All posts by Philip Waring

Am retired. With my wife Josée I Iive in Tampa, and go often to Paris. There's not yet a bridge between the two cities and we have to fly. These two cities are far apart, but I'm working hard at finding real connections between them. Tampa is America, the best and the worst of it. Paris, well, Paris is Paris.

Why Read Hannah Arendt Now? Richard J. Bernstein’s new book has the answer.

Hannah Arendt, shown here in 1969, wrote of her condition as a stateless person following the Holocaust and of the substitution of truth with fictions in politics.
Hannah Arendt, shown here in 1969, wrote of her condition as a stateless person following the Holocaust and of the substitution of truth with fictions in politics.Credit…Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

In the preface to her 1968 collection of essays, “Men in Dark Times,” Hannah Arendt wrote: “Even in the darkest of times we have the right to expect some illumination.” Today, in our own dark time, Arendt’s work is being read with a new urgency, precisely because it provides such illumination.

Born in Germany in 1906, Arendt studied with prominent philosophers of her time, but fled the country in 1933, living for a time in Paris, and later, in the United States. She is best known for her major works, including “The Human Condition,” “On Violence,” “Truth and Politics,” “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and especially “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” which grew out of her coverage of the trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann for The New Yorker.

She was remarkably perceptive about some of the deepest problems, perplexities and dangerous tendencies in modern political life, many of them still with us today. When she speaks of “dark times” and warns of the “exhortations, moral and otherwise, that under the pretext of upholding old truths degrade all truth in meaningless triviality” we can hear not only a critique of the horrors of 20th-century totalitarianism, but also a warning about forces pervading the politics of the United States and Europe today.

Arendt was one of the first major political thinkers to warn that the ever-increasing numbers of stateless persons and refugees would continue to be an intractable problem. One of Arendt’s early articles, the 1943 essay “We Refugees,” based on her personal experiences of statelessness, raises fundamental questions. In it, she graphically describes what it means to lose one’s home, one’s language and one’s occupation, and concludes with a more general claim about the political consequences of the new mass phenomenon — the “creation” of masses of people forced to leave their homes and their country: “Refugees driven from country to county represent the new vanguard of their peoples … The comity of European peoples went to pieces when, and because, it allowed its weakest member to be excluded and persecuted.”

When Arendt wrote this she could scarcely have realized how relevant her observations would be in 2018. Almost every significant political event during the past 100 years has resulted in the multiplication of new categories of refugees, and there appears to be no end in sight. There are now millions of people in refugee camps with little hope that they will be able to return to their homes or ever find a new one.

In her 1951 work, “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” Arendt wrote of refugees: “The calamity of the rightless is not that they are deprived of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or of equality before the law and freedom of opinion, but that they no longer belonged to any community whatsoever.” The loss of community has the consequence of expelling a people from humanity itself. Appeals to abstract human rights are meaningless unless there are effective institutions to guarantee these rights. The most fundamental right is the “right to have rights.”

By dwelling on the horrors of totalitarianism, and grasping that the aim of total domination is to destroy human spontaneity, individuality and plurality, Arendt probed what it means fully to live a human life in a political community and begin something new — what she called natality. She also sought to probe the threats to the dignity of politics — the type of politics in which individuals confront each other as political equals, deliberate and act together — a politics in which empowerment can grow and public freedom thrive without violence.

Her essay “Truth and Politics,” published in 1967, might have been written yesterday. Her analysis of systematic lying and the danger it presents to factual truths is urgently relevant. Because factual truths are contingent and consequently might have been otherwise, it is all too easy to destroy factual truth and substitute “alternative facts.”

In “Truth and Politics,” she wrote: “Freedom of opinion is a farce unless factual information is guaranteed and the facts themselves are not in dispute.” Unfortunately one of the most successful techniques for blurring the distinction between factual truth and falsehood is to claim that any so-called factual truth is just another opinion — something we hear almost every day from the Trump administration. What happened so blatantly in totalitarian regimes is being practiced today by leading politicians with great success — creating a fictional world of “alternative facts.”

According to Arendt, there is an even greater danger: “The result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lies will now be accepted as truth, and the truth defamed as lies, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world — and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end — is being destroyed.” The possibilities for lying become boundless and frequently meet with little resistance.

Many liberals are perplexed that when their fact-checking clearly and definitively shows that a lie is a lie, people seem unconcerned and indifferent. But Arendt understood how propaganda really works. “What convinces masses are not facts, not even invented facts, but only the consistency of the system of which they are presumably a part.”

People who feel that they have been neglected and forgotten yearn for a narrative — even an invented fictional one — that will make sense of the anxiety they are experiencing, and promises some sort of redemption. An authoritarian leader has enormous advantages by exploiting anxieties and creating a fiction that people want to believe. A fictional story that promises to solve one’s problems is much more appealing than facts and “reasonable” arguments.

Arendt was not a doomsayer. To counter her warnings about political dangers, she elaborated a detailed conception of the dignity of politics. Because of our natality, our capacity to act, we can always begin something new. The deepest theme in Arendt is the need to take responsibility for our political lives.

She warned against being seduced by nihilism, cynicism or indifference. She was bold in her description of the lying, deception, self-deception, image-making and the attempt of those in power to destroy the very distinction between truth and falsehood.

Her defense of the dignity of politics provides a critical standard for judging the situation many of us find ourselves in today, where the opportunity to participate, to act in concert and to engage in genuine debate with our peers is being diminished. We must resist the temptation to opt out of politics and to assume that nothing can be done in face of all the current ugliness, deception and corruption. Arendt’s lifelong project was to honestly confront and comprehend the darkness of our times, without losing sight of the possibility of transcendence, and illumination. It should be our project, too.

All this is why we should be reading Hannah Arendt right now. How did we lose, I ask myself, a good half of our country to the lies, the untruths of our president? If we had known that one day we would suffer an ignorant and lying man to occupy the Oval Office we might have done everything differently to work to make sure that it never happened?
Well we didn’t and it did.  So what can be done now? Well we can at least begin to understand what’s happened, and one of the best, if not the best place to begin is with Hannah Arendt’s 1967 New Yorker essay, Truth and Politics.  And also to do the work necessary to make sure it doesn’t happen again. PBW

In Germany, how could it be?

by David Leonhardt, Opinion Columnist The New York Times

More than 20,000 people have died from the coronavirus in each of these European countries: France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. More than 17,000 have died in New York City. But in Germany — which is home to more people than any one of those other European countries and 10 times as many as New York — only about 6,000 have died.

How could that be? There are multiple reasons, but the biggest is probably the country’s approach to testing.

As Katrin Bennhold of The Times has written: By the time Germany recorded its first case of Covid-19 in February, laboratories across the country had built up a stock of test kits … Early and widespread testing has allowed the authorities to slow the spread of the pandemic by isolating known cases while they are infectious. It has also enabled lifesaving treatment to be administered in a more timely way. Testing is the key to every effective strategy for fighting the virus. It allows the sick to be treated effectively. It enables government officials and hospitals to focus their resources on the areas that need it most. And it makes sure that people who have the virus without symptoms — and can unknowingly spread it to others — can be isolated.

The troubled response to the virus in the United States began with testing failures, and there are still not nearly enough tests being conducted. Michael Osterholm and Mark Olshaker write in a new Op-Ed: “Far too few tests are available in the United States. Some are shoddy. Even the ones that are precise aren’t designed to produce the kind of definitive yes-no results that people expect.” The testing problem will need to be solved before states can return to normal — as some are now taking early steps toward — without sparking new outbreaks.

Laurie Garrett, This is America?!

Her Pulitzer, in 1996, was for coverage of Ebola in Zaire. She Predicted the Coronavirus. What Does She Foresee Next?

Laurie Garrett, the prophet of this pandemic, expects years of death and “collective rage.”

Frank Bruni May 2, 2020
Opinion Columnist TimesThe New York Times

Laurie Garrett cheering essential workers from the roof of her apartment building, joining a citywide ritual every evening in New York.
Credit… Joshua Bright for The New York Times

I told Laurie Garrett that she might as well change her name to Cassandra. Everyone is calling her that anyway.,,, Cassandra, of course, was the prophetess of Greek mythology who was doomed to issue unheeded warnings….

She saw it coming. So a big part of what I wanted to ask her about was what she sees coming next. Steady yourself. Her crystal ball is dark.
Despite the stock market’s swoon for it, remdesivir probably isn’t our ticket out, she told me. “It’s not curative,” she said, pointing out that the strongest claims so far are that it merely shortens the recovery of Covid-19 patients. “We need either a cure or a vaccine.”
But she can’t envision that vaccine anytime in the next year, while Covid-19 will remain a crisis much longer than that.

“I’ve been telling everybody that my event horizon is about 36 months, and that’s my best-case scenario,” she said….

People will re-evaluate the importance of travel. They’ll reassess their use of mass transit. They’ll revisit the need for face-to-face business meetings. They’ll reappraise having their kids go to college out of state.
So, I asked, is “back to normal,” a phrase that so many people cling to, a fantasy?

“This is history right in front of us,” Garrett said. “Did we go ‘back to normal’ after 9/11? No. …

But there is one part of the story she couldn’t have predicted: that the paragon of sloppiness and sluggishness would be the United States.

“I never imagined that,” she said. “Ever.”…

And she’s shocked that America isn’t in a position to lead the global response to this crisis, in part because science and scientists have been so degraded under Trump.

Referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and its analogues abroad, she told me: “I’ve heard from every C.D.C. in the world — the European C.D.C., the African C.D.C., China C.D.C. — and they say, ‘Normally our first call is to Atlanta, but we ain’t hearing back.’ There’s nothing going on down there. They’ve gutted that place. They’ve gagged that place. I can’t get calls returned anymore. Nobody down there is feeling like it’s safe to talk. Have you even seen anything important and vital coming out of the C.D.C.?”

The problem, Garrett added, is bigger than Trump and older than his presidency. America has never been sufficiently invested in public health. The riches and renown go mostly to physicians who find new and better ways to treat heart disease, cancer and the like. The big political conversation is about individuals’ access to health care.

But what about the work to keep our air and water safe for everyone, to design policies and systems for quickly detecting outbreaks, containing them and protecting entire populations? Where are the rewards for the architects of that?

Garrett recounted her time at Harvard. “The medical school is all marble, with these grand columns,” she said. “The school of public health is this funky building, the ugliest possible architecture, with the ceilings falling in.”
“That’s America?” I asked.
“That’s America,” she said.

And what America needs most right now, she said, is a federal government that assertively promotes and helps to coordinate that, not one in which experts like Tony Fauci and Deborah Birx tiptoe around a president’s tender ego.

“I can sit here with you for three hours listing — boom, boom, boom — what good leadership would look like and how many more lives would be saved if we followed that path, and it’s just incredibly upsetting.” Garrett said. “I feel like I’m just coming out of maybe three weeks of being in a funk because of the profound disappointment that there’s not a whisper of it.”…

“Tout le malheur des hommes est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.”

Some of you will recognize the author of this quotation, Blaise Pascal. Some won’t and given the times we live in will think that Pascal’s words mean that our being confined to our own living spaces is not necessarily a bad thing. In any case Pascal must have been familiar with flue like conditions and threats in the 17th. century and that people then were not unfamiliar with the recommendation that to avoid infection one had only to stay at home. In addition isn’t Pascal really implying, as people now are discovering confined in their living spaces, there are a lot of good things that can be accomplished just by staying home.

And in fact Pascal’s words might be translated into 21st century English in the following way:

“The risk of infection and subsequent death from Covid-19 comes from our not knowing how to remain at rest at home.”

Is this what Pascal meant? One can divide the citation into two parts, there is something he calls, “le malheur des hommes,” men’s greatest trouble or unhappiness, the nature of which Pascal has little or nothing to say, at least here. And then there is man who does not know how to sit or stand still. Here Pascal’s meaning is clear at least to the extent that men would be much better off if they would cease to be constantly moving about. Those who are directing our societal response to the Coronavirus would agree fully with Pascal here.

I didn’t recognize the citation right away as being from Pascal. I saw it for the first time in a text message from my nephew, Erik, in France, but I did see right away Pascal’s words might be interpreted as our being confined to our rooms, apartments and homes, and that our remaining at rest, could be a good thing in itself, and not just a response to the danger of infection from the virus. And I saw that not staying home, but in constant activity outside, could very well be the principal cause and source of not just a viral infection but of “le malheur des hommes.”

I’m not yet sure what Pascal meant by these words. I think I know what my nephew meant, that by remaining at home while protecting ourselves from the bug, we were getting down to the essential, which is getting know ourselves as Socrates would have it. That we were beginning to understand what was important in our lives and what was not. And that, yes all our troubles, not just a viral infection, came from our not being able to, stop, rest, and just sit still.

Reading Pascal’s words one may forget about the virus, as the virus couldn’t have been what was on his mind, nor on my mind as I thought more about it. And in fact one begins to think about what we’re losing by constantly running about, by not staying in one place.

This is what was on my nephew’s mind, although the citation wasn’t well chosen in that as one reads Pascal one thinks too much about the Coronavirus, and not enough about why we should run around less, and stay in one place. And in one place, what did Pascal do? write another book, solve a math problem for the first time….? And how many of us are accomplishing more by staying in one place?

Now neither Pascal nor my nephew had anything good to say about our being overly active, “running all around ” as we say. Yet, in spite of the virus there is a good case to be made for even excessive activity. But not now.

However, I did see right away that there is a delightful irony here. For the virus, being a malheur, perhaps now the greatest one, right up there with global warming, requires us not to move about. And Pascal isn’t he saying just the opposite that to live best, to enjoy the best of life, is not to be out there moving about. The irony being that both the worst, the virus, and the best, our staying in place and getting to know ourselves, are both working to the same end. So the virus in effect is motivating us to do what Pascal says we should be doing, although mot for the same reasons.

And if I were to say a bit more about the malheur des hommes? Does it become also ironic? Leaving out for the moment the virus, nothing has ever brought about the confinement of men more effectively than the tyrants who imprison those who disagree with them. And prisoners in general don’t they know best how to remain at rest in a room. Here is the irony again in that there are those who would now free the prisoners.

Here of course in the ordinary view of things, the malheur is the confinement. But in Pascal’s word our greatest bonheur could arise from our confinement.

Tout le malheur des hommes est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos dans une chambre.

Basic Calculations

Not the calculations of our president, basic or any other kind. Does the president have any idea of how many have died because of his own failure to act when he had the chance, because of his abysmal ignorance of how the Virus spreads, because of his no less ignorance of what might still be done to stop the spread of the virus?

Donald Trump’s remedy at the Coronavirus briefing ofApril 24, 2020 — Injections of disinfectant!?

I take the following from David Leonhardt’s piece in The New York Times, April 24. And I’m not trying to scare you. Just the facts, ma’ma.

The new statistics still suggest that the overall death toll could be catastrophic, and on the high end of the range of the various statistical models. How could that be? There are two main reasons.

One, the fact that more people may have already had the virus also suggests that it’s more contagious than the initial numbers suggested — that any one person with the virus tends to pass it to a greater number of others. And if it’s more contagious, it may be harder to contain in coming months. As society begins to reopen, the virus could spread more quickly. The number of Americans who get it before a vaccine is developed would then be larger.

Two, even if the death rate is lower than feared, it’s still very high. “It is still, with these new findings, many times more deadly than influenza,” … The best current guess is that the death rate for coronavirus is about five times higher than that of seasonal influenza.

A few basic calculations show how scary a 0.5 percent death rate is. If about one in three Americans ultimately get the virus — or 110 million people — more than 500,000 would die. If 200 million people get it, 1 million would die.

still at war. believers and non-believers.

Thomas Edsall writes in today’s Times: President Trump has chosen his pandemic re-election strategy. He is set on unifying and reinvigorating the groups that were crucial to his 2016 victory: racially resentful whites, evangelical Christians, gun activists, anti-vaxxers and wealthy conservatives. He says, and I repeat his words, these groups were crucial to his 2016 win:

Racially Resentful Whites
Evangelical Christians
Gun Activists
Wealthy Conservatives.

The population of the United States is now: 330,000,000 and rising. Trump’s share of those voting in the 2016 election was 63 million (Clinton’s 66 million)

Does that mean that the groups within the 63 million voting for Trump belonged to one or another group of the five? Now we’re told that there may be as many as 90million Evangelicals in the US, so by themselves they could win the election for Trump. Hence all the God talk on both sides of the aisle, hence the rise of the anti-abortionists, even among the liberal and non-believing Democrats. hence the number of Evangelicals who are constantly Oval Office guests of the President.

But there are still a number of unknowns, perhaps essential to any conclusions we might reach in this discussion. For example, are there significant numbers of Trump voters that do not belong to one of Edsall’s five groups? And then might not the Trump voters be characterized entirely differently, such as as rural and city or surburban, women and male, college or non-college …, and the usual blacks, whites, latinos, Asians, Native Americans, native islanders .., sure. However my gut feeling is that Edsall’s five groupings pretty much make up Trump’s base, those who would vote for him regardless of what he might do or say. Trump they want for their own selfish reasons, just as Trump himself wants to go on being president for his own selfish reasons. And that’s it.

And for the Democrats Trump’s base is their principal opponent. We can imagine the coming battle between Democrats and Republcans, between the children of the 18rh. century Enlightenment and the children of an earlier epoch, the Middle Ages, when church dogma held sway, when believers, not scientists held the power and literally lorded it over eveyone else. These true believers were stopped or at least slowed down of course by the rise of modern science in the 17th. and 18th centuries. And this battle between proponents and oopponents of science those for dear life as they imagine who are holding onto religion, this battle is still going on, still having a powerful effect on the presidential election coming in just five months.

And of course there are other questions we might ask, how many white supremacists are there?, gun owners? fossil fuel proponents, global warming deniers are there? 63 million of them, the number that won the 2016 election for Donald Trump, is not an unreasonable estimate of their number.

Still a few more points to be made. By now you will have noticed the the Republican position is almost unassailable. Why evangelicals with assault rifles is enough to scare anyone away.

And what are the weapons of the Democrats? Truth and reason. I have to smile when I say it, as I know just how little truth and reason win battles, let alone the war, They’re the first things to go, to be chucked overboard, as the men start shooting at one another.

OK, in an American presidential election it’s not quite the same thing, no one is shooting at anyone else, with a few exceptions such as in Canada a few days ago. But what’s happening now, what will happen during the next few months, and what will be decided in November is that the winners will be believed in respect to their plans for the country and the losers won’t. And where will that leave us? Perhaps at best still fighting off the Coronavirus, while thanking our lucky star and/or God that Trump is gone from the scene. Hey, wouldn’t that be great!

But that’s not true.

You seldom see a White House reporter say simply, “but that’s not true” or “that’s not what you said last week.” Yet the Washington Post reporters, who have been keeping a daily record of the President’s false or misleading claims and statements, inform us that as of January 20, just three years into his presidency, Trump’s lies and misstatements, by their count, numbered 16241. So yes, why haven’t we heard more from the reporters, more from the press, more of — “that’s not true,”” “that’s not even what you said last week,”” “that’s false.”

Why? Because Trump is entirely comfortable in his own alternative universe, a world of untruth. In general the reporters and the rest of us are so taken aback that we don’t know what to say or do. (The person who is not taken a back, and knows what to say or do in Trump’s world will beat Trump in the November election. And if he is taken aback by Trump and his lies he won’t.)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters during a campaign rally in Mobile, Ala., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Trump when speaking in public, at the MAGA rallies, that have gone on almost without stopping since the 2016 election and before, and now almost daily at the Coronavirus press briefings, can pretty much say whatever he wants, and because he never listens to what others may be saying (usually they’re not saying much of anything because Trump will have immediately put them down if in their question they so much as question a word or statement of his). So Trump ends by taking the reporters and us the listeners right along with him, and during the rally or briefing he is never really challenged by a “that’s not true, that’s not what you said last week.”

Trump’s alternate universe is simply one where facts, what really happened, yes truth, are no longer the principal guides as to whatever the discussion or issue might be about. The reporters at these briefings and rallies must walk away dazzled and bewildered, wondering whether what Trump had said had anything at all to do with reality, with their reality, with their reporting on the news. It usually doesn’t.

And then, there’s this, from Last Call by Charles PIerce in Esquire Magazine of April 18, 2020. I think we are, Charles Pierce and I, writing about the same thing, allthough I’m not sure about that, for prior to this moment I wasn’t even acquainted with the word derealization. Is what Pierce calls a derealized world much like Trump’s world of untruth? A world where there are no facts, no absolutes (no law and order)?

The President* Will Thrive in Our Derealized World

I’m supposed to be having dreams, spectacularly vivid dreams about spectacularly vivid things, major Technicolor Industrial Light and Magic dreams in quadraphonic sound. At least, as I go into my second month of social distancing, that’s what the folks at National Geographic tell me should be going on in my head….

Of course, we’re all walking around in a state of waking unreality. Everything is at a remove. Everything is to some extent vicarious, including political involvement. There’s Andrew Cuomo in the morning and the president’s Five O’Clock Follies at dinnertime. There’s a presidential campaign going on in which nobody is going anywhere or doing anything. Congress is in recess, and it can’t seem to get its act together on how to meet when it finally does come back. And, of course, the president has done nothing but make things worse….

The president* will move through our new dreamworld like the rest of us move through air. Most people are not accustomed to living in unreality, in a walking dreamscape, anymore than they are used to having their food delivered, drive-through pharmacies, or empty streets in midtown Manhattan. It is unnerving. There are no landmarks anymore. Nothing is familiar, so nothing is reliable. Nothing can be trusted. In this situation, it is easy to gravitate toward the people who seem most comfortable with unreality, who seem to thrive in it. And though that, alas for all of us, the current president* of the United States moves like the rest of us move through the air….

Psychologists call this “derealization.”

as a brief summary of the role of evolution. this is not a bad one

Weightlifters and Gorillas

(From Quora, April18,2020)

The Comparison here is that between a very short term, years, hundreds, thousands at the most, adaptation, in this case the build-up of muscular mass in a weightlifter, someone much like us, and the much longer term build-up of muscle mass in the Mountain Gorilla, not measured in years or hundreds of years, but hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of years, that now characterizes the extraordinary strength of our fellow planetary inhabitant. And this happened “naturally,” through naturally occurring evolutionary changes marked by no particular effort on the part of the Gorilla.

So rather than go to the gym go to the library and there read and learn about the real wonders of the evolution of all life on earth.

A one-man presidency

Hamilton and Jefferson disagreed on many things, but they agreed that the convention had been right in deciding on a one-man presidency. A plural executive, Hamilton contended, if divided within itself, would lead the country into factionalism and anarchy and, if united, could lead it into tyranny. When power was placed in the hands of a group small enough to admit “of their interests and views being easily combined in a common enterprise, by an artful leader,” Hamilton thought, “it becomes more liable to abuse, and more dangerous when abused, than if it be lodged in the hands of one man, who, from the very circumstances of his being alone, will be more narrowly watched and more readily suspected.” With a single executive it was possible to fix accountability. But a directorate “would serve to destroy or would greatly diminish, the intended and necessary responsibility of the Chief Magistrate himself.”

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.November 1973 Issue of the Atlantic

Afghanistan 1, from 7 October 2001 until the present time

How many years is that? !9 and counting? Our longest war I’m told, and it’s not over yet. Op ed journalists have never stopped writing about Afghanistan. Why would they? Nobody really know why we’re there, only why we can’t leave. And that in itself makes it an endlessly fascinating subject.

Here is just what one of these seemingly endless stream of writers has to say:

The Never-Ending War in Afghanistan

March 13, 2017

By Andrew J. Bacevitch

BOSTON — Remember Afghanistan? The longest war in American history? Ever?

When it comes to wars, we Americans have a selective memory. The Afghan war, dating from October 2001, has earned the distinction of having been forgotten while still underway.

President Trump’s Inaugural Address included no mention of Afghanistan. Nor did his remarks last month at a joint session of Congress. For the new commander in chief, the war there qualifies at best as an afterthought — assuming, that is, he has thought about it all.

A similar attitude prevails on Capitol Hill. Congressional oversight has become pro forma. Last week Gen. Joseph Votel, the head of Central Command, told Congress that the Pentagon would probably need more troops in Afghanistan, a statement that seemed to catch politicians and reporters by surprise — but that was old news to anyone who’s been paying attention to the conflict.

And that’s the problem. It doesn’t seem that anyone is. At the Senate hearings on the nomination of James Mattis as defense secretary, Afghanistan barely came up.

To be fair, Mr. Mattis did acknowledge that “our country is still at war in Afghanistan,” albeit without assessing the war’s prospects. In response to a comment by Senator John McCain, the Armed Services Committee chairman, that “we are in serious trouble in Afghanistan,” Mr. Mattis merely allowed that the Taliban had “eroded some of our successes.”

That was it. No further follow up. Other members of the committee, Republican and Democratic, focused on more pressing concerns like seeking to induce Mr. Mattis to endorse military programs and installations in their home state.

The military brass deserves some of the blame. Soon after Mr. Mattis’s hearing, Gen. John Nicholson, the latest in a long line of American commanders to have presided over the Afghan mission, arrived in Washington to report on its progress. While conceding that the conflict is stalemated, General Nicholson doggedly insisted that it is a “stalemate where the equilibrium favors the government.” Carefully avoiding terms like “victory” or “win,” he described his strategy as “hold-fight-disrupt.” He ventured no guess on when the war might end.

Despite appropriating over three-quarters of a trillion dollars on Afghanistan since 2001, Afghan security forces continue to be plagued by the problem of inflated rolls, with local commanders pocketing American-supplied funds to pay for nonexistent soldiers; according to the report, “The number of troops fighting alongside ‘ghost soldiers’ is a fraction of the men required for the fight.”

Large-scale corruption persists, with Afghanistan third from the bottom in international rankings, ahead of only Somalia and North Korea. Adjusted for inflation, American spending to reconstruct Afghanistan now exceeds the total expended to rebuild all of Western Europe under the Marshall Plan; yet to have any hope of surviving, the Afghan government will for the foreseeable future remain almost completely dependent on outside support.

And things are getting worse. Although the United States has invested $70 billion in rebuilding Afghan security forces, only 63 percent of the country’s districts are under government control, with significant territory lost to the Taliban over the past year. Though the United States has spent $8.5 billion to battle narcotics in Afghanistan, opium production there has reached an all-time high.

What are we to make of the chasm between effort expended and results achieved? Why on those increasingly infrequent occasions when Afghanistan attracts notice do half-truths and pettifoggery prevail, rather than hard-nosed assessments? Why has Washington ceased to care about the Afghan war?

The answer, it seems to me, is this: As with budget deficits or cost overruns on weapons purchases, members of the national security apparatus — elected and appointed officials, senior military officers and other policy insiders — accept war as a normal condition.

Once, the avoidance of war figured as a national priority. On those occasions when war proved unavoidable, the idea was to end the conflict as expeditiously as possible on favorable terms.

These precepts no longer apply. With war transformed into a perpetual endeavor, expectations have changed. In Washington, war has become tolerable, an enterprise to be managed rather than terminated as quickly as possible. Like other large-scale government projects, war now serves as a medium through which favors are bestowed, largess distributed and ambitions satisfied.

That our impulsive commander in chief may one day initiate some new war in a fit of pique is a worrisome prospect. That neither President Trump nor anyone else in Washington seems troubled that wars once begun drag on in perpetuity is beyond worrisome.

For this, over the past 15 years, nearly 2,400 American soldiers have died, and 20,000 more have been wounded.

Andrew J. Bacevich is the author, most recently, of “America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.”