Friday, May 14, 2021
Thursday, May 13, 2021
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
As more and more Americans get vaccinated, it is now clearly time - or at least very close to time - for most of us to start trying to live somewhat normally again (whatever "normal" might actually mean in a post-pandemic world). As someone who has not entered a restaurant since March 7, 2020, nor been to a movie theater, I need to hear that message as much as anyone. About 14 months ago, as the covid-19 pandemic spread uncontrollably and seemed poised either to kill us or totally take over the lives of those it didn't kill, we did the only thing we could. We responded by locking ourselves in a cage, guarded by distance, masks, and an abundant, obsessive-compulsive, overuse of hand sanitizer. That all made perfect sense at the time.
But that was then, and now is now. Thanks to the scientific miracle of highly effective vaccines developed with unprecedented speed, it is possible to stop the transmission of the virus - assuming, of course, people all get vaccinated. Sadly, many people around the world do not yet have that opportunity, and until they do the virus will to some extent remain a a real and permanent threat to all of humanity. Sadly, too, there are many who now have the opportunity to get vaccinated but have not done so for political reasons. The only morally response to that is to require proof of vaccination - for schools, for example, much as has long been the case with regard to other vaccinations.
But, back to my problem. After 14 months, it has become easy to stay inside and not go anywhere. Too easy. And, all too often, the impression has sometimes been given that getting vaccinated makes little difference and that one should still maintain distance, wear a mask, etc. Of course, as long as there are unvaccinated people among us, some of those precautions may still make sense in certain settings. As long as I can't be confident that absolutely everyone on the bus has been fully vaccinated, I want the bus to require everyone to wear a mask. That makes sense.
But it also makes sense to start unlocking one's personal cage. Once you have been vaccinated and your family and friends as well, what then should you be doing? For sure, still wear a mask on the bus - for society's sake. But, as importantly, take that bus and go somewhere!
Sunday, May 9, 2021
“If a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz [Cheney] is not the best fit,” according to Ohio Representative Anthony Gonzalez, one of the nine other Republican House members who, with Cheney, chose to acknowledge their Emperor's lack of clothes and accordingly voted to impeach President Trump in January. Clearly, lying is indeed now a prerequisite for whatever passes for "leadership" among the Trump personality-cult that is the contemporary opposition party. When Utah Republicans booed their Senator and 2012 presidential standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, who as senator twice voted to convict Trump, they called him (of all absurd things) a "communist." Romney responded “aren’t you embarrassed?” Obviously, most Republicans are not.
Indeed, whatever one thinks of the "severely conservative" (as he called himself in 2012) Romney (of whom I am no more a fan than I am of Liz Cheney, neither of whom could I ever imagine voting for), he is obviously no "communist." Calling rival American politicians "communist" was always a bizarre and unprincipled tactic even in the worst years of the Cold War. Its evident absurdity three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union just exemplifies even further the fantasy world which the Trump cult increasingly inhabits and its commitment to lies and more lies. One of the many ironies of our current crisis is that that Trump cult's organizational expression in the contemporary Republican party, in its sectarian character and its indifference to truth, increasingly rather resembles the only actual "communist" entity of any remaining significance still in existence, the Chinese Communist Party. And both seem to be devoted to Lenin's infamous call to employ "a language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, and scorn toward those who disagree with us.”
The overused (and at times tiresome) terminological distinction between being both/and as opposed to either/or nonetheless has some real meaning and value in politics. A healthy, well balanced society needs both its left and right wings, both progressive advocacy and cautious conservatism. If the Left's political purpose is to push society forward towards a more just and equitable future, the Right's role is to steer society prudently according to the truth of human nature and the lessons of human history. Even if the United States somehow survives the Republican party's Trumpist abandonment of constitutional democratic norms of governance (a survival which is by no means a certainty at this stage), the absence of anything resembling a serious conservative opposition party has already decisively damaged American politics for a long time to come.
(Photo: The Emperor's New Clothes, Illustration by Vilhelm Pedersen, Hans Christian Andersen's first illustrator.)
Friday, May 7, 2021
A friend of mine once characterized Mother's Day as "a conspiracy of florists and greeting card companies." It is hard to disagree completely with that characterization; but, as with most such witticisms, it gets the story only partly right.
A more pointed critique would be that Mother's Day (and Father's Day and, for that matter, the way we obsessively "honor" our veterans) are all examples of our very American tendency to "honor" people in symbolic, virtue-signaling ways, which are completely contradicted by prevailing public policies. Somehow a society that falls all over itself to "honor" mothers every May manages to have the least pro-family, pro-mother, pro-child policies of any other comparably advanced society.
This disconnect may matter more than ever right now, when the Great Recession followed by a global Pandemic have highlighted the hopeless dysfunction and inequality in our society and the damage done in particular to children and families. And, speaking of children and families, have we not noticed that marriages are fewer, family-formation is down and our national birthrate is shockingly low (the lowest since 1979)?
So maybe Mother's Day might be reimagined as an occasion for actually thinking about (and eventually doing something about) this disastrous state of affairs. In which case, all the money spent to enrich those florists and greeting card companies might turn out to be well spent!
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
When I was in college and grad school in the late 1960s and early-mid1970s, Karl Marx, who would be 203 years old today, was all the rage - in particular, the writings and ideas of the so-called "Young" Marx - the Feuerbachian transformer of Hegeliansm and theorist of Entfremdung ("alienation"), popularized by "Frankfurt School" critical theorists like Theodore Adorno, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, and Jurgen Habermas. Simultaneously critical of both capitalism and of Leninist communism, and turned on by existentialism and Freudianism and whatever else seemed to fill in the gaps, my generation of students absorbed the vocabulary and some of the substance of the "Young" Marx's critique of society, starting with Ludwig Feuerbach's critique of religion.
Even then, however, the real-world prospects for any transformation of the world in any way that even remotely resembled Marxist categories appeared increasingly unlikely - and, if any thing, even less so after the collapse of the pseudo-Marxist Soviet regime two decades later.
As my one-time mentor Sheldon Wolin wrote in 2004, Marx's "predictions of the inevitable collapse/overthrow of advanced capitalism by a successful working-class revolution seem a relic of nineteenth-century romanticism. Instead of a steady growth in proletarian power, let alone in revolutionary ardor, organized labor underwent a dramatic, seemingly irreversible decline during the latter half of the twentieth century, suggesting that it is the workers who have been defeated - but by a different revolution" [Politics and Vision, Princeton U. Pr., 2004, p. 407].
Back in my day, "old left" ideas about proletarian revolution were giving way to "new left" alternative "revolutionary" identities, much as traditional liberal and social democratic commitments to the working classes have since been replaced by the vagaries and superficialities of "woke" progressivism.
Yet Marxist language and categories continue to enjoy a remarkable shelf life. For me, what remains interesting and viable from the historical wreckage of Marxism is what was perhaps Marx's main observation and insight - his recognition and appreciation of capitalism as the ultimate global agent of modernity's destruction of all that preceded it.
As Ferris Jabr wrote in last Sunday's NY Times Magazine, "significantly elongating life without sustaining well-being is pointless" ["How Long Can We Live?"] Analogously, that is what global capitalism has done, it has radically improved human productive capacity, while radically altering and undermining the spiritual and moral dimensions of human life and the political character of society, thus preventing the political order from remedying the damage inflicted by capitalism on its citizens and (as we have more recently come to appreciate) upon our common home, the natural world. Thus, to quote Wolin again, Marx "set out to probe the question of why the state failed to promote that generality of shared advantages and burdens for its members which, according to Hegel, was the true mark of the political [p.412].
That probe remains the preeminent challenge for any post-capitalist political theory, as, analogously, the post-capitalist practical political challenge must be to rebuild a constituency to maximize rational political action and to minimize capitalist market mystification that disempowers citizens, as the governing political orthodoxies have been doing in American politics since 1980.
Monday, May 3, 2021
Alberto Melloni, professor of history of Christianity at the University of Modena/Reggio Emilia, has written an interesting and provocative piece in the April 24 issue of The Tablet, "How to Elect a Pope," in which he argues for reforms in the current conclave procedure. He makes some very valid and useful points. Unfortunately he begins with an apocalyptic scenario, which he says "demands an urgent revision of the rules," a scenario the risks of which he himself acknowledges no revision in the rules would effectively eliminate.
Melloni worries, rightly, that "well funded and well organised lobbyists and campaigners" and "powerful pressure groups or the emperors of social media" may in effect wield the infamous "veto," which Catholic monarchs wielded in papal elections as recently as 1903. His greatest fear seems to be the "revelation" of some supposed past behavior "rendering a newly elected pope unsuitable for office," the very thing that was attempted in 2013 when accusations were thrown against the new Pope Francis about his behavior during Argentina's 1970's "Dirty War." He is right that all such risks cannot be eliminated, and my guess is that, barring the highly implausible election of a very young, totally unknown prelate, who had never said or done anything of note, such scenarios will be increasingly likely, because that is the world and media universe we are now living in.
That said, Melloni does raise some other important concerns and does make some very sensible suggestions to address them. At present, we have more cardinals than ever, from more far away places than ever - a far cry from when there were only a few cardinals all or most of whom lived in Rome and participate in the government of the Church. At the same time, the cardinals seldom meet together, and have not done so now for some time. This means that a conclave could be composed of cardinals most of whom do not know each other and have little experience of interacting with one another. That alone would make it hard for them individually to decide whom to vote for and for sufficient votes to coalesce around an appropriate choice. All of which seem to highlight Melloni's fear of outside pressures in the pre-conclave.
So Melloni proposes that the cardinals (all of them, including the non-electors) should all live together at Santa Marta from the time they arrive. This would help them get to know one another and hopefully offer "more opportunities for genuine dialogue." Less logically in my opinion, he then proposes to restrict the general congregations to the cardinal electors alone. This might make the meetings somewhat more manageable in terms of size, but might also diminish the quality of the discussion by eliminating some of the most experienced voices. He further would exclude all cardinals over 75, further diminishing the pool of experienced participants. Had such a rule been in force, we would, of course, have no Pope Francis and would have never had Pope Saint John XXIII (and possibly no Vatican II). I am all for reforming the process, but not necessarily by reducing either the number of participants or the number of papabili.
To my mind, his most important proposal and the one most likely to produce real benefit is to start with only one ballot per day, gradually increasing the number if the conclave continues beyond a few days. As he points out, the two 21st-century conclaves "each lasted less than 28 hours." Quick conclaves please the press, but do not promote deliberation and discernment and do not necessarily benefit the Church. They favor obvious front-runners, especially so given the already mentioned ignorance so many cardinals may have about one another and about the multiplicity of options they might have if they took the time to consider them all.
I am sure some might fear that a longer conclave would give the impression of a Church divided and conflicted (which, of course, happens to be the case right now anyway, something everyone already knows about). To me, that is either a rationalization for our contemporary shortened attention span or yet another unjustified concession to the media and its politicized and sensationalized agenda. In fact, I think a conclave that lasted as long as a full week might well offer the necessary opportunities for deliberation, debate, and discernment, which really should be the point of a conclave.
Melloni's bottom-line is that he wants to avoid the risks to the Church posed by conclaves "such as we had in 2005 and 2013, run according to the same rules and in the same conditions, but with a group of cardinals even less familiar with each other, and perhaps even more emotionally exposed and vulnerable to external pressures and manoeuverings." On that, I think, he is right.
Most modern popes have tinkered with the electoral process. Pope Francis would do well to slow down the next conclave by implementing Melloni's proposals regarding the number and frequency of ballots.
Sunday, May 2, 2021
The Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021.
Every day during this and every Easter season, the Church at Mass reads from the Acts of the Apostles – the evangelist Luke’s account of how the Risen Christ’s parting gift of the Holy Spirit transformed a small group of 120 disciples into a missionary movement that spread from Jerusalem to Rome and how that small Jewish sect became a world Church with a universal mission.
Saturday, May 1, 2021
From pre-Christian springtime fertility festival to the day designated by the Second International for its Marxist-themed workers' holiday, May Day has been all things to all people. In 1955, Pope Pius XII tried to compete with the Communist workers' holiday by establishing a new liturgical feast of Saint Joseph the Worker (Sanctus Joseph Opifex). While the new festival failed, obviously, to outperform the more popular May Day, in the process it did displace in the Catholic calendar another relatively modern feast, that of the Patronage of Saint Joseph, celebrated in the 19th century on the Third Sunday after Easter and in the 20th century on the Third Wednesday after Easter. Pius XII's ineffective innovation still survives - somewhat vestigially and not much noticed - in the contemporary calendar. That said, its annual occurrence in this Year of Saint Joseph offers another occasion to consider Saint Joseph's significance.
In 2005, the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI (whose own name was, of course, Joseph) made the best of what the calendar offered, somewhat counterfactually calling this observance in honor of Saint Joseph the Worker "a liturgical Memorial very dear to the Christian people." Recalling how it had been established "to highlight the importance of work and of the presence of Christ and his Church in the working world," he expressed his "hope that work will be available, especially for young people, and that working conditions may be ever more respectful of the dignity of the human person." Sixteen years later, after a world-wide economic recession, a pandemic, and other more prosaic efforts by global capitalism and the elites it enriches to diminish further the power of workers and all respect for the dignity of the human person, Pope Benedict's words seem as significant today as they were then. The approaching 130th anniversary of Pope Leo XIII's famous encyclical Rerum Novarum two weeks from today further highlights the need for new responses to these persistent problems which have particularly characterized the past 40 years.
(Photo: Saint Joseph's Altar, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY, NY)
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Just as generations and decades have become increasingly popular - if pointlessly arbitrary - markers, much that same might be said for the infamous "First 100 Days" by which we insist on judging our contemporary presidents. When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president on March 4, 1933, the country was in shambles; and it was FDR's decisive leadership in his first 100 days and the special session of Congress which met during that time that dramatically uplifted the nation's spirits and started the country on the road to recovery - and in the process provided pundits and others with this pointless but popular measure of every new Administration.
Joe Biden may be the first president since FDR to inherit a country as comparably devastated - above all by the global pandemic and its manifold consequences, all exacerbated by four years of misgovernment by his predecessor. So the impetus for immediate, decisive, and dramatic action is similar, which may make the "100 Days" less an arbitrary journalistic gimmick than it would normally be. Certainly, as in 1933, the country is in crisis and has ousted one president and elected a new one in the expectation that the new president will make a difference in ways his predecessor had failed so ignominiously to do.
And Biden has not disappointed. On the eve of his 100th day, our second Catholic President and thus the most prominent and influential American Catholic, addressed the Congress in a sort of unofficial "State of the Union." He gave his address in an unusually semi-empty House Chamber, with only about 200 people present and without the usual extraneous guests in the gallery, in order to exemplify Covid precautions. There was an added strangeness to this, in that - thanks to the Administration's success in getting so many Americans vaccinated - such precautions may soon be ancient history. One hopeful benefit of the smaller audience, however, was that there were fewer opportunities for Republicans to engage in childish silliness and misbehavior. It also, of course, highlighted how the speech was being actually addressed directly to the rest of us. (At least since LBJ started giving State of the Union Addresses in the evening instead of at noon, Congress has long been more of a prop than the main audience on such occasions anyway.)
The strange setting also enabled the President to highlight the unique "crisis and opportunity" that is, effect, the state of our union right now.
The speech celebrated the many amazing accomplishments already achieved in the first 100 days and challenged Congress to act - to argue and debate but above all to act. At the end, he articulated the overarching question: Can democracy deliver? And he challenged Congress and the American people all to "do our part." The speech was Roosevelt-like in inspiration. (Indeed, his closing words were reminiscent of Eleanor Roosevelt's Pearl Harbor day radio Address in 1941.)
It was good - for the first time in many decades - to hear a President speak like a traditional Democrat and friend of the working class (in other words, neither Clintonian neo-liberalilsm nor woke progressivism). It was refreshing and encouraging to throw away - hopefully for good - the destructive government-is-not-the-solution Reagan playbook that has undermined this country for the past 40 years.
There remains, however, one important difference between FDR in 1933 and Biden in 2021. While FDR's actions altered and transformed America, Biden has so far, for the most part, mainly proposed to do so. His proposals would likely change an America desperately in need of transformation - on as significant a scale as FDR and LBJ's legislative accomplishments. But, apart from the already passed and monumentally significant ARP, most of Biden's agenda has yet to be enshrined in legislation. And, like LBJ, he has only until next year's election to get that done. The reality remains that the Democratic Party's hold on Congress is so fragile that caution and moderation serve no purpose, nor do obsessive appeals to a long-gone chimerical bipartisanship. The goal at this point must be to accomplish whatever one can, as much as one can, as quickly as one can, before the likely loss of congressional control in 2022 puts a virtual end to all domestic legislation, while in fact the only possible hope to avoid that 2022 loss would be to have actually accomplished a lot that actually makes a difference in people's lives and can drown out the obsessive nihilism of the culture warrior opposition.
(Photo: President Biden addresses a joint session of Congress on the eve of his 100th day in office, as Vice President Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stand behind him on the dais. Melina Mara/Pool/Getty Images)
Monday, April 26, 2021
The 2021 Academy Awards have come and gone. As always, some people get really excited by the Oscars, while others pay no attention at all. In recent years, the latter group seems to have been increasing and, I suspect, may perhaps have hit an all-time high this year. After all, most of us haven't set foot in a movie theater in over a year. At its best, Oscar Night is basically an exercise in elite Hollywood narcissism, minimally connected with the realities of ordinary Americans' lives solely because of the ultimate power of the box office, which at least reminds the people applauding themselves at the ceremony what actually sells with ordinary viewers. Take that away, and in a world in which fewer people than ever have actually seen the movies being lauded, what is left?
Add to that the fact that this has been an exceptionally hard and unhappy year for so many. So who wants to see so many movies entirely devoted to depressing topics, as so many of this year's nominees are?
In some years, I usually made an honest effort to make sure to see all the nominees for Best Picture (at least when there were still only five of them to see). This year, I saw fewer than usual, of which the expected (and actual) winner, Nomadland, was one. I concede that it has merit as a movie. It is the film's politics (or lack thereof) that bother me. (Cf. my earlier review of the film in February at https://rfrancocsp.blogspot.com/2021/02/nomadland-movie.html.)
Set against the background of the Great Recession and the hollowing out of the once great American working class, the film could have been - and really ought to have been - a powerful critique of what has happened to this country since 1980. Instead, the tragedy of elder poverty and the criminality of a political and economic system that has gleefully produced the tragedy of elder poverty get lost in a haze of American individualism and a pseudo-libertarian, romanticized freedom of the open road.
As for the Oscar show itself, the introductions to the awards were often way too long, as were many of the acceptance routines, while there was less of the customary music and fewer excerpts from actual films - and, of course, lot of privileged elites' political posturing and virtue signaling. All in all, a tiresome night!
Sunday, April 25, 2021
The Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 25, 2021.
Today's annual "Vocation Sunday" Gospel's image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd [John 10:11-18], is a very familiar and popular one – even, it seems, in our modern, urbanized society, in which most of us obviously are not shepherds and mostly know next to nothing about sheep. What we do all know, of course, is that the luckier sheep live to provide us with wool, while the other sheep become lamb chops.
Monday, April 19, 2021
Few rituals straddle the intersection between religious faith and future hope, on the one hand, and the increasingly narrowing horizons of secular society, on the other, than do funerals. And seldom is that more obvious than when secular society becomes an invited guest at a Christian funeral, which happens every so often when public officials' funerals are celebrated in churches with unabashedly Christian rituals. Of course, many ostensibly Christian funerals are increasingly Christian in name only, deteriorating more and more into incoherent "celebrations of life" or some similar neologisms. What a blessing, then, when a semi-state occasion like the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh illustrates, on world-wide TV, the essential meaning and purpose of a Christian funeral service!
In the United Kingdom, only the sovereign (and anyone she designates) gets a full "State Funeral." The only such event in the current Queen's reign was the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. So Prince Philip would not have had a full "State Funeral," in any case. Even so, the strange circumstances of the present pandemic put additional limitations on what would otherwise have presumably involved the presence of many representatives from all over the Commonwealth and the wider world, as well as the participation certainly of many more musicians. Having worshipped daily in Saint George's Chapel during my summer sabbatical at Windsor in 2005, I am familiar with the site and so suspect that it could easily have fit many more, even with social distancing, but it was obviously important to be obedient to the official restrictions, however arbitrary they may seem. In the end, the unusual circumstances may have made the ceremonial details stand out all that much more, amid the sad images of the royal widow alone with her immediate family, all the while thereby highlighting even more the religious ritual itself.
With only a handful of singers instead of a full choir, the simpler music managed to convey the mood maybe even more effectively than would likely have been the case otherwise. Even the National Anthem's muting of its normally (and appropriately) triumphant sound seemed to make it uniquely fit the occasion, further highlighting the aloneness of the Queen, symbolically linking her bereavement with that of so many who have been unable to mourn their loved ones with full ceremonial this past year.
Of course, most of the military and ceremonial flourishes were unique to the military and royal occasion. But there were other features of this modern but very Anglican service that other liturgical churches could appreciate and appropriate - among them the welcome presence of black vestments (matched by a congregation wearing appropriate funeral attire) and the even more welcome absence of any homily or eulogy. (There were, admittedly, appropriately personal references integrated into the Program and the Prayers recited by the Archbishop and the Dean, but they were modest encroachments on the liturgy compared with what happens when a homily - more typically a eulogy labeled a homily - is preached.)
If there has been any long-term benefit in the wake of the unanticipated forced abridgment of so many funeral rites because of this pandemic it may be in the recovery of the basics of what a funeral service is supposed to be about, which we saw so beautifully on display in the dignified and somber, but faith-filled rites celebrated on Saturday for the Duke of Edinburgh.
(Saint George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, site of the Duke of Edinburgh's Funeral)
Sunday, April 18, 2021
The Third Sunday of Easter, April 18, 2021.
Years ago (more years than I care to. count), a colleague remarked that the liturgical Easter season is too long, that 50 days are just too many, to sustain interest, let alone a sense of celebration. Certainly, he had a point. In our fast-paced present of abridged attention spans, ritual minimalism, and diminished imaginations, who anymore has the time, the patience, or the interest for seven weeks of celebration? Haven't even the Easter lilies given up by now? (One reason I have never been all that fond of Easter lilies is in fact that they last such a short time!)
As Americans, we are all addicted to anticipating everything, to celebrating everything in advance. Halloween candy is on display in the supermarket for at least two months, but by Halloween itself the shelves are already being restocked for Christmas. Then by Christmas for Valentine's Day. And so it goes, all year long. Our American lust for anticipating and commercializing everything is ill-suited to the timing and rhythm of the liturgical year.
Friday, April 16, 2021
If one wanted to identify an example of a traditionalist society better left undisturbed by modernity and its competing ideologies, it would be Afghanistan before the July 17, 1973 coup that overthrew King Mahammed Zahir Shah and set that sad society on the trajectory that led seemingly inexorably to the "Saur Revolution" of April 19789, which installed a pro-Soviet Communist government, which then led to the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the U.S. supported insurgency that followed, ending in the Taliban takeover of the country after the Soviet defeat and departure, followed finally by the 20-year American military intervention in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2021, our "forever" war.
Now, 20 years since President George W. Bush went to war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, President Joe Biden is apparently prepared to call its quits. The Afghan adventure is hardly the only extra-constitutional war the U.S,. has waged since the last legitimate declaration of war in 1941, but it has been the longest. (Technically, I suppose, the Korean Conflict has gone on even longer, but de facto in terms of actual fighting that war actually ended in the 1950s.)
A lifelong internationalist, who grew up in the Cold War, I remain sympathetic to the idea the the U.S. as the world's principal Power has global responsibilities which will at times entail military interventions. Both U.S. political parties have their neo-isolationist wings, and all such "America First" arguments, whether of the right or left-wing version, ought to be approached with utmost caution. That said, sometimes retreat is the least bad option among many, and this may be one of those times. There was nothing honorable at all about our 1975 helicopter flight from Saigon, but what really viable alternative was there then, apart from a long-term involvement to maintain an ultimately unsatisfactory status quo - at a price the American people appeared no longer willing to pay? The same seems to be the case now in Afghanistan.
Just as the American abandonment of our Vietnamese allies in 1975 made a communist takeover of the entire country inevitable, so too our projected flight from Afghanistan may mean a return to power by the tyrannical Taliban. It might even mean more opportunities for whatever has replaced Al Qaeda. Of course, the Afghan government could conceivable get its act together and prevent or at least minimize such undesirable outcomes. Whatever happens, if the only alternative is a continued conflict involving American forces, fighting for no attainable objective except to forestall something worse happening the day after we leave, then some humility about what American power can actually accomplish may at last be in order.
There is also the political reality that, outside the elite foreign policy establishment, there seems little popular appetite for a forever war. If we still had a citizen army, as we did until the 1970s, the popular pressure to end this war would have been even greater and would have arisen even sooner. Even so, Donald Trump's knee-jerk, poorly thought-out isolationism was likely one contributing factor (even if only one among many) in his initial success.
There is no obviously goof outcome here. Senator Reed, the Chair of the Armed Services Committee, may have said it best when he called President Biden's decision "the least of many bad options."
Admittedly, historical analogies are all inevitably problematic, but the Vietnam analogy is not irrelevant. We now know that many policy-makers had come to doubt our Vietnam policy prior to our eventually changing it. I do not deny or make light of the worries of an earlier generation of policy-makers who were afraid to acknowledge the lack of light at the end of the tunnel. No one wanted to have that last helicopter leave Saigon on his watch. Fair enough. And no one really wants to see the Taliban (or worse) conquer Kabul and be the one not to have done anything about it. But Biden - like those Vietnam-era policy-makers before him - long ago sensed the inability of "endless American military force" to "create or sustain a durable Afghan government." And that concern counts too.
A lot has happened these past 20 years since the U.S. first invaded and occupied Afghanistan, a lot that has made the world situation if anything even more threatening - including a worldwide financial collapse, a global pandemic, and the perennial reality of climate change, along with the rise of China, the persistence of Russia, and the development of newer forms of terrorism that don't require a base in far-away Afghanistan. And, maybe most threatening of all, American society has been fragmented and polarized in dangerous ways. All that needs to be attended to now. That, I presume, is what President Biden means by the battles of "the next twenty years - not the last twenty."