America’s top general in Afghanistan, Austin S. Miller, is deeply worried that the United States has lost the war in that region—and he knows best because he’s on the scene. In a recent conversation with journalists in Kabul, Miller declared, “A civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized if this continues on the trajectory it’s on right now.”
But even this grim assessment is optimistic. The real danger isn’t of a divided Afghanistan, with rival tribes competing for power and dominance, but rather a nation completely taken over by the Taliban. Taliban fighters have been overrunning districts in quick succession, not merely in the middle and southern part of the country, where they’ve always been strong, but even in the north, where the Tajiks and other rival tribes have traditionally been dominant.
What this means is that a full U.S. withdrawal, of the sort originally planned by Donald Trump and now being carried out by Joe Biden, almost certainly means a Taliban return to power. The Taliban are the strongest power over there, and both parties in this country are now in favor of bringing the troops home. America became militarily involved in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11, to expel the group that hosted the 9/11 hijackers, so the return to power of that very group two decades later must be viewed as a serious foreign policy defeat for the United States.
“The future will tell the rest of the story,” Miller said. “What we will have to do is make an honest assessment of what went well and what didn’t go so well over the years.”
Here I’d like to offer that brief, candid assessment. My argument is that 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. Some called it the “democracy project.” Powell memorably said that U.S. policy toward Afghanistan should resemble the policy of a curio store. “If you break it, you own it.” Supposedly, America was “breaking” Afghanistan by ejecting its ruling powers, and therefore America now had the responsibility to put Afghanistan together again.
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.
I’m originally from India, and the British, who ruled India for nearly 200 years, never had the illusion that they could somehow “remake” the Indian people. Apart from outlawing one or two egregiously barbaric practices, the British left the whole structure of Indian life largely intact. They didn’t interfere with ancient village modes of governance. One writer wryly observed that the British did nothing to change the Indian caste system except to install themselves at the top of it.
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.
Dinesh D’Souza is an author, filmmaker, and daily host of the Dinesh D’Souza podcast.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.