Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Requiem for a War


The last US plane flew out of Kabul August 31 officially ending America’s “longest war’. 


After 20 years, the US finally acknowledged, if not defeat, an end to our occupation of Afghanistan. While many Afghans experienced a form of an open society during our occupation, many others experienced the horrors of war and many others living in rural areas continued to live under the rule of a highly conservative patriarchy. As a soldier who served in another American defeat, I can sympathize with the many service members who wonder if their service in Afghanistan has any meaning at all. Maybe, just maybe, those efforts will leave behind some spark of a more open, tolerant civil society that will force the Taliban to be more judicious in creating their Islamic Emirate than the last time they ruled. That’s small consolation for the lost blood and treasure but it’s better than nothing. I’m not holding my breath, though.


The commanding general announced the completion of our mission in Afghanistan but the war will continue, just not with US boots on the ground. Instead, we will fight “over the horizon” seeking out terrorists who plot to do us harm. And not just in Afghanistan but wherever we identify a threat. So the beat will go on. The US has been officially in a period of war since August 2,1990. That includes the Persian Gulf War, the Balkan wars, the no-fly zone operations in Iraq, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, anti-terrorism operations in Africa. America has no shortage of targets, a Congress that is all too willing to leave war-making to presidents and presidents more than willing to act in that vacuum. at incl at the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. So just because we are off the ground in Afghanistan don’t think that the war is over.

As America comes to terms with its defeat in Afghanistan, the architects of that mission are claiming that if only the US was willing to stay long enough, we would haveestablished a secular government that could compete with the Taliban. That’s bullshit. Aside from going in to smash Al-Qaeda’s operations in Afghanistan after 9/11, the US never had a clear mission or understood Afghan society to build that structure. The report of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction details how it all went wrong. The Washington Post has documented how three successive administrations misled the the American public about the war. And we in the public let it all happen. As long as the costs fell on the relatively few Americans who actually had to fight the war, Americans were willing to accept the blandishments of success that was just around the corner. It fell to Joe Biden to be the one to say”no more”.

I give Biden credit for calling an end to the Afghanistan war. It brings a lot of fire down on his head and will be an indelible part of his legacy. Neither George Bush nor Barack Obama were willing to pull the plug. Donald Trump at least understood the war’s pointlessness but managed to undermine the Afghan government in negotiating a US withdrawal with the Taliban. Where Biden fucked up was in not being better prepared to deal with the immediate collapse of the Afghan army and other security forces that the US had laboriously assembled and supported for two decades. I’m no expert in these matters but it seems that part of the logistics for withdrawal should have been a contingency plan for the immediate collapse of the Afghan government and military in the face of a Taliban offensive. Maybe the evacuation was that contingency plan and was the best Biden could pull off under the circumstances. In the end it was an impressive achievement but it looked bad and left enough of our allies at risk of Taliban retaliation that it will be a black eye on America for years to come.

The Afghanistan war is over, at least for most Americans. For the service members who served in in that war, it will never be over. I know that from experience.