August 16, 2011

We Will Lose in Iraq and Afghanistan

By Stephen Walt:
One of the things that gets in the way of conducting good national security policy is a reluctance to call things by their right names and state plainly what is really happening. If you keep describing difficult situations in misleading or inaccurate ways, plenty of people will draw the wrong conclusions about them and will continue to support policies that don't make a lot of sense.

Two cases in point: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We are constantly told that that "the surge worked" in Iraq, and President Obama has to pretend the situation there is tolerable so that he can finally bring the rest of the troops there home. Yet it is increasingly clear that the surge failed to produce meaningful political reconciliation and did not even end the insurgency, and keeping U.S. troops there for the past three years may have accomplished relatively little.

Similarly, we keep getting told that we are going to achieve some sort of "peace with honor" in Afghanistan, even though sending more troops there has not made the Afghan government more effective, has not eliminated the Taliban's ability to conduct violence, and has not increased our leverage in Pakistan. In the end, what happens in Central Asia is going to be determined by Central Asians -- for good or ill -- and not by us.

The truth is that the United States and its allies lost the war in Iraq and are going to lose the war in Afghanistan. There: I said it. By "lose," I mean we will eventually withdraw our military forces without having achieved our core political objectives, and with our overall strategic position weakened. We did get Osama bin Laden -- finally -- but that was the result of more energetic intelligence and counter-terrorism work in Pakistan itself and had nothing to do with the counterinsurgency we are fighting next door. U.S. troops have fought courageously and with dedication, and the American people have supported the effort for many years. But we will still have failed because our objectives were ill-chosen from the start, and because the national leadership (and especially the Bush administration) made some horrendous strategic judgments along the way...
Read the rest at Foreign Policy.


  1. I had an inkling that we were going to "lose" Afghanistan--there is nothing to lose in Afghanistan, by the way--back in 2005, when the resurgent Taliban made a comeback. Whichever way you put it, be it overthrowing our Ngo Dinh Diem, Hamid Karzai, or "breathing in a new life" by way of implementing the surge, it does not change the fact that we have already lost that war both strategically and tactically

    In any case, many of America's allies and its foes alike have seen the writing on the wall that say that American style of heartless capitalism, exploitative imperialism backed by its viceroys, proconsuls and troops, and flawed democracy marked by indecision, partisan wrangling, no longer work.

  2. I was on a plane to Canada the day after General Westmoreland died and the obit I read in the comlimentary NYT pointed out that even then, in 2005, he maintained Vietnam was a victory for the US. The historical legacy was down, he always said, to liberal journos and commentators. This dementia has come down to the present day Pentagon. The mission accomplished speeches have been written already for use in Afghanistan and in Iraq we have already heard the Peace Of Obama's Speechwriters. They are, and will be, about as meaningful as General ‘Waste More Land’s delusions. It is obvious that the two invasions and their incompetent pursuit have been a strategic disaster for America and the 'war on terror'. It won't stop the MIC delusionists and shills spinning for all they are worth though.

  3. Afghanistan was "lost" in the 1980s, 90s, after the initial 2001 invasion - and lost in the 1970s after the Pentagon willingly neglected Vietnam's lessons. Afghanistan was a stalemate waiting to happen, and ties usually go to the insurgents. America broke Sun Tzu's rule of only fighting wars that can be won. Both Afghanistan and Iraq were victims of horrific strategic planning and ignorance.

    I agree that many foreign observers see the flaws within U.S. hegemony, but unfortunately this strategy is being cast across the Arab Spring and into the mid/long-term future. What can stop it if not mass uprisings? Doesn't look like Americans can.