Then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said it: “We are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave.”
That explains why we haven’t been able to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan after all these years: there is nothing going on there that will provide any stability, and there will not be, so apparently the State Department establishment wants us to stay there until the end of time.
In reality, the new revelations in the Washington Post make it clearer than ever that it is long past time to end the fool’s errand in Afghanistan. Michael Brendan Dougherty sums it up in National Review: “The more troubling revelation in the Post’s story was that multiple presidents and generals had lied elaborately to the public about the war, pretending it was going well even though they’d privately concluded that our objectives were contradictory and our strategy was a mess. Worse yet was the lying they did to themselves, creating endless color-coded metrics and then manipulating the data that was measured by them.”
An Army colonel who served as a senior adviser on Afghanistan during the Obama administration explained: “Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible. Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”
Although the Post’s revelations are being treated as if they were explosive, they’re really nothing new. It has been obvious for a considerable period that no one knows what to do about Afghanistan, even as authorities put the best possible face on the proceedings. The former chief of NATO forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, was asked a year ago what the U.S. should do in Afghanistan now. McChrystal responded:
I don’t know. I wish I did … If we pull out and people like al-Qaeda go back, it’s unacceptable for any political administration in the [United States]. It would just be disastrous, and it would be a pain for us. If we put more troops in there and we fight forever, that’s not a good outcome either. I’m not sure what [is] the right answer. My best suggestion is to keep a limited number of forces there and just kind of muddle along and see what we can do.
McChrystal was not alone. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford, said much the same thing at that time:
Were we not to put the pressure on Al-Qaeda, ISIS and other groups in the region we are putting on today, it is our assessment that, in a period of time their capability would reconstitute, and they have today the intent, and in the future, they would have the capability to do what we saw on 9/11.
Dunford added: “If someone has a better idea than we have right now, which is to continue to support the Afghans and continue to put pressure on those terrorist groups in the region, I am certainly open to a dialogue on that.”
Right. But the fact is that al-Qaeda and the Taliban and the Islamic State are in Afghanistan, and just biding their time until we leave. Are we going to stay there until the end of time? What we should do is pull out and adopt a strategy modeled after the old containment strategy that was used in the Cold War. I’ve harshly criticized the foreign policy establishment for retaining old Cold War paradigms and failing to adapt to the new realities of the world, particularly the resurgent jihad, but in this case, the wonks would do well to revisit some Cold War history.
What would be contained today would be jihadis: we would focus our efforts on preventing them from ever leaving Afghanistan and sowing mayhem anywhere else, while giving up our quixotic aspirations of Wilsonian nation-building. Accompany that with a robust and unapologetic affirmation of American values (freedom of speech, equality of rights of women, etc.) instead of the support we have given to Sharia in Afghanistan (and previously in Iraq), and an honest acknowledgment of the motivating ideology behind jihad activity, and we might actually start getting somewhere.
But none of this is likely to be done. And meanwhile “green-on-blue” attacks, in which a member of the American military is murdered by someone who was supposed to be on his side, continue to occur with dreary regularity. One of the elements of the establishment media’s rap sheet on me, which supposedly establishes that I’m a bigoted “Islamophobe,” is that I’ve said that there is no reliable way to distinguish jihadis from peaceful Muslims, because peaceful Muslims have not made any particular effort to separate jihadis from their communities. Yet these ongoing insider attacks in Afghanistan prove me correct. These murders keep happening because there is no reliable way to distinguish an Afghan Muslim who supports American troops from one who wants to murder them, and political correctness prevents authorities from making any attempt to do so anyway, because it would suggest that Islam is not a Religion of Peace. And so ever more U.S. troops are sacrificed to this madness.
The fool’s errand in Afghanistan has no goal, no endpoint, no definition of victory. It should have been ended years ago, and should be ended now. What are we fighting for at this point, anyway? The Taliban are never going to surrender. American forces have supervised the implementation of an Afghan constitution that enshrined Islamic law as the highest law of the land. Yet Islamic law is nothing like the democratic principles that we went into Afghanistan to defend (over here) and establish (over there). Sharia institutionalizes the oppression of women and non-Muslims, extinguishes freedom of speech, and denies the freedom of conscience.
Was that what we were fighting for?
Nonetheless, America continued to pour out her blood and treasure for this repressive state, with no clear objective or mission in view other than a never-defined “victory.” No one has defined what victory would look like in Afghanistan. What could it possibly look like? Has the Ghani regime ever allowed women to throw off their burqas and take their place in Afghan society as human beings equal in dignity to men? Does the Ghani government, or any Afghan government that would follow it, ever intend to guarantee basic human rights to the tiny and ever-dwindling number of non-Muslims unfortunate enough to live within its borders? Of course not.
And no matter how long American troops stay in Afghanistan, no Afghan regime is ever going to do such things. But nonetheless, we remain there. Muddling along is the order of the day.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is The Palestinian Delusion: The Catastrophic History of the Middle East Peace Process. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.