August 30, 2021 - 9:00am

August is often derided as the month of ‘silly season’ in UK media, with serious journalism being replaced with lighthearted, often farcical pieces about stories like an infected alpaca. This last month was different — the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and the subsequent fall of the country to the Taliban has kept the newspapers busy covering events on the ground. But what of those outside of the media mainstream? UnHerd staff have collated a selection of what we think are the best and most important Substack posts this August.

The unmissable story this month was Afghanistan, and the reactions to it from our elite classes. Antonio García Martínez writes on why the Democratic media establishment seemed incapable of covering the reality of the conflict:

The reason for this sudden silence is that in the year 2021, the cream of American society and the flower of its finest universities, can only understand the world as projections of the country’s own domestic neuroses. Our current elites, whether in media or politics, squint at the strange peoples and languages of whatever international conflict and only see who or what they can map to their internal gallery of heroes and villains: Who’s the PoC? Who’s the Nazi?
- Antonio García Martínez, Substack

Richard Hanania also gave his thoughts on the Afghanistan disaster, focusing in on the incompetence of supposed policy ‘experts’:

For all that has been said about Afghanistan, no one has noticed that this is precisely what just happened to political science. The American-led coalition had countless experts with backgrounds pertaining to every part of the mission on their side: people who had done their dissertations on topics like state building, terrorism, military-civilian relations, and gender in the military. General David Petraeus, who helped sell Obama on the troop surge that made everything in Afghanistan worse, earned a PhD from Princeton and was supposedly an expert in “counterinsurgency theory.” Ashraf Ghani, the just deposed president of the country, has a PhD in anthropology from Columbia and is the co-author of a book literally called Fixing Failed States. This was his territory. It’s as if Wernher von Braun had been given all the resources in the world to run a space program and had been beaten to the moon by an African witch doctor. Meanwhile, the Taliban did not have a Western PhD among them. Their leadership was highly selected though. As Ahmed Rashid notes in his book The Taliban, in February 1999, the school that provided the leadership for the movement “had a staggering 15,000 applicants for some 400 new places making it the most popular madrassa in northern Pakistan.” Yet they certainly didn’t publish in or read the top political science journals. Consider this a data point in the question of whether intelligence or subject-matter expertise is more important.
- Richard Hanania, Substack

Michael Tracey takes aim at British media responses to Biden’s withdrawal:

If there’s any embarrassment to be had this Afghanistan situation from the perspective of UK politicians whose fantasies of “Global Britain” have been dealt a terrible blow, the original source of the embarrassment seems to have been obscured. That is, the UK knowingly entered a subordinate military arrangement with the US in Afghanistan such that the final decision to withdraw wasn’t even contingent on any “consultation” with UK officials — the same ones who apparently crave the projection of unbridled UK state power in Central Asia. Oddly, the basic powerlessness of a scenario where the US President can make an operational decision in Afghanistan, and the UK has no choice but to follow suit, never seems to have bothered May or her like-minded colleagues at any point in the 20 years prior to August 2021. If these UK officials pine for a “Global Britain” with the capacity to strut around unimpeded on “the streets of Kabul,” they perhaps ought not to have offered themselves as docile subservients of the US in the first place.
- Michael Tracey, Substack

Sports writer Ethan Strauss discusses the downfall of Nike ads, from internationally-acclaimed cultural touchstones in the 1990s to uncomfortable social-engineering projects:

Modern Nike ads will never be so remembered. It’s not because we’re so inundated with information these days, though we are. And it’s not because today’s overexposed athletes lack the mystique of the 1990s superstars, though they do. It’s because the modern Nike ads are beyond fucking terrible… Nike’s main problem is this: It’s a company built on masculinity, most specifically Michael Jordan’s alpha dog brand of it. Now, due to its own ambitions, scandals, and intellectual trends, Nike finds masculinity problematic enough to loudly reject.
- Ethan Strauss, Substack

Edward Snowden drew attention to Apple’s latest invasion of privacy:

Once the precedent has been set that it is fit and proper for even a “pro-privacy” company like Apple to make products that betray their users and owners, Apple itself will lose all control over how that precedent is applied. ​​​​​​As soon as the public first came to learn of the “spyPhone” plan, experts began investigating its technical weaknesses, and the many ways it could be abused, primarily within the parameters of Apple’s design. Although these valiant vulnerability-research efforts have produced compelling evidence that the system is seriously flawed, they also seriously miss the point: Apple gets to decide whether or not their phones will monitor their owners’ infractions for the government, but it’s the government that gets to decide what constitutes an infraction… and how to handle it.
- Edward Snowden, Substack