Category Archives: Moral Humility

When Compromise is Heresy


People are calling for a cease fire in the war between Hamas and Israel. Israel says it won’t stop firing until all of its hostages are released.  Hamas has not offered to release the hostages it recently captured at great expense. It likely sees them as their only hope right now. Neither side seem inclined to compromise. I would love to see a ceasefire. How to get there?  I don’t know.

Here is what I do know. This bloody war is the consequence of turning states over to the extremists as both Gaza and Israel have done. Extremists, particularly when filled with religious zeal, even if they are not particularly religious, inevitably see compromise as heretical. Such groups are extremely unlikely to compromise. When two groups under the dominance or influence of extremists with such religious zeal, the end result is bound to be bloody. Don’t look for quick and easy ceasefires.

The tragedy of the Middle East is that both sides (or should I say all sides?) in this seemingly intractable dispute are chained to murderous theological ideologies that leave no room for compromise or resolution. Each side just wants to bludgeon the other side to death—to oblivion. How can you make a deal with the devil, both sides ask. The answer—of course—is that you can’t. Neither side can make a deal with the devil so they go on pummeling each other to death. That is the inevitable result when both sides have an unshakeable conviction that the other side is the side of the devil. Then your own side becomes the sole bearer of truth and justice for the only rightful god.

We can do better. To do that, murderous ideologies with their murderous certainties,  must be discarded.


Newt Gingerich Revolutionary


After the massive Republican victory in the American mid-term elections of 1994, Newt Gingerich  became the new Leader of the House, and he was obviously a firebrand. Nothing else would do. Moderates were scorned.  It was time for a new Tea Party.

The Atlantic magazine said that Gingrich “turned partisan battles into blood sport, wrecked Congress, and paved the way for Trump’s rise.” Polarization in American politics was jump started. American politics would not be the same for decades (or perhaps forever?). He called himself the “most serious systematic revolutionary of modern times.”

Here is one of his early incendiary remarks for which he became famous:

“You cannot make civilization with 12-year-olds having babies, 15-year-old shooting each other, 17- year-olds dying of AIDS, and 18-year-olds getting a diploma they can’t read.”


Interestingly, this also established Gingrich as part of the culture wars that have taken over American politics, both on the left and the right.

Justin Ling said this about Gingrich on The Flame Throwers podcast:


“What he really was, was a pugilistic bomb thrower who was willing to tear down the entire American political structure with his bare hands if he had to.”


These were the type of guys (usually they were all guys) that the American right-wing loved. And still love! They were bombastic; they were confident, and they mocked all the namby pambies of the liberal camp. Later they referred to them as “woke.” Gingrich was Rush Limbaugh’s kind of guy! This was a guy he could support, just like Donald Trump later was the kind of guy he could support.

Gingrich, again like Trump later, called Limbaugh for advice. They ascended together. They joined in hatred of  liberals, an in particular the Clintons, and dragged a nation of conservatives with them. According to Justin Ling, “together they remade the language of politics. Liberals are anti-flag, anti-child, traitors, thieves.” Together they helped create the astonishing polarization of American politics. Their extreme language helped establish extreme hatred for “the other party.” There was no room for moderation. This was a battle between Satan and Jesus. It was the beginning of a new age of extremism in which we are still living . Humility found no home in this new movement.

And it had American talk radio to thank.

A Safe Place to Hate.


There had been a lot of social change just before Rush Limbaugh arrived on the scene. There was gay liberation, women’s rights, and liberalism. Many felt they could no longer say what they wanted to say. Political correctness was seen as a stifling chain. They also thought no one was speaking like them or to them. They were ignored and invisible. As Justin Ling said in his CBC. Radio series , “In the universe of right-wing media compared to the Wall Street Journal and like the later Fox News Limbaugh’s listeners were older, whiter, more conservative, and more religious. For this slice of America Limbaugh created a safe space.” He created a safe place to hate.

Surprisingly, because there was a Republican in the White House, as Ling said, “he convinced these old, white, conservative, and religious Americans that they were disenfranchised!” Even though they were in the majority! It was pure alchemy. He told them they were looked down on. He milked them for their resentment—the elixir of devils. As Ling said, “He formed a kind of counterculture; a resistance against the liberals, and the progressives, and the feminists.”

In the mid-80s he syndicated to about 50 stations across the country but by 1990 he got 450 affiliates. He was the rock star of talk radio and the conservative movement. He led a Rush to Excellence Tour to various stadiums around the country with as many as 10,000 people.  As Justin Ling said, “Limbaugh declared a culture war”. Limbaugh put it this way:

“We are in the midst of a culture war. What are rights? This culture war illustrates precisely what is going on. We in America are in the midst—it’s an exciting time to be alive—we are in the midst of a redefinition of who is going to define right and wrong, what the punishment is going to be for those who violate the limits that we place on our behavior. We are arguing about who has the right to tell us what is right and what is wrong. We’re arguing over what censorship is And to me its pretty scary.”


And there it is again—fear—the secret sauce of paranoia and right-wing hysteria.

Like Trump later, Limbaugh went from being a spoiled rich kid to a champion of the working class. People all over America were starting to take notice of Limbaugh. I remember at the time hearing about him from a friend of mine, a trucker. Truckers loved Limbaugh, just like they later loved Trump and basically for the same reasons. They liked to have a wrecking ball in their corner as did my friend the trucker, and much later the truckers convoy in Ottawa in 2022. They got a rush from Rush Limbaugh.

As Justin Ling said, “On his radio show he was the voice of God on a one way street. And he loved nothing better than to run over liberal women. On his radio show he said, “this is a show devoted to what I think.” On the Dave Lettermen show he said people were bugged by him because “I have almost a monopoly on the truth.” No one could ever accuse Limbaugh of humility. Humility was a liberal vice. And his fans loved it.  He also said “This is a benevolent dictatorship. I am the dictator. There is no first amendment here except for me.”

Now he was entitled to be the dictator of his own show. If we don’t like it, we don’t have to listen to it.


Good People Can Get It wrong


A lot of people—good people—are excited about Manitoba electing an indigenous person ad premier.  I admit it. I am excited about that too. I think Wab Kinew is bright, likeable, and filled with empathy. Those are good qualities  for a leader to have that will serve him well.

I just want to pour some cold water on the expectations.  Many seem to suggest that the fact that an indigenous man has been elected proves that Manitoba is not racist. I wish that were true.  But I don’t think it is that simple.

I am reminded about the election of Barack Obama to the American presidency. That also raised many hopes, not all of which were fulfilled. Many thought too that this proved America is not a racist society.  Many events since that memorable election have proved that to be wildly over optimistic.

Racism in the US, as in Canada, runs deep. Very deep.  The same goes for hate. That does not mean that racism is forever embedded in our societies. I don’t think it is in our DNA as some have suggested.  It does mean we must be modest in our expectations and humble in our assumptions. Eradicating racism will be a big job, over a long haul.

In the US after Obama was elected that supercharged the extreme racist fringes of American society. Many of them could not bear the image of a black man and his black family living in the White House. The racists found this intolerable. This was part of the reason for the amplification of the Tea Party in the US. Racism erupted. It was not pretty. I remember seeing disturbing posters and bumper stickers in the US. It was ugly.

The same thing could happen in Manitoba. Images of Wab Kinew and his family could trigger a new political faction here as well. How about the Beer Party?

We must remember the obvious: Good people can get it wrong.

Collapse of Society


For reasons that are subject to debate, during the period of 1400 to 1500 A.D. large community centers were abandoned in the American southwest, as were many canals. The people did not die out, they moved instead to smaller villages in small groups. They spread throughout much of the Southwest, including northern Arizona. They adapted to some changed conditions in other words.


What really interests me is why this occurred. It is one of the genuine mysteries of North American archaeology. I believe it has continuing important significance for our modern societies. There are lessons for us to learn here. Will we learn them?

They may have left because of environmental collapse. For example, because the ancestral people of the Sonoran desert were so successful at farming they may have produced too many people for the land to sustain.  People around the world need to learn modesty and humility. That certainly applies to us moderns as well.

When Spanish missionaries arrived at the end of the 17th century, they found only an empty shell of the once flourishing village of Casa Grande (as the Spanish called it). Over the next two centuries, many visitors visited the site and damaged it over and over again. Some were like vandals ruining what they saw. We could see graffiti from this time on the walls.  In the late 1800s scientists pressed for its formal protection and in 1892 Casa Grande Ruins National Monument became America’s first archaeological reserve. To this day, the Great House keeps the secrets of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert within its protected walls.

We all must learn that societies collapse. Everyone has done that and so will ours.

No monopoly on Truth



It is strongly implied from the analysis of John Stuart Mill, that whenever we are involved in a dispute we should remember it is very likely, though not certain, that there is some truth to the position of our opponent.  Most disputes between competing doctrines and opinions work exactly like that, but too often we tend to forget that. I know I have too often forgotten that. I need to see the other side of a question. I may reject most of it, but if I reject all of it, I am likely making a serious mistake. The truth is usually shared as Mill said. Looking for all of the truth on one side of a serious debate is short-circuiting the search for truth. That is why we must welcome diversity of opinion and listen to all sides. Only then will we find the whole truth and not just a partial truth. That is why free speech is so important for society. Free speech is a human right, but it is more than that. It is also a social good.


Mill gave one more example, which I also liked. He talked about liberals and conservatives. There is often truth on both sides, though perhaps not equally balanced. Mill said,


“In politics, again, it is almost a commonplace, that a party of order or stability, and a party of progress or reform are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life; until the one or the other shall have so enlarged its mental grasp as to be a party equally of order and of progress, knowing and distinguishing what is fit to be preserved from what ought to be swept away.  Each of these modes of thinking derives its utility from the deficiencies of the other; but it is in a great measure the opposition of the other that keeps each within the limits of reasons and sanity. Unless opinion favorable to democracy and aristocracy, to property and to equality, to co-operation and competition, to luxury and to abstinence, to sociality and individuality, to liberty and to discipline, and all the other standing antagonisms of practical life, are expressed with equal freedom, and enforced and defended with equal talent and energy, there is not a chance of both elements getting their due; one scale is sure to go up and the other down. Truth in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a question of reconciling and combining opposites, that very few have minds sufficiently capacious and impartial to make the adjustment with an approach to correctness, and it has to be made by the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile banners. On any of the great open questions just enumerated, if either of the two opinions has a better claim than the other, not merely to be tolerated, but to be encouraged and countenanced, it is the one which happens at the particular time and place to be in a minority. That is the opinion which, for the time being, represents the neglected interests, the side of human well-being which is in danger of obtaining less than its share. I am aware that there is not, in this country, any intolerance of differences of opinion on most topics. They are adduced to show, by admitted and multiplied examples, the universality of the fact, that only through diversity of opinion is there, in the existing state of human intellect, a chance of fair play to all sides of the truth.  When there are persons to be found who form an exception to the apparent unanimity of the world on any subject, even if the world is in the right, it is always probable that dissentients have something worth hearing to say for themselves, and that truth would lose something by their silence.”



Even if there are few contrary voices (as in the case of Rousseau versus the Enlightenment above) we ought always to pay attention and respect to the voice of the dissenter. Otherwise there is, as Mill said, “not a chance of both elements getting their due.”  The rebel is critically important, even when we least expect it. It is virtually impossible for one side to capture 100% of the truth. Let the rebel help us to find what is missing for the winning side will always benefit.


This approach of always making room for the rebel opinion has a lot of worth. It is only if one side is infallible that we can escape this approach. Infallibility is unlikely ever to be found. I wish it were otherwise.  But one side rarely holds the entire truth. It can always benefit from some overlooked truth from the other side.


In today’s market place of ideas, acknowledging that the other side might have some truth is deeply unpopular. This is particularly true in the United States where to merely acknowledge the other side might have a point is considered traitorous. Members of the group are quick to jump on anyone who even hints at compromise with the wicked other.  In many places in Canada this is also all too common.


Mill also wants us to understand that this approach applies to all important issues, not just religious issues, because no side ever has a monopoly on truth. II really think Mill has found a key here in these 3 important propositions that all call for permitting—no encouraging—diversity of opinion. It is the closest we can come to a royal road to the truth.

I must admit that I find this amazingly well argued. How about you?

Surrounded by Fearful Sycophants


Did you see the cringe worthy (and binge worthy) scene where Putin lined up his advisors at a long table (always at a very long table to keep the riff raff away from the god) and asked them for their opinions about the war against Ukraine? When one of those advisors was insufficiently obeisant, Putin mocked him and made him retract his slight disagreement and replace it with absolute obedience.  Of course, the only advice Putin wanted was to be told how smart he was. And that is the problem that dictators have.  They cannot accept that they might be wrong. They have no moral humility.


Trump was the same way, when he demanded his “advisors” fawn over him.  The only advice he needed from them was to say how great he was. I wouldn’t call Trump a dictator, but he sure was an authoritarian. And authoritarians—by definition—tolerate no dissent. None. And that is their Achilles heel. And that is Putin’s Achilles heel. And that is the Achilles heel of many Republicans, because they too have given up on democracy. They have become authoritarians. They want to decide what we should do. That is made clear by their brazen attempts to rig the upcoming elections in the US. A real believer in democracy would not do that. And to the extent the Democratic Party in the US has also tried to rig elections, they are not believers in democracy either.


Republicans in the US have lavished their praise on Putin. Trump called Putin “savvy” and a “genius.” Putin was his kind of strong man. A man who tolerated no obstacles to his relentless will.  Now many of us are starting to realize that Putin is no genius. Trump was wrong about that. The problem with Russia is precisely that “it is ruled by a man who accepts no criticism and brooks no dissent.” That is how Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman described him. That is what authoritarians do. It is part of their DNA and that is why it is so unwise of conservatives to bow before Putin.


Why is the American right wing so enamoured of brutal dictators? It is not just Donald Trump either.  This love affair began before the rise of Trump. Part of this comes from the love of strongmen. Paul Krugman described this in the following manner:

“Some of this dictator-love reflected the belief that Putin was a champion of anti-wokeness — someone who wouldn’t accuse you of being a racist, who denounced cancel culture and “gay propaganda.”


Many American conservatives despise what they call cancel culture, even though they are keen practitioners of it. Many of them also see acquiescence to acknowledging LBGTQ rights as an abomination ushered in by the devil. Many believe that it is weak and feminine to cede any rights to them. In fact, conservative attitudes are a product of toxic masculinity which they can’t give up. Putin is their hero. As Krugman said,


“Sarah Palin declared that he wrestled bears while President Barack Obama wore “mom jeans” — and the apparent toughness of Putin’s people. Just last year Senator Ted Cruz contrasted footage of a shaven-headed Russian soldier with a U.S. Army recruiting ad to mock our “woke, emasculated” military.”


That was one of the reasons Trump trusted Russian intelligence more than America’s. They were tough. Of course, many Republicans just plain prefer authoritarian rule. They lust for it. And there was no bigger fan that Trump. As Krugman said,


“Just a few days ago Trump, who has dialed back his praise for Putin, chose instead to express admiration for North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Kim’s generals and aides, he noted, “cowered” when the dictator spoke, adding that “I want my people to act like that.


Trump actually said that. But we must remember that what Trump admires is not strength, nor is it smart. First, by now it seems that the Russian army is not as powerful as we thought. They have a huge advantage in fire power, but are not translating that into huge gains on the ground. They might still get them, but not yet.


But the real problem for Putin is that he is surrounded by sycophants. Trembling yes men are never a reliable source of advice. No smart business man wants that. And that is what Russia has for political and military leadership. They have all learned to toe the line. None of them seems capable of independent thought. Even though Trump is impressed with meek obeisance it is not a ladder to success. It is a slide to oblivion. That means Putin has to make the important decisions on his own.


Krugman put it this way:

“The invaders were also clearly shocked by Ukraine’s resistance — both by its resolve and by its competence. Realistic intelligence assessments might have warned Russia that this might happen; but would you want to have been the official standing up and saying, “Mr. President, I’m afraid we may be underestimating the Ukrainians”?


We actually saw an example of such cringing meekness to the great leader when the lone advisor who did not automatically tell Putin what Putin wanted to hear, was immediately humiliated by the grand leader. Putin publicly made  him retract his doubts.


For example, Putin thought that his $630 billion war chest would protect the country from western sanctions. He did not believe that the western leaders had the guts to impose them. That was not an entirely unreasonable presumption, but it turned out to be wrong.  Now they have learned that  cutting off Russian from the world’s banking system was brutally effective. As Krugman said,


“It shouldn’t have required deep analysis to realize that Putin’s $630 billion in foreign exchange reserves would become largely unusable if the world’s democracies cut off Russia’s access to the world banking system. It also shouldn’t have required deep analysis to realize that Russia’s economy is deeply dependent on imports of capital goods and other essential industrial inputs.


But again, would you have wanted to be the diplomat telling Putin that the West isn’t as decadent as he thinks, the banker telling him that his vaunted “war chest” will be useless in a crisis, the economist telling him that Russia needs imports?”


Democracies are incredibly inefficient but they have one incredible advantage over autocracies.  The leader doesn’t have to do it all on his own. As Krugman concluded:


“The point is that the case for an open society — a society that allows dissent and criticism — goes beyond truth and morality. Open societies are also, by and large, more effective than closed-off autocracies. That is, while you might imagine that there are big advantages to rule by a strongman who can simply tell people what to do, these advantages are more than offset by the absence of free discussion and independent thought. Nobody can tell the strongman that he’s wrong or urge him to think twice before making a disastrous decision.


Which brings me back to America’s erstwhile Putin admirers. I’d like to think that they’ll take Russia’s Ukraine debacle as an object lesson and rethink their own hostility to democracy. OK, I don’t really expect that to happen. But we can always hope.”


I am not saying the Ukrainians will defeat the Russian bear. After all the Russians have massive military  advantages and are led by a leader with no moral hesitations. I am just saying there are also some significant advantages enjoyed by democracies. And they might make a difference.


Tragic Wisdom of Cornel West


In my last post I talked about Cornel West’s tragic vision which was enriched by the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi who wanted to find truth for the sweet ship-wrecked mind. I also mentioned in that post that the philosopher Jeff Sharlet talked about his friend Cornel West. Sharlet talked about how West maintains optimism when, as West himself has said, “we are immersed in a culture of superficial spectacle that generates weapons of mass destruction?” That is a bleak view.


How can West remain optimistic in the face of it? West according to Sharlet said “hope is not predicated on the future getting any better. That is the difference between hope and optimism.” West reminds us that he comes from a people that were terrorized, stigmatized, and traumatized for 400 years! They have learned a lot about trauma and know a thing or two about dealing with.


West, who is proudly African American, pointed out that it would have been natural for slaves in such a position to lose hope.  He did not say there was an easy way out. As if there could be an easy way out of slavery. West said many of his people just decided they would live a life of honesty, decency and integrity no matter what happened. They took the position that this is what they are called here to do and said to themselves we will just do it. They had no choice. They were not “immigrants” to North America as Ben Carson suggested.  They had been brought to this continent in the most brutal way imaginable. This reminds me again of my mother who had a little framed saying on her wall in her small apartment she lived in before she died: “This is all I have so this is all I need.”


West says he tries to emulate that response to injustice even when it seems impenetrable. Sometimes there is nothing he can do about it.  Whether there are consequences that flow from that choice to make this a better a world or not is beyond his control. He will just do his part no matter what. What a great attitude. “There does not have to be a direct connection between being a decent person and there being more decency prevalent in the world,” West told Sharlet.  Sometimes In some moments in history things happen that we cannot control it. That does not mean we should not choose to live a decent life. We just dissent from the injustice if that is all we can do.


West said he learned a lot from the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov, who West calls the greatest literary artist of the late modern world. According to West’s interpretation, “Chekhov said it is just a matter of bearing your truth to the world and doing all you can in your brief journey from Mama’s womb to tomb. We should try to pass that on to the next generation.”


West also warned that we might be headed towards an environmental implosion. Corporate greed (fueled by individual demands)  makes it difficult to have a conversation about important issues. If there is no way to fundamentally overthrow or transform the greed of oligarchs and plutocrats, supported by their minions,  and if the patriarchy wants to continue to obliterate women, if straights want to continue to dominate the gays and lesbians and transsexuals, they will do that. I don’t have to be a part of that he says. I can resist. I might not change the world, but I can be a decent person if I choose to be one. The white world can continue to be hegemonic and racist, our mistreatment of indigenous peoples can carry on, but let them carry it on without us. As West said to Sharlet, “I still want to be a person who fights against the period, and I want to fight with others, and if we lose so be it.”  We have no guarantees. What an inspiring thoughtful man! As an indigenous woman at the University of Winnipeg where I heard West speak, told him, “you uplift my spirit.”


T.S. Eliot was according to West a right-wing ideologue. But he acknowledged, that even right-wing ideologues have to be right once in awhile. Eliot got it right when he said, in the Quartets, “Ours is in the trying. The rest is not our business.” We are only here to bear witness and to try as much as we can. Or as Samuel Becket said, “Try again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”


West, who also said he wants to teach people how to die, asked us to consider what people will say about us. At our funeral will they say we failed?  We made misjudgments. We made mistakes. Hopefully they will see we tried, we held on, we did the best we could. As West said, “We are not pure, but will we lead a trail behind us of integrity, honesty, decency?  If so we have not really failed at all.”


To Cornel West resistance to evil is a religious imperative.  He always comes back to religion. He does not waste time talking to us about a personal relationship to Jesus. Instead, he says this is a world of overwhelming oppression, deception, insults, attacks, and brute force repression but will we resist? That is what it is all about for West. We have to rebel against it. But that’s enough. It is enough.


Statistics of the War in Afghanistan


Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” But there are also some statistics that are pretty darn telling.

Here are some interesting statistics about the war as of mid-April 2021.

The American war in Afghanistan cost a lot of treasure. At least a trillion and maybe more, but when it gets to figures like that my eyes glaze over anyway. Whether it was one trillion or two or three who really cares. But importantly, lives.  The war lasted 20 years. The longest war in US history.  And we must remember the US has been in a lot of wars.

2,442 US troops died in the war.  3,800 American private security forces died. I found it interesting that more private American soldiers died than regular military.  It “paid off” for Americans to outsource the war as much as possible. After all who feels sorry for private security forces?

20,666 Americans were injured in the war. Much of the suffering of war is caused by injury. People came back from the war with all kinds of injuries including, of course, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even though no one in the west really pays attention to this, but 47,245 Afghans died in the war. This is really the most important number though people in the west pay so little attention to it. This of course followed the 10-year war with Russia.  The people have Afghanistan have suffered enormously. That much is clear from the numbers.


That is a lot of suffering.

Now for the question:  What was worth so much suffering?


Afghanistan: One of the Dumb Wars


I know some people can’t stand Bill Maher.  He is a comedian and often doesn’t allow his guests to speak. He likes to hear himself speak. Too much. But he does have some fascinating guests and interesting conversations. Recently, he had one with Craig Whitlock about the war in Afghanistan—a genuine debacle.

The war in Afghanistan originally had some semblance of a rationale. Not much but some. George W. Bush launched that war in response to the attack on the US on September 11, 2001. He like so many others thought Afghanistan was harbouring the terrorists who launched the attack on America at the Twin Towers on 9/11 and other American targets.

The US spent over $2 trillion on this war? What did it get out of it? Osama bin Laden was found in Pakistan not Afghanistan.

Craig Whitlock was interviewed by Bill Maher on his TV show. He was the author of a book called The Afghanistan Papers.  He pointed out how the Taliban within about a week of taking over are banning music again. Women have been told to go home. As Maher said, “The Taliban have said the women will have all their rights within the limits of Islam–which is a great way of saying none.”  Maher says he is always surprised at how little liberals in America don’t care how women are treated in so many countries around the world. “We got into the mindset that Bin Laden is in Afghanistan so we gotta go there and stay there until we can say it will never happen again and which of course means we will be there forever.”

70% of the people in the country were not alive during the reign of the Taliban.  Do they know what they are getting in for?

One of the surprising and sad things about the war in Afghanistan is how similar it was to the War in Vietnam. As Maher said,  “It’s like we just did this shit and then we did it again,” One generation forgets what the last one did. In America they should start teaching history in school, that might help.

Whitlock’s book has a theory of the war that is like what happened in Vietnam. The leaders were optimistic in public and pessimistic (realistic) in private. They didn’t tell the truth to the American public–again. That is exactly what the American military and political leaders did throughout the War in Vietnam and then repeated it in the War in Afghanistan.

According to Whitlock this is what they did right from the start of the war. Donald Rumsfeld the Secretary of Defense  mocked journalists who asked if this would be another Vietnam. 6 months into the war he sent a memo to his military chiefs saying if we don’t get a plan to stabilize Afghanistan our troops will get stuck there forever. He ends the memo like this with one word: “Help!” Sounds a lot like Vietnam doesn’t it.

Should he not have considered this before he committed the troops to the invasion? According to Whitlock this went on for years. In public the leaders said things are getting better, we’re making progress, we’re turning the corner. In private diplomatic cables and memos they admitted things are a mess in Afghanistan–which is exactly what they were. The same thing happened in Vietnam. “They knew that gradually things are slipping out of their grasp and it’s becoming unwinnable.”

Maher was very upset with President Barack Obama.  Obama said he was not against all wars. Some are justified. I would add–not many. Obama said, but I am against dumb wars. That was smart! We all should be. Too many are not. After Maher heard Obama say that  he said, ‘that’s my guy.’ Yet Maher also asked, “How could a guy that was that bright do what we were trying to do? Surge? Take over the country? Flood it with money and that would change things around, when really it was doing just the opposite?”

When Obama ran for office he said Iraq was the dumb war. That was true. It was dumb. Even dumber than the ear in Afghanistan, but that does not diminish the fact that the Afghan war also stupid. The Americans soon forgot their goal which was to get bin Laden and somehow switched to nation building. Obama said Afghanistan was the just cause. And that made some sense, because bin Laden launched his attack or at least trained soldiers in Afghanistan. It was originally a war of self defense. That was why Canada and other NATO countries joined in as they felt they had to do under the NATO Treaty. Canada under Chretien wisely declined to participate in the second Iraq war. The first Iraq war, again, made some sense.

Why did the war not end when bin Laden was killed?  Instead the Americans allowed the war to morph into this idea that they would build the democratic nation of Afghanistan. As Maher said, “It morphed into nation building. It morphed into this ridiculous idea, as in Vietnam, that we could change hearts and minds when by the things we were doing there, you only lose hearts and minds.”

As Whitlock said,

“Each president–Bush, Obama, and Trump–said we are not nation building in Afghanistan., even though at that very moment that is exactly what we were doing. The United States spent more than $100 billion nation building in Afghanistan. That’s more than we spent in Europe on the Marshall Plan after World War II and now it’s all gone up in smoke.”

That was dumb and many lives were lost on its account.