Dreams are never false

I’ve refrained from commenting on recent events in Afghanistan as people like Matt Yglesias have done so much more effectively. Here is some excellent commentary from Ross Douthat:

All these arguments are connected to a set of moods that flourished after 9/11: a mix of cable-news-encouraged overconfidence in American military capacities, naïve World War II nostalgia and crusading humanitarianism in its liberal and neoconservative forms. Like most Americans, I shared in those moods once; after so many years of failure, I cannot imagine indulging in them now. But it’s clear from the past few weeks that they retain an intense subterranean appeal in the American elite, waiting only for the right circumstances to resurface.

Thus you have generals and grand strategists who presided over quagmire, folly and defeat fanning out across the television networks and opinion pages to champion another 20 years in Afghanistan. You have the return of the media’s liberal hawks and centrist Pentagon stenographers, unchastened by their own credulous contributions to the retreat of American power over the past 20 years. And you have Republicans who postured as cold-eyed realists in the Trump presidency suddenly turning back into eager crusaders, excited to own the Biden Democrats and relive the brief post-9/11 period when the mainstream media treated their party with deference rather than contempt.

To the foreign policy elite, it wasn’t the dream of turning Afghanistan into Switzerland that was flawed, it was the people who implemented the policy that failed us. (Their next target will be China—good luck with that.)

I also ran across an article by Matthew Spellberg:

Historically, traditions of great intellectual subtlety have developed to interpret dreams, and to consider what interpreting a dream actually means. In the Palestinian Talmud, for instance, it’s made quite clear that when it comes to prophetic dreams, what causes the fulfillment of a prophecy is not the dream itself (or its originator, God), but rather the interpretation of the dream. If a rabbi interprets a dream as foretelling the death of the dreamer and then the dreamer dies, then it’s the rabbi’s fault that he’s died.3 Similarly, Cicero writes that the dream-obsessed people of Telmessos blamed the interpreters, and not the dreamer, if a dream prediction turned out to be false; it wasn’t the dream itself that was wrong—such a phrase would have made no sense to the dreamers of Telmessos—it was the interpretation that had failed.



11 Responses to “Dreams are never false”

  1. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    1. September 2021 at 10:49

    I share concerns over how China has and will be handled by us. I’m disappointed in the so far unnuanced Biden policy, which is not nearly as different from Trump’s as it should be.

    I want to be tough with China, but open up trade as much as possible and engage in military containment from a position of unsailable strength. We should engage as much as possible, and contain without making too big a deal of it, and certainly try not to have a cold war.

    There are diffcult decisions to make regarding certain technologies, but we ought to be able to get those mostly right. I fear we’re getting them mostly wrong.

    On Afghanistan, i certainly don’t favor “nation-building” policies, but i don’t see why qe couldn’t leave a relatively small military presence there.

  2. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    1. September 2021 at 13:41

    I agree with your sentiments—–I too shared in those moods back when. No one in authority or the media, left or right, has had a word to say about Afghanistan for I don’t know how long. Still, it was hard watching Biden—–put him out of his misery— let’s get whats her name in power and just move on.

  3. Gravatar of David S David S
    1. September 2021 at 15:02

    I agree–Yglesias has been doing some of his best work lately with his commentary on the 20 year debacle of Afghanistan and the spin coming from the elite neo-con/imperialist syndicate. CNN and Fox seemed to have synchronized their bullshit on how Biden should have worked some sort of miracle in the past 4 months. Fortunately, it’s turning into page 2 news and I doubt no one will care about it as an issue by the midterm elections.

    I bet we could cut a deal with the Taliban to let us re-establish an Air base in Bagram. We could pay them directly and cut out the kleptocrats who we installed in Kabul to run that farce of a democratic government. Of course, if the Taliban are smart they’d make us bid against the Chinese for any type of footprint in the country.

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. September 2021 at 17:47

    Michael Sandifer, I don’t think a small US force could have prevented a Taliban takeover.

    David, You said:

    “Fortunately, it’s turning into page 2 news and I doubt no one will care about it as an issue by the midterm elections.”

    No one will care by this November, much less next.

  5. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    1. September 2021 at 21:29


    I have no military expertise, but people like Petreaus have said that we could have left a small force in Afghanistan indefinitely. I certainly think it’s possible that’s wrong, and I don’t think the idea of withdrawing is indefensible. I just think it’s a shame to risk the scattered human rights gains made there for some, and to give up what I hope won’t be a convenient base of operations in the future.

  6. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    1. September 2021 at 23:05


    It seems the view from outside the US was radically different from the dreams in the US elite. I had no idea that the US had an actual feeling of purpose and mission post 9-11. I thought this was mostly a PR thing concocted by the neocons. Here is what I thought post 9-11, as I had just left the US for Asia.

    I was horrified at the attacks and thought the US had a right to retaliate as hard as it wished against the point of origin of the terrorists, here, Afghanistan. But I thought this would be a purpose-led enterprise, with a clear goal and a clear end, related to the terrorists. When the “war on terror” was announced, I realized this would turn into a crusade.

    Two mental models came to my mind: one, that this was to become a hysterical over-reaction on a global scale, creating massive collateral damage domestically and internationally, just like an autoimmune disease where the reaction to an infection eventually becomes worse than the disease and threatens its own body. Second, that the US had no right to make an act of self defense into some chest thumping remaking-the-planet-in-its-own-image thing. As much as I feel awful about Afghanistan’s decent people and as much as I am a Westerner through and through, as much as I know that many people world wide aspire to the same views and open society life, while being oppressed at home: this kind of change can only come from within, and not against a majority of people in many countries who do not want these things. It can’t be done coming from the outside only.

    Then Iraq came along. On that I started to get really cynical. America’s bizarre obsession with all things Middle East is unbelievably self destructive. At the time, Kissinger had made some noises about how the US ought to control the Middle East to control Europe and China through oil. Au contraire, I thought, Iraq will become the massive quagmire that distracts the US just long enough to give China a chance. That Iraq will make the US forget China for a long while and that this will be a good thing for the world, because it will allow China to develop, at the enormous sacrifice of, mostly, the Middle East bearing another useless war. Before Iraq, there had been noises that the US should counter the rise of China. After Iraq, the US just went into navel gazing over its own sacrifices in Iraq, Afghanistan became a forever war instead of a short, sharp retaliation, civil liberties were massively curtailed domestically in the West in the name of the “war on terror” and China was forgotten until Trump. Afghanistan was eventually abandoned. Not in defeat, but because it ever only was just another US vanity project.

    Those were my thoughts ca. 2003-2005. I am somehow flabbergasted that I woz right. I don’t think it was hard to guess how this would turn out. How can so many smart people be so blind?

  7. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    2. September 2021 at 04:52

    To Michael S

    I enjoy reading your comments—-but re:Petraeus——He really was in the best sense of the term a true West Point Golden Boy from day 1. He did become a 4 star general (like grades at Harvard, the title has watered down!—but still 4 star) and his career peaked when he was named to lead the surge in Iraq——which itself was an exceptional tactical success.

    Then he got into politics (yes, he led the Afghan ops for a year—-effectively an Obama demotion) when he accepted the CIA post. I always felt he had too many enemies, plus he was on then”wrong side of the war”.

    Then he was humiliated with his trial for giving “classified info” to his “mistress” and was convicted. Fired, career over, 2 years Probation. It seemed like a frame job to me—-

    So if I were him, I would hate all these guys —everyone. And maybe he believes what he wrote about Afghanistan. And maybe I agree with him. But that was 10 years ago——he should have taken a pass—-his comments did not matter.

  8. Gravatar of Mary Mary
    2. September 2021 at 05:31

    I think the concept of nation building is flawed.

    I do believe universal values, but there are also cultural universals. In other words, committing genocide violates a universal. One cannot stand by and simply watch such things happen. But you don’t have the right to destroy someone else’s culture on the pretext of “human rights” because they legislate differently.

    America is on the verge of collapse. She has no culture anymore. She has no rule of law. And her “virtue” which Montesquieu clearly points to as the most important factor in stabilizing a republic – no longer exists. You cannot even walk down a street of an American inner city without worrying about someone punching you, and then twerking over your unconscious body.

    There is no freedom in the U.S. There is a media narrative. If you don’t subscribe you might find yourself blocked. Books are banned for not being “woke” enough.

    Her politicians are some of the most corrupt in the world.

    Is America in a position to talk about “human rights”, and “good legislation”.

    I don’t think so. Not anymore.

  9. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    2. September 2021 at 05:45

    Michael Rulle,

    I just focus on Petreaus as once being one of the military’s top experts on counter-insurgency and someone with at least some experience running things in Afghanistan. Again, doesn’t mean he’s right, but I’m in no position to argue with him.

    By the way, the comments I refer to are found in this streaming event with the Atlantic Council:


  10. Gravatar of steve steve
    2. September 2021 at 09:04

    I was in the military. I did deploy to the ME, but not Afghanistan. However it did leave lingering feelings and impressions reinforced by friends who stayed in after I got out. I think that those who push to stay are in some way convinced that we can eventually change the country. I dont believe that. I think the history of the place is that they are willing to wait and put up years of resistance. I cant see spending the lives or money towards an end that is not achievable. I would lump Petraeus in with the true believer camp.

    ” She has no rule of law. ”

    Excellent! Not paying that speeding ticket.


  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. September 2021 at 14:26

    mbka, You said:

    “this kind of change can only come from within”


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