Forget the Afghan war and we’ll repeat it
A little over two months before the collapse of the military mission in Kabul – with broader American illusions – the Center for International Politics posted a report on the failed and futile US adventure in Afghanistan. It was a war that cost four lives and five members to the soldiers I have order. Of them bled to death, one died in a base hospital, another – from a bullet to the jaw – then overdosed, and another lives as a triple amputee. The oldest was 28 years old – on his third round – the the youngest couldn’t legally buy a beer when we deployed; not one won over $ 40,000 a year for his troubles. All bravely turned their wheels in a mission that could not be accomplished, in a war that should not have continued.
The title of the report told the story and clarified its purpose: “Ever Changing Goals: Lessons from 20 Years of Security Assistance in Afghanistan”. Reading this, I almost threw up before I even picked up his pages from the printer. Maybe a better soldier wouldn’t ask what it was for, why Americans were asked to kill and die desperately for two decades – and if anyone would read his retrospective.
The report didn’t just punch holes in a failed mission, but stressed the importance of remembering and learning from failure in order to avoid future fiascos.
A few pages later – and more now, in the wake of the Taliban takeover – I had this nightmarish thought: what if the end America’s longest war ends in an anomaly, and Afghan-style wars continue – if more abstractly – from the African Sahel to its Horn, of From Syria to Iraq? And these are just the high-end highlights. Madness winds from Mali to Mozambique, and comes back in a boomerang militarized police (disproportionate veterans) make hyper-guarded war zones of American streets, where Baltimore becomes Baghdad, and Kansas City smacks of Kandahar – at least to one alum of the two.
The uncomfortable and often unspoken truth is that even though every soldier leaves Afghanistan, the US military continues to bomb 5-10 country fighting in 10-12, “Advises and assists” the fighting forces in about 20, and has bases in some 80 nations. And these are low estimates. In addition, the military-industrial complex is still extremely powerful, garnering record yields bought with American blood. After all, the Afghanistan Study Group, commissioned by Congress to advise on war strategy, was clear packed up with past and present employees in war profiteering outfits. Unsurprisingly, they advised Washington continues the war.
To his credit, President Biden seems to have avoided their trap, at least in Afghanistan – and, perhaps predictably, has therefore been blasted by the political and political establishment. Yet even after the last US serviceman (in uniform) boarded a cargo plane at Kabul airport, the system who organizes, sells and the benefits of these wars, then name their pyromaniac architects to advise the commanders in chief, well – that stays firmly in place. It’s an ingrained power structure designed for war, this generates inertia and will make it difficult to end our other confused military missions.
After the Vietnam War – which almost broke the US military – both the Pentagon and policymakers have made a conscious decision to forget about this tragedy. The generals preferred to concentrate almost exclusively on the type of wars they were experiencing – conventional conflicts with Soviet and Chinese forces – just as the 2018 national defense strategy shifted the focus of the fight against terrorism to “”Great Power Contest. “Even so, instead of rethinking its militarized position, Washington has remained the garrison capital of a garrison state – on critical alert for potentially un-winnable nuclear wars.
Although it did not carry out any campaign of ambition from Vietnam to Afghanistan, the military never stopped fighting – only the scale and the methods have (temporarily) changed. In the 15 years old after the fall of Saigon, America bombed or fought in Cambodia, Iran, El Salvador, Libya, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama and Iraq. Likewise today – after Afghanistan, American troops will remain in danger from West Africa to Central Asia.
Ultimately, the choice between conventional or counterinsurgency wars is a false. The real takeaway from Vietnam and Afghanistan is that invasions and occupations rarely work, are unethical, and shouldn’t be attempted in the first place.
When it comes to ending the various American wars, don’t expect salvation to come from above. Bureaucracies like the Pentagon – and its political and industrial backers of war – are as slow to transform as gigantic ocean liners. U-turns seem so difficult that the “companionship“Bar these institutions rarely even try. The machine for making war policies evokes the Titanic – Washington’s well-dressed elites and immaculately dressed generals revel right in the iceberg of the next intervention.
That said, the next war is not (or at least shouldn’t be) inevitable. Yet only a collective commitment to learn, and a refusal to forget America’s Afghanistans, can escape the fate of future madness.