In Brief: Losing Afghanistan

“The real danger … [is] a nation completely taken over by the Taliban.”

As the United States prepares to remove the last troops from Afghanistan, even abandoning Bagram Airfield in the middle of the night, the very real danger in that country is that it will soon be unified under the control of the Taliban. In other words, just the way we found it 20 years ago.

Political analyst Dinesh D'Souza calls that “a serious foreign policy defeat for the United States.” He makes the case that the war wasn’t lost by Joe Biden’s withdrawal or Donald Trump’s plan to do likewise. It was lost from the outset.

The United States lost the war in Afghanistan from the outset because of poor leadership and an unwinnable strategy.

In fact, the United States lost the war in Afghanistan for the same reason we lost the Vietnam War. Let’s think back to Vietnam for a moment. The United States faced the threat of a communist North Vietnamese force, led by Ho Chi Minh, attempting to take over South Vietnam and turn all of Vietnam into a communist country. The obvious strategy to prevent this was to pulverize the communists in the North, wipe them out, and thus disable their capacity to make irredentist raids into the South.

But the United States didn’t do that. Instead, it built its strategy on the demilitarized zone or DMZ, the dividing line between the North and the South. Basically, U.S. troops were prohibited from fighting north of the DMZ. So the communist forces of the Vietcong could easily cross the line, pulverize South Vietnamese villages, and then race back across the line where U.S. forces couldn’t pursue them. Is it any surprise that this U.S. strategy, developed and carried out by a group of incompetent leaders, proved a dismal failure?

Yet the United States seems to have learned nothing from Vietnam and implemented an equally misguided — even obtuse — strategy in Afghanistan. Unlike Vietnam, where the case for getting involved in the first place is highly debatable, America had a very good reason to intervene in Afghanistan. The ruling Taliban, after all, sponsored, hosted, and encouraged the 9/11 hijackers.

So the obvious strategy should have been to use massive force to oust the Taliban, kill as many of them as possible, drive the rest into the mountains, and then leave Afghanistan under the control of rival tribes with long-standing enmity to the Taliban. In other words, get rid of the bad guys and install whoever is around to take their place. And then leave.

But this wasn’t the view of Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and other luminaries of the Bush administration who developed the quixotic and, upon reflection, idiotic idea that the United States should somehow attempt to remake Afghanistan in its own image. …

Thus began a project in political and cultural reform that was doomed from the beginning. Think of the absurdity of taking people who are virtually living in the 13th century and attempting to cajole them into 20th- or 21st-century democracy. Think of the madness of introducing women’s rights and the paraphernalia of Western identity politics to a mountain and desert people accustomed to thousands of years of tribal patriarchy.

D'Souza concludes:

No wonder we lost the war in Afghanistan. The war wasn’t lost by the brave American soldiers who carried out their missions and endured the hardships of surviving and fighting in a distant country. Rather, the war was lost by their leaders, who set impossible goals and then developed strategies that were destined to fail. We can only hope that our country’s leaders will get the message this time and prove a little less utopian, gullible, and inept when America once again dispatches its armed men and women abroad.

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