Every so often the media pulls back the curtain on our negotiations with the Taliban. We hear rumors about how the Taliban will let girls go to school and how they will allow certain societal reforms because they don’t want us to invade them again. This is all presented in a somewhat positive light, as if somehow this means that we accomplished something in that country in exchange for the thousands of lives and trillions of dollars we expended in that aimless war. But we saw this movie before with North Vietnam in 1972 and we know how that one ended. Afghanistan is destined for the same conclusion.
It’s time for some brutal honesty. If we were winning in Afghanistan, we wouldn’t be negotiating with the ragtag band of fighters that we toppled so quickly there in October 2001. How is it that the world’s mightiest superpower can find itself mired in a 17-year war against little more than an insurgent group? How is it that we find ourselves not only fighting the Taliban, but now also ISIS in that country? One need not be a rocket scientist to see that our train went off the rails pretty quickly in Afghanistan.
Like Vietnam, we never had a strategy for actual victory in Afghanistan. We never understood the cultural dynamics, history, or politics of Southeast Asia and now it’s eminently clear we are equally ignorant of those vital elements in Southwest Asia. Even after 17 years of conflict.
The decades of incompetent leadership in Washington (from both parties) relied on the mirage and hubris of military might without actually having a game plan – a strategy – for victory. They allowed private military contractors and defense companies to endlessly suckle at the Public Treasury under the delusion that better and smarter weapons would somehow bring us victory. But why would any private enterprise even want victory if it put a stop to that government gravy train?
We let Afghan militias do our fighting for us at Tora Bora and we had to wait a whole decade to get Bin Laden, who escaped to Pakistan. In complete ignorance of the country’s history, we tried to set up a central government, military, and police force in the country that has never been effective and is recognized as one of the most corrupt in the world. And even after all this time, the government in Kabul still faces regular terrorist attacks in the capital and has virtually no control over the rest of the country. The country’s army is suffering unsustainable losses and morale that is in the toilet.
Just like in Vietnam, when we do pull out the innocent Afghans who supported and believed in us will become the objects of Taliban revenge. We will look the other way. Frankly, the Taliban won’t have to keep their promises to us anyway because we won’t have the stomach for returning to that country after we leave any more than when North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon in May 1975. President Ashraf Ghani undoubtedly knows this; we prefer to just poke our head into the sand and find a way to get the hell out.
And just like Vietnam, the message to potential allies around the globe will be: Don’t trust Uncle Sam. He’ll leave you to the wolves when he loses interest in you.