American forces invaded Afghanistan more than nine years ago, and we still don’t know whom we’re fighting. It’s hard to know who did the better job of playing us for fools a few weeks ago - the Afghan who passed himself off as the “moderate” Taliban leader, who was rewarded with American cash for his performance, or Hamid Karzai. All we can know at this point is that 150,000 U.S. and allied troops along with an equal number of civilian contractors are propping up a narco state in Kabul flush with cash from the opium trade and U.S. taxpayers.
Naturally, the four-stars in the Pentagon are in no hurry to deliver the bad news; the expensive and open-ended program of nation-building through counterinsurgency is irrelevant to the goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating what little remains of al Qaeda living in the splendid isolation of northwestern Pakistan. Instead, it’s easier to tell American troops they are breaking the Taliban, a breathtakingly irrelevant statement, fully the equal of “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten edifice will collapse” or “Mission accomplished.”
No one in Washington is worried. Americans have short memories. The roads to Kabul and Baghdad were always paved with good intentions. Portrayed uncritically in the media as the means to win the hearts and minds of Muslim Arabs and Afghans through “good works,” the false promise of nation-building through counterinsurgency made it hard for American politicians of both parties to defund the interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Timelines for the emergence of a new, utopian republic on Iraqi soil were constructed with similar precision, only for us to watch as a succession of four-star Army generals replaced Iraq’s secular, power-hungry Sunni Muslim Arab rulers with Iranian-allied Shiite Arab Islamists. Far from establishing a U.S.-friendly Iraqi government in Baghdad, as revealed in several of the confidential State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, counterinsurgency in Iraq turned out to be an expensive “Trojan horse” for nation-building, one that installed Iran’s allies in power.
With the lion’s share of Iraq’s southern oil fields in Chinese hands and the Kurdish nationalists determined to control the country’s largest oil reserves, more fighting in Iraq is inevitable. This sort of thing would almost be funny, in an insane sort of way, if such military leadership did not result in the pointless loss of American lives, undermine American strategic interests and erode the security and prosperity of the American people - the things the nation’s four-stars are sworn to defend.
Fortunately, conditions are changing. When it comes down to a choice of spending trillions of American tax dollars to economically transform and police hostile Muslim societies with dysfunctional cultures or funding Medicare and Medicaid, entitlements will win, and the interventions will end.
When the budget ax falls, many inconvenient facts will come to light, unmasking the great deception that America confronted a serious military threat in the aftermath of Sept. 11, a deception promoted and fostered by politicians and ambitious generals who sought to gain from it. It will horrify and discourage Americans to learn we’ve bankrupted ourselves in a fight that always was analogous to clubbing baby seals. From 2001 onward, we never confronted armies, air forces or capable air defenses. Bottom line: There was no existential military threat to the United States or its NATO allies emanating from Afghanistan or the Middle East. There is none today.
It’s too soon to tell, but reductions in defense spending may demonstrate that it’s far less expensive to protect the United States from Islamist terrorism as well as the criminality flooding in from Mexico and Latin America by controlling our borders and immigration. We must, however, stop wasting American blood and treasure on misguided military interventions designed to drag Muslim Arabs and Afghans through the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution in the space of a few years, at gunpoint. They will have to do these things themselves.
For the time being, no one will say these things. It’s easier to go, in Winston Churchill’s words, “from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm” and nurture the money flow to Washington.
Retired Col. Douglas Macgregor, a decorated combat veteran, is executive vice president of Burke-Macgregor Group. His newest book, “Warrior’s Rage,” was published by Naval Institute Press.