Norm Erosion: The President Addresses the Nation about Afghanistan

Tonight, Trump gives an address about Afghanistan. The tone/style will be either trademark bombast (fire and fury) or “presidential” or both. Regardless of the style, it’ll entail a commitment, according to the latest reports, of roughly four thousand US troops, a fraction of the number of troops committed to Afghanistan under Obama, with no mention of private contractors. In the grand scheme of things, it’ll be a status quo operation packaged in high-octane rhetoric.

Social media will focus entirely on the rhetoric. The theme of the commentary will be something like: Trump consolidating his shaky presidency with imperial violence abroad! Media falls for new Trump presidency grounded in imperial violence abroad! And then by Wednesday, it’ll all be forgotten. The discussion will have moved on to Trump’s latest tweet, whatever surge in the polls Trump got from his announcement will be countermanded by whatever barbarity he utters in his tweet.

But while everyone will be talking about the “insanity” of this presidency and this moment, there’ll be almost no discussion of the real insanity of this moment: that yet another US president continues, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, the longest war in US history—a war that shows no sign of being winnable—simply because no US president wants to be the one who lost Afghanistan.

Everyone is aware of the real insanity. We just call it normal politics. Trump frothing at the mouth? That’s norm erosion.


  1. gracchibros August 21, 2017 at 9:43 am | #

    Yes the timing is obvious, a necessity regardless of the actual motivation concerning foreign policy and the endless war there in the big “A,” the A that the British, the Russians, and now us, cannot bend to our purposes. Too tribal and the focus of too many important chess players tilting the board this way and that. Our real purpose in more troops? Larry Wilkerson and Andrew Bacevich are who I pay attention to on matters like this and Wilkerson recently suggested on the Real News Network that our purpose for continuing in Afghanistan is less to fight terrorism – that’s the cover – but to position ourselves permanently at the crossroads of the world’s economic tilt towards Asia. So the grand game of the 19th century continues.

    We’re obsessed with Russia, but it is the rise of China that is long term worrisome. The China that our multinationals were in turn obsessed with and who helped lay the red carpet down for its rise. Bill Clinton was all for the workers – but not in the U.S.

    Meanwhile, neglect at home prepares the emotional-economic bed for what unfolded in Charlottesville.

    • abellwordpress August 21, 2017 at 9:59 am | #

      Why is the rise of China worrisome? Seems “neglect at home” is the real issue.

      • gracchibros August 22, 2017 at 10:35 am | #

        Don’t you see any connection between the two, between low wage outsourcing and de-industrialization, under the ideological guidance of Neoliberalism, and the impact domestically being hardest in the old de-industrialized urban ghettos, and red-rural America? Labor’s declining share of the national income, stagnating wages and growing inequality…investors focused for decades on “emerging markets” while infrastructure is neglected at home?

        At a very practical level, both Kevin Phillips and William Greider warned about the late phase of economic leading countries who historically turned away from making things…went for trade and finance…Spain, Holland, England…

        Has any leading economic power in history every so paved the way for the rise of another great rival power? Do you buy the argument of Ken Rogoff of Harvard that our citizens of the U.S., and Western Europe should go easier on their disappointments, since these policies helped bring millions, hundreds of millions of Asian peasants into the modern world? In part, didn’t Mrs. Clinton run on that? My Congressman defended that, John Delaney. Wasn’t the Clinton’s foundation based on helping the poor abroad, in many different ways, while neglecting the working class and middle class at home? Socially explosive stuff, and it has erupted.

  2. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 21, 2017 at 10:03 am | #

    “… another US president continues, at the cost of tens of thousands of lives, the longest war in US history—a war that shows no sign of being winnable—simply because no US president wants to be the one who lost Afghanistan.”

    The true power of this insanity is that no one who could reach the vast swath of the American news consumer in prime time and on the Sunday shows or the elite print even regards this as insanity.

    It would be worth an in-depth study of American political culture to inquire as to why the waging of this war does not read as the sociological “cray-cray” that it really is. I wish I had that kind of scholarly skill.

    Seriously — why does this NOT chalk up as lunacy? Why does endless war (initiated by a lie, no less) seem “rational” to so very many Americans? Does anyone know the answer? Is there a Klaus Theweleit of American political culture?

    Some important factors in keeping this war from being regarded as the bat-shit project that it is would be who its victims are and where it happens and under what historical circumstances. But it is still bat-shit. Yet is does not read that way.


    • Nqabutho August 21, 2017 at 6:04 pm | #

      I ask myself these questions every day, especially when I see the TV or hear the accounts on NPR. Now I want everyone to focus on the reasons offered in support of doing whatever it is they are going to do: it’s here we shall see the insanity displayed in all its obviousness, although I expect that there will be no reasons at all offered, let alone good ones. Why and to what end this action at this particular time? Will the reporters take the mafianic tough guy drivel as a rational response to this query? If so, that’s insanity.

  3. jonnybutter August 21, 2017 at 10:52 am | #

    Not to mention all the other pointless violence which apparently isn’t even worth mentioning. The pointless economic violence being done to Puerto Rico (and other Austerity victims); the pointless war-violence being done in Yemen (and elsewhere). Pointless suffering. The term ‘moral vacuum’ is often used in a hyperbolic way, but there is such a thing.

  4. Foppe August 21, 2017 at 10:55 am | #

    It’s actually not all that clear to me — do they not want to call it off because they don’t want to have ‘lost’ it, or do they continue because the GWOT is the ‘gift that keeps on giving’ to the MI and intelligence complexes — you know, corporate socialism by another name? Privatization happens largely because it allows private enterprise to thrive on public money, and/or to open up areas of the “economy” to them that were barred until then, so they have more pies from which to extract. Ego certainly has something to do with it, but there are many options open that allow ‘face-saving’ for pols if they had any interest in doing so.

  5. jonnybutter August 21, 2017 at 1:06 pm | #

    BTW, The Norms are already beyond ‘eroded’. They are nubbins

  6. Chris Morlock August 21, 2017 at 1:38 pm | #

    Bannon, Flynn, and most of the pop-nationalists are out. I was in an extremely small progressive minority hoping that they would act as a Bulwark to 50 years of US foreign interventionist and not globalist policy, but that seems to have sailed by the heads of most people on the left. They celebrated the destruction of the pop-nationalist coup, because they were “hateful” people I guess.

    But the people brought in to replace them, the figurehead McMaster (a protege and bot of David Petraeus), is as much a war monger than has ever been, and they are full on in bed with neo-con and neo-liberal globalist endless war and global imperialism.

    So forgive me if I do not share in any glee that Bannon is gone. To me, the majority of the Left traded and exit of some vague racist and nativism rhetoric for full on global imperialism and the medi cheered them on, as well as the entire corporate war machine. First time in my life I witnessed far left protesters seemly in agreement with the military industrial complex.

    Trading one kind of vague hate for the ultimate expression of hate: WAR.

    • Chris Morlock August 21, 2017 at 3:16 pm | #

      By the way, it’s funny that Bannon’s firing comes on the heals of the Camp David meeting on Afghanistan. I would predict tonight that the address is a full fledged blessing of globalist policy, and the final signal Trump is sending the deep state and the military industrial complex that he will forgo any of the pop-nationalist questioning of it that got him elected. Probably a quid pro quo for staying in power and not being impeached.

      And Corey, you imply that the war machine is insane, yet it is entirely pragmatic. It is a huge source of income for elitists and keeps the plutocracy in power. It’s insane morally, not economically.

    • Deadl E Cheese August 22, 2017 at 10:07 am | #

      Anyone who thinks that herrenvolk authoritarians like Bannon and Flynn and Mueller would be any meaningful check on the security state and international intervention… I don’t even know what to say to this. You do know that you’re on the personal of someone who authored “The Reactionary Mind”, right?

      I’ll give it a shot, though. Viewing post-Articles of Confederation American foreign policy (including, and I’d say especially, that against American Indians) through any lens other than that of emergent capitalist acquisition means you’ll never get any of the long-term details right.

      • Chris Morlock August 22, 2017 at 12:12 pm | #

        And McMaster is better? Explain how this trade was anything but a horrible downgrade. Bannon wanted to oppress people of color in the USA, McMaster wants to KILL people of color abroad. This is something to celebrate?

        • Deadl E Cheese August 23, 2017 at 5:05 am | #

          I know that you’re trying to frame this in terms of consequentialist ethics, but Bannon is the absolute wrong person to do this with. Bannon wants to invade Iran. He’s horny for it and wanted to do it as soon as possible. Without going into domestic policy, he is literally at least as bad as McMaster, who is also complete scum.

          That you completely omitted this in your analysis is why leftists don’t trust people peddling your ideology. Even when you try to do the ruthless utilitarianism, you CONSTANTLY misrepresent the marginal utility and costs of your transactions. Right-wing class warriors have been doing this for decades and as I can tell from your constant misrepresentations you have no will and/or desire to stop doing this anytime soon.

          • Deadl E Cheese August 23, 2017 at 5:49 am | #

            Anyway, cite on Bannon’s jonesing for a war with Iran and more abstractly Islam:

          • Chris Morlock August 27, 2017 at 6:56 pm | #

            Bannon is out, and most likely the “Republic not an Empire” crowd is out forever at this point. So nothing left to “misrepresent”. I was called a Nazi many times for pointing out some inter-sectional issues, which was insulting to say the least. I have very voted for a Republican in my life, and worked for the Sanders campaign and gave 15% of my income in 2016 to get him elected and continue to espouse a basic FDR new deal ideology my entire life.

            The consequences of progressives supporting neo-liberalism have been far worse over the last 50 years, in human life especially, over giving the Bannon crowd some basic attention to inter-sectional military and economic issues, and wondering why anyone should impishly celebrate the downfall of the pop-nationalists over their much worse replacements: corporate war mongers.

  7. Chris Morlock August 21, 2017 at 10:47 pm | #

    Even worse than I expected. “No timetables, lets stay forever, I was wrong to question the military industrial complex, sorry I ever did.” He tried so hard to sell his “Republic not an Empire” ideals while basically saying nothing would change and essentially removing any date to exit.

  8. Billikin August 22, 2017 at 3:31 am | #

    We won’t win the war in Afghanistan because we have no idea what it would mean to win the war. We have nothing to gain there, and we won’t leave until we have gained it.

  9. Donald Pruden, Jr., a/k/a The Enemy Combatant August 22, 2017 at 9:02 am | #

    The problem is that we have ALREADY gained that “nothing” long ago, and in spite of having gained it we still won’t leave.

  10. Thornton Hall August 22, 2017 at 2:10 pm | #

    Everyone assume that yellow journalism was bad and postwar objectivity is good.

    They are wrong.

    Objectivity forces journalists into meta-analysis. Jay Rosen has explained this very clearly. What Rosen fails to see is that there is no coherent way for the media to serve democracy on purpose. For-profit ad platforms that both try to make money and try to tell the objective truth have an impossible task. What they do instead is a disaster.

    The Progressive Era and the New Deal both happened when politicians published newspapers. Pulitzer and Hearst picked a side. It was possible to have faith in govt because they defended govt when it did what they wanted.

    Postwar objectivity can never build, only destroy.

  11. Thornton Hall August 22, 2017 at 2:11 pm | #

    America lost zero wars from 1814 until the dawn of postwar objective journalism.

  12. Krishan Bhattacharya August 24, 2017 at 6:16 pm | #

    There are many important writers on the right that agree with you, Corey. Why not give them a listen?

  13. Pat August 25, 2017 at 1:51 am | #

    I’m always a bit bemused by talk of winning or losing wars. There’s a technical definition the military uses involving whether the country was able to achieve some operational goal, which is why we “won” Korea but “lost” Vietnam, but the actual national interest seems to align only accidentally with those definitions. (Chomsky, I think, had a very convincing argument on why the U.S. really won the Vietnam war, despite failing to keep Mao from controlling the North and South: after 1 million Vietnamese died in the struggle, every other country in the world took note and promptly took steps to make sure they didn’t attract the same vindictiveness.)

    According to one way of thinking, Afghanistan is unwon and unwinnable. According to another, it was won sometime in 2002, and the U.S. has been engaged in … some other project since then. Whether you think the point of the war was to turn Afghanistan into Belgium but merely remove the government that had harbored Al Qaeda is the dispositive aspect.

  14. b. January 31, 2018 at 6:13 pm | #

    Throw in some of Obama’s wars: Libya, Yemen, Syria.

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