woodward charges and demand a real apology or resign immediately. He has violated the law governing the chain of command, misused his office of chairman of the Joint Chiefs, politicized the military, proved inept in his military judgment and advice, and may well have committed a felony in revealing to a hostile military leader that the United States was, in his opinion, in a crisis mode.
Yet, Milley did not act in isolation. Where did this low-bar Pentagon coup talk originate? And who are those responsible for creating a culture in which unelected current and retired military officers, sworn to uphold the constitutional order and the law of civilian control of the military, believe that they can arbitrarily declare an elected president either incompetent or criminal—and thus subject to their own renegade sort of freelancing justice?
As a footnote, remember that after little more than a week of the Trump presidency, Rosa Brooks, an Obama-era Pentagon appointee, published in Foreign Policy various ways to remove the newly inaugurated president. Among those mentioned was a military coup, in which top officers were to collude to obstruct a presidential order, on the basis of their own perceptions of a lack of presidential rectitude or competence.
We note additionally that over a dozen high-ranking retired generals and admirals have serially violated the uniform code of military justice in demonizing publicly their commander in chief with the worst sort of smears and slanders. And they have done so with complete exemption and in mockery of the very code they have sworn to abide.
Two retired army officers, colonels John Nagl and Paul Yingling, on the eve of the 2020 election, urged Milley to order U.S. army forces to remove Trump from office if in their opinion he obstructed the results of the election—superseding in effect a president’s elected powers as well as those constitutional checks and balances of the legislative and judicial branches upon him.
We know that these were all partisan and not principled concerns about an alleged non compos mentis president, because none of these same outspoken “Seven Days in May” generals have similarly violated the military code by negatively commenting publicly on the current dangerous cognitive decline of Joe Biden and the real national security dangers of his impairment, as evidenced by the disastrous skedaddle from Afghanistan and often inability to speak coherently or remember key names and places.
In short, is our new freelancing and partisan military also in the process of becoming Afghanized—too many of its leadership electively appealing to pseudo-higher principles to contextualize violating the Constitution of the United States and, sadly, too many trying to reflect the general woke landscape of the corporate board to which so many have retired? Like tribal warlords, our top brass simply do as they please, and then message to us “so what are you going to do about it?”
The Constitution as Construct
How paradoxical that the United States has sent teams of constitutional specialists to Iraq and Afghanistan to help tribal societies to draft legal, ordered, and sustainable Western consensual government charters that are not subject to the whims of particular tribes and parties. Yet America itself is descending in the exact opposite direction.
Suddenly in 2021 America, if ancient consensual rules, customs, and constitutional mandates do not facilitate and advance the progressive project, then by all means they must end—by a mere one vote in the Senate. It is as if the centuries of our history, the Constitution, and the logic of the founders were analogous to a shouting match among a squabbling Taliban tribal council of elders.
Junk the 233-year-old Electoral College and the constitutional directive to the states to assume primary responsibilities in establishing voting procedures in national elections. End the 180-year-old Senate filibuster. Do away with the now bothersome 150-year nine-justice Supreme Court. And scrap the 60-year-old tradition of a 50-state union.
Impeachment was intended by the founders as a rare reset of the executive branch in extremis. Now it is to be a pro formaattack on the president in his first term by the opposite party as soon as it gains control of the House—without a special counsel, without witnesses and cross-examinations, without any specific high crimes and misdemeanors or bribery and treason charges. And why not from now on impeach a president twice within a year—or try him in the Senate when he is out of office as a private citizen?
When private citizen Joe Biden is retired from the presidency, will his political enemies dig up his sketchy IRS records alleging that he never paid income taxes on the “big guy’s” “10 percent” of the income from the Hunter Biden money machine?
We may think virtue-signaling pride flags, gender studies, and George Floyd murals in Kabul remind the world of our postmodern sophistication. Yet, in truth, we are becoming far more like Afghanistan in the current tribalization of America—where tribal, racial, and ethnic loyalties are now essential to an American’s primary identity and loyalty—than we were ever able to make Afghanistan like us.
When we read leftist heartthrob Ibram X. Kendi’s endorsement of overt racial discrimination or academic and media obsessions with a supposed near-satanic “whiteness,” or the current fixations on skin color and first loyalties to those who share superficial racial affinities, then we are not much different from the Afghan tribalists. We in America apparently have decided the warring badlands of the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks have their advantages over a racially blind, consensual republic. They are the model to us, not us of the now-discredited melting pot to them.
How sad in our blinkered arrogance that we go across the globe to the tribal Third World to teach the impoverished a supposedly preferrable culture and politics, while at home we are doing our best to become a Third-World country of incompetency, constitutional erosion, a fractious and politicized military elite, and racially and ethnically obsessed warring tribes.
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Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush. Hanson is also a farmer (growing raisin grapes on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author most recently of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won and The Case for Trump.
Photo “Afghan Children” by ArmyAmber.