The Corner

Today in Vox Alumni, Afghanistan Edition

Max Fisher, who was hired by the New York Times to bring that special Vox touch to the paper’s foreign affairs coverage, has an essay wondering why we don’t hear more about the war in Afghanistan. It is, I suppose, a revealing window into why certain circles of the media don’t talk about the war that much, and haven’t since the Iraq War began. But a correspondent notes that the column is full of classic Vox-isms:

This is a long and almost wholly unsubstantiated column about why Afghanistan is not much of an American-public topic of conversation as our war there closes its fifteenth year. Max Fisher — of course — doesn’t understand it, and concludes that we don’t discuss it because we are, well, ashamed and embarrassed by it: we “shun the topic” of a war that is “a long series of bitter failures” “out of moral self-preservation as much as exhaustion.” Americans prefer not to think about Afghanistan because the war leaves them “feeling they had compromised their morality, and to little gain.” We have, in fact, “stopped asking why we’re still fighting.”

There is no evidence for any of this. Almost everything Max Fisher asserts about American attitudes on the war in Afghanistan is unsupported or false.

As it happens, there is polling on this topic — seek it out yourself, from Gallup, from Pew, from ABC, and others — and it reveals a few things: notably that the war has enjoyed majority American support throughout its prosecution except for a period in 2012-2014 when the public briefly turned against it. Since 2015, however, the war has returned to something like popularity, or at least popular support — and discrete-topic polling on, for example, the President’s late-2015 halt of the American drawdown revealed that the public supported that decision. As with most topics, the rise of ISIS and the modern terror campaigns in Western urban areas has substantively revised or reversed many of the popular sentiments and trends of the 2006-2014 period.

Fisher writes that there is “an awkward national silence whenever Afghanistan’s chaos inevitably imposes itself on our attention,” but that’s not the case: when it does — and contra his tendentious news hook, the abortive weekend bombing campaign in New York and New Jersey was not really an example of that — we are anything but silent. There is one major example of that happening, on 11 September 2001, and we as a people had an emphatic and decisive response to it. Fisher further writes that “Americans were … sold on invading Afghanistan in 2001” following that massacre, as if any democratically elected officeholder could have resisted the overwhelming — and nearly unanimous — contemporaneous public sentiment in favor of doing exactly as we did.

What does all this tell us? It tells us more than the usual tale of this writer’s professional incapacity. If he wonders why a nation with an all-volunteer force and a stupendous treasury that waged decades-long campaigns and occupations against Indians, against Nicaraguans, against Haitians, and against Filipinos would do the same against Afghan fanatics and warlords, then the problem isn’t that Americans don’t think enough about Afghanistan — it’s that the writer doesn’t think enough about Americans. This in turn highlights the perennial tragedy of the NYT’s Max Fisher: a man tasked with explaining all the nations of the world, and unable to grasp the nature and meaning of his own.

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