Afghanistan Was Always a Forever War. War Hawks Just Didn't Admit It.

Whether by accident or design, the U.S. boxed itself into a choice between endless conflict or embarrassing retreat.

TLDR: There’s a lot to the Afghanistan discourse, but we’re narrowing on a few points today:

  • Whether realized or not, the U.S. Afghanistan strategy was always a Forever War.

  • Forever Wars can only be won with complete colonization, an outcome few want.

  • It’s imperative we learn this lesson to avoid repeating the Afghanistan mistake.

Fair warning — we usually keep things light and cheeky, but not with this post.

While the full consequences of the U.S occupation of Afghanistan won’t come to light for decades, the American withdrawal highlights the inherent fault in the coalition strategy: from its inception, the U.S. presence in Afghanistan was a Forever War.

A popular term in anti-war circles, “Forever War” is often derided by the pro-war establishment as a childish oversimplification lefties use to sound cool on Twitter.

"We did it (withdraw) in obedience to an imbecilic political slogan about ending ‘the Forever Wars…” said former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair in a piece for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

But as we hear the critiques of the withdrawal from Democrats and Republicans alike, we see that “Forever War” isn’t just a cliche term for placards and hashtags: whether realized or not, America’s success in Afghanistan was contingent on remaining in the country Forever.

“We knew for a while that things in Afghanistan were not looking great. We knew there were questions if the Afghan Army was willing to fight. But it seemed like as long as they had our air support, as long as they had our intelligence, they’d do okay. But Biden yanked the air support, and surprise surprise — when you take the Afghan Army, and they don’t have American air support, these guys (the Afghan Army) fall apart.” Jim Geraghty, National Review’s ‘The Editors Podcast’ - August 18th, 2021

This is the most common defense of maintaining a perpetual presence in Afghanistan. It’s echoed by politicians and take-havers from across the political spectrum. In good faith, the argument goes something like this:

  • U.S. casualties were relatively low (66 in the past 7 years).

  • The minimal presence was enough to support the Afghan Army’s continued success against the Taliban.

  • Only when Biden pulled our troops out, specifically the air support, did the Taliban conquer the country.

Whether these advocates realize it or not, this is an argument for Forever War! 

Either by malicious design or poor foresight, the United States built the Afghan military to function like its own — by relying on American air supremacy. By founding the Afghan military strategy on American airpower, the U.S. boxed itself into a Forever War with only two options:

1. Stay forever, or

2. Leave and let the Taliban take over.

“As long as they had our air support,” said National Review’s senior correspondent, which obviously implies that as soon as the skies were empty the Afghan Army would not be able to “do okay.” If the Afghan forces were only stable due to U.S. supply chains and airpower, then those resources would have had to remain indefinitely to keep the Taliban out of Kabul. As evidenced by the trail of dollar bills spilled during Ashraf Ghani’s mad dash from the Presidential Palace, the U.S.’s state-building was so rotted that the only thing holding the house of cards together was the strong hand of the U.S. military.  

Some say that we wouldn’t have to stay forever, but rather just long enough for the Afghan Government to grow strong enough to ward off the Taliban. Playing this out, if the U.S. occupation continued for another two decades, it would take the Taliban twice as long to conquer the country, bringing the total to a whopping four weeks.

Undoubtedly, if we did withdraw in 2041, the very same Very Serious People would tell us that we only needed a bit more time and a bit more machoism to get the result we wanted.

“We knew for a while that things in Afghanistan were not looking great. We knew there were questions on if the Afghan Army was willing to fight. But it seemed like as long as they had our air support, as long as they had our intelligence, they could do okay. But Buttigieg yanked the air support, and surprise surprise — when you take the Afghan Army, and they don’t have American air support, these guys (the Afghan Army) fall apart.” Jim Geraghty, National Review’s ‘The Editors’ Virtual-Cast - August 18th, 2041 (Probably.)

It didn’t have to be this way.

The U.S. should’ve accepted the Taliban’s surrender in 2001. Biden accusing Afghan soldiers of cowardice was as disgusting as it was untrue. Intelligence agencies grossly overstated the Afghan Army’s abilities, but even if they’d been correct the withdrawal was always going to be a disaster. Obama’s surge was perplexing. The U.S. shouldn’t have sought to state build, but rather limited itself to a police mission of bringing a murderer to justice. We should’ve guarded against mission creep. We shouldn’t have pulled resources from Afghanistan to Iraq. 

This woulda’, coulda’, shoulda’, could go for eternity and we’d still be no better off. What’s important is reconciling with the fact that the Afghanistan War was only going to be “won” if the U.S. occupied the country Forever and eventually colonized it into the American protectorate with a status similar to Puerto Rico and Guam. Learning this lesson (which we failed to do after Vietnam) will guide American foreign policy to a more measured, realistic doctrine that avoids unwinnable conflicts, curtails mission creep, and saves lives, non-Americans and Americans alike. Failing to do so will only compound our mistakes.

If this is your first time reading JoeWrote, I apologize for the heavy-handedness, but the U.S. occupation shan’t be made light of. I encourage you to subscribe so you can get a taste of our typical jovial tone next week. As always, feel free to suggest topics or yell at me on Twitter.