The Afghanistan War Was Founded on Lies. Some People Are Still Telling ThemRoundup
tags: national security, foreign policy, war on terror, Afghanistan
Daniel Bessner is the Joff Hanauer Honors Associate Professor in Western Civilization in the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. He is the co-host of the podcast American Prestige and the author of Democracy in Exile: Hans Speier and the Rise of the Defense Intellectual.
Derek Davison is a writer and analyst covering U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. He is the co-host of the podcast American Prestige and publisher of the Foreign Exchanges newsletter at Substack.
From its inception in 2001 to its ignominious end, the U.S. war in Afghanistan has been defined by lies. It was a lie when, in 2001, President George W. Bush told service members that “your mission is defined, your objectives are clear.... We will not fail.” It was a lie when President Barack Obama proclaimed in 2016 that America had successfully “trained Afghan forces to take responsibility for their own security.” And it was a lie every time pundits and officials insisted that victory was around the corner.
Manifold elites are now lying about the fall of Afghanistan “under Biden’s watch.” In The New York Times, the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Kagan claims that “a disastrous Taliban takeover wasn’t inevitable,” though it has been obvious for years that the Taliban was winning and that the Afghan government would fall eventually without overwhelming U.S. support. In The Wall Street Journal, former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Bradley Bowman of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies assert that “the refusal to provide the Afghan people the support necessary to stem a humanitarian catastrophe emboldens China, Russia and other adversaries eager to proclaim the U.S. an unreliable partner and a declining power,” though the U.S. has proved time and again that it is already those things. And in The New York Times, Bret Stephens perplexingly affirms that “Disaster in Afghanistan Will Follow Us Home,” as if the militarization of U.S. policing that occurred in the War on Terror’s wake hasn’t already done significant damage to the country.
These and other comments evince the cynicism that always defined the invasion of Afghanistan. It’s hard to imagine that Kagan, McMaster, Bowman, and Stephens really believe that America’s vital security or economic interests will be adversely affected by the Taliban’s victory. The U.S. remains a very safe, powerful, and rich country that faces no serious security threats. Rather, one gets the impression that the hawks are annoyed and embarrassed that a small paramilitary group was able, like the North Vietnamese Army before it, to reveal, beyond the shadow of a doubt, America’s inability to remake foreign nations in its image.
The cynicism, though, is truly something to behold. While the U.S. war in Vietnam was a pointless tragedy that resulted in untold human misery, it was not totally absurd for U.S. decision-makers to believe that communism was an existential threat worth fighting. The same cannot be said for the war in Afghanistan—only paranoiacs could have ever claimed that “terrorism” could seriously harm the United States. As such, for twenty years the U.S. effort in Afghanistan has done little but enrich defense and military contractors and bolster the global heroin trade as it destroyed a country about which Americans knew and understood little. First time as tragedy, second time as farce.