Foreign Policy Digital

Critics Should Stop Declaring Defeat in Afghanistan

The war is not yet over and its outcome is not yet certain.

One thing has been consistent throughout the long war in Afghanistan: critics’ insistence that the United States has lost it. The United States may indeed lose the war, but if it does, some small part of that will be due to critics who advocated withdrawal based on a false belief from the start of the campaign that it was an unwinnable, lost cause. Nothing in history is inevitable, but the critics’ presumption of knowing in advance how the war would end led to the natural conclusion that the United States should leave—which is the essential condition of defeat.

Most recently, Jason Dempsey, the author of Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations, in the headline of a piece for War on the Rocks called for holding the U.S. military accountable for “America’s undeniable failure in Afghanistan.” Dempsey’s verdict on the war has a long pedigree. The New York Times ran a news analysis piece, “A Military Quagmire Remembered: Afghanistan as Vietnam,” on Oct. 31, 2001, three weeks after the Afghanistan War started. Days before the liberation of Kabul in November of the same year, the international relations scholar John Mearsheimer warned that the United States and its Afghan allies were “losing ground.” In May 2004, the New York Times ran the headline “NATO Flirts With Failure in Afghanistan.” The political scientist Barnett Rubin warned in 2007 that Afghanistan could be “sliding into chaos.”

Astri Suhrke published a about the failure of the international project in Afghanistan—in 2011. Former Ambassador to India Robert Blackwill earlier that year that it was time for “Plan B,” because “the Taliban in 2013 that the United States had little choice but to cut a deal with the Taliban, withdraw abruptly, or risk “losing expensively.” In 2016, Andrew Shaver and Joshua Madrigal in that “decisive victory over the Taliban is not possible.”

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