I am neither a foreign policy nor military expert. I am, however, old enough to have learned that sending American forces into another country to resolve what is basically a civil or internal religious conflict will not end well. It never has. So the end of our involvement in Afghanistan after twenty years and over 2,500 American combat deaths — not to mention the countless losses to Afghan civilians — came as no surprise. Neither did its swiftness and surety.
It happened to the British in the 19th century, it happened to the Russians in the 20th, and no amount of hope and prayer, planning and military might could make it end any differently for the United States in the 21st. It’s not a lot different than what we saw happen in Vietnam nearly fifty years ago, and it will happen again if we try it again.
I don’t doubt that there will be many people who are able to get their voices heard on cable TV who will blame President Biden for “losing” Afghanistan. Many of those people are those who supported the previous administration’s plan to get American troops out of there by May 1, 2021 and stop American boys from dying for a lost cause. Of course now they are being politically expedient and blatantly hypocritical. Thus it will always be. So we need to remind ourselves of the fact that a war in that name of revenge or occupation has consequences and loss that will echo far longer than the last shot from the cannon. We are still arguing over Vietnam.
As for what lesson we might learn, I defer to John Cole at Balloon Juice, who has a way of summing it all up.
Just like every other empire that before us tried to go in and “fix” things in Afghanistan, we have cut and run and will get to live through the ignominy of gruesome pictures of fallen innocents and backwards goat-herders driving around in our HMMW’s and other abandoned equipment, and we’ll hear about the damage to America’s image and reputation, and what not, but this was baked in from the moment we decided to go there and stay in the first place after failing to do the one thing we set out to do.
There is a reason terms like “mission creep” exist. There is a reason when I was a young E-3 my tank commander and Troop CO gave me reading lists, and included on those lists were books like Bernard Fall’s Street Without Joy and A Bright Shining Lie and All Quiet on the Western Front and About Face and so many others that sit on my bookshelf to this day. There were lessons to be learned. And we didn’t learn them, myself included. I will grapple with my own culpability the rest of my life.
And I know that my seeming nonchalant writing here about this can seem smarmy and irritating, and I hope that is not what you are taking from this. It’s horrible. I feel terrible for all those innocents. I feel terrible for all our guys who served there and are dealing with trauma and injuries, barely getting their lives back together finally, only to turn on the TV, stare at the horrible images unfolding while glancing at the scarred stumps where their legs and arms used to be, realizing everything they gave everything for has turned out to be nothing.
But while this horror is occurring right now, we can still take advantage of the opportunity to learn this lesson once more. Maybe this will save us a couple generations of needless military adventurism, like Vietnam did before we went and fucked up our memories in Gulf War I and thought war was easy again. Stop listening to the war pigs. Ignore them. Stop listening to the Kagans and Ledeens and the Cheneys and the Kristols and the Tom Cottons and the Friedmans and that one curly hair young twat name Michael something or other who was all over the tv in the late aughts. Don’t let this happen again.
The only people who benefited from the last twenty years were Haliburton and Lockheed Martin.
War was not the answer. It never was, and it never will be.