Wrong Lessons from the Afghanistan Debacle and Defeat

by | Jul 27, 2021


Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, interventionists are not learning the real lessons in their defeat in Afghanistan. Instead, they are coming up with all sorts of reasons as to why their Afghanistan intervention turned out to be such a big debacle. They say that they’ve learned how to do better with future interventions.

One of the favorite lessons they have learned from this fiasco is encapsulated in the phrase “forever wars.” Some interventionists now say that converting the Afghanistan war into a “forever war” was the big mistake. They say that what they should have been done is just invade, quickly capture or kill Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda, and quickly oust the Taliban regime and replace it with a pro-US regime. Then, quickly get out. No “forever war.”

What these interventionists fail to realize is that that is precisely what President George W. Bush wanted to do. Convinced that US military forces had accomplished their mission (well, except for capturing and killing bin Laden), Bush quickly turned his sights toward Iraq, where he aimed to do what his father had failed to do during the Persian Gulf intervention — oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power and replace him with a pro-US regime.

Now, let’s imagine that Bush had done what interventionists now favor — initiated a quick in-and-out intervention in Afghanistan. Wouldn’t the Taliban quickly have gone on the offensive against the new US-installed puppet regime? If the Taliban had quickly retaken power, then what would have been the point of the intervention, especially given that it had not succeeded in taking out bin Laden? The whole reason that US forces had to stay in Afghanistan and make this a “forever war” was to prevent the Taliban from reversing the regime change that the intervention had achieved.

Another lesson that interventionists are saying they’ve learned is that from now on interventions should take place only when they are in “our national interest.”

But that’s really no lesson at all, given that the president, the Pentagon, and the CIA are the ones deciding what it in “our national interest.” When Bush, the Pentagon, and the CIA decided to invade Afghanistan — and, for that matter, Iraq — they had concluded that doing so was in “our national interest.” In the future, whenever any president and the national-security establishment decide to initiate a new intervention, you can rest assured that they will inevitably believe that doing so is in “our national interest.”

Thus, claiming that from now on interventions should only take place when they are in “our national interests” is no lesson at all. It’s just fancy verbiage to justify a continuation of interventionism.

Some interventionists, not surprisingly, want US forces to remain in Afghanistan. They can’t stand the prospect of another defeat akin to the one that the Pentagon and the CIA suffered in Vietnam. They want this to be a true “forever war,’ not only to keep the Afghanistan puppet regime in power, no matter how crooked and corrupt it might be, but also so that the United States won’t “lose face” with another defeat similar to the one in Vietnam.

Of course, these armchair warriors are not the ones who will be ordered to kill and die to achieve these ignominious goals. Instead, it will be US soldiers who will be expected to kill and die for nothing. Armchair warriors are always very brave and cavalier when it comes to sacrificing the lives of US soldiers for worthless causes.

These pro-forever-war interventionists cite another reason for having US forces remain permanently occupying Afghanistan. They say that if the Taliban regain power, they will re-convert the country to an anti-American terrorist haven.

But these pro-forever-war interventionists ignore the real lesson of the Afghanistan debacle and defeat.

That lesson is that it was foreign interventionism that gave rise to anti-American terrorism in the first place. It was US interventionism prior to the 9/11 attacks that gave rise to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And for that matter it was US interventionism that gave rise to the pre-9/11 terrorist attacks, such as the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and the attack on the USS Cole.

In other words, the real lesson to be learned in the Afghanistan debacle and defeat is the failure of interventionism. This is what interventionists just don’t get. It is not dumb interventionism that is the problem. It is interventionism itself that is the problem. No more interventionism would mean no more anti-American terrorism and, therefore, no more need for more interventionism to deal with anti-American terrorism.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.


  • Jacob G. Hornberger

    Jacob George Hornberger is an American attorney, author, and politician who was a Libertarian candidate for president in 2000 and 2020. He is the founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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