Delusions of a War Hawk

We didn’t “lose” in Afghanistan. We “not-won.” Or something.


Former national security adviser John Bolton insisted on Friday that the United States had not lost the war in Afghanistan while criticizing President Joe Biden’s order for a full military withdrawal from the country.

It was the US’ longest-running war and it was a war-crime all along. If you recall, the reason for the whole thing was because the Taliban would not turn Osama Bin Laden over to the US Government. The Taliban, the “duly constituted government of Afghanistan” (AKA: the guys with the guns who run things) said they wouldn’t turn Bin Laden over because they didn’t know where he was. It turned out that, at the time, nobody knew where Bin Laden was. The Taliban’s response was not exactly unreasonable but it wasn’t accompanied with enough kowtowing. There probably wasn’t a sufficient amount of kowtowing that would have made the US return to diplomacy instead of military force, but nobody knew where Bin Laden was. It turned out that he was hiding out in Tora Bora enroute to Pakistan, and walked right past US special forces that were in the country trying to catch him.

The whole thing could have been avoided if the US forces had simply done their job, failed, and left but instead the decision was made to knock the entire country over and turn it into a little satrapy. What’s crazy is that there were already US special forces and CIA in the area, hunting for Bin Laden – they could have simply bypassed talking to the Taliban at all. But, no. Remember, at the time, the US was listening to jackasses who were trying to sell a sort of inverse “domino effect” theory: if one pseudodemocracy was set up in the Middle East, all the neighboring dictatorships would somehow shrug and become pseudodemocracies, too, because they want Starbucks, or something. The idea is daft, if you phrase it accurately. A “domino effect” of conquest is a very different thing from nation-building and the “domino effect” was never real, anyway.

“We weren’t defeated,” Bolton told CNN in an interview. “You have to be defeated to lose a war. We’ve given up because we’ve lost patience. That’s a sad commentary about the current administration, but it’s not a defeat for the United States.”

Giving up because you lost patience is a defeat. You know, the Germans in WWI lost patience with trench warfare and, uh, how does that work, Bolton? Did you notice that his “we were defeated at home” argument is remarkably similar to Hitler’s “Germany was betrayed” ideology?

Meanwhile, the Taliban has continued to make rapid gains across Afghanistan, claiming last Friday that it had seized 85 percent of the country’s territory. Western officials have warned that the U.S.-backed Afghan government in Kabul could soon fall.

Of course it’s going to fall. The US spent billions of dollars building a corrupt upper class for Afghanistan – a political structure that could not survive. What does anyone expect? The Taliban took over after the Soviet Union left, because it was hard to build a stable, uncorrupt government in Afghanistan. Before planning “nation building” US war-hawks ought to carefully assess whether a country actually wants to upgrade to a modern, functioning, pseudodemocracy with Starbucks and everything. Anyone with a brain would have looked at Afghanistan’s historical culture of corruption and thought, “maybe we should try to civilize Texas, instead.” [also not likely to work]

In arguing for a continued American military presence in Afghanistan, Bolton acknowledged he did not think a terrorist attack against the U.S. “is going to come the day after Taliban takes back over.”

“I do think it’s going to take more time, and that’s really what the risk is,” he said. “I would rather defend innocent American civilians there than in the streets and the skies over America.”

But, wait – warhawks like Bolton were the ones who were talking up the “terrorism schools” (like the School of The Americas) that were operating in Afghanistan. Never mind that, when the US military took them over and investigated them, they were less built-out than your typical American right wing gun nuts’ training camps. They were, basically, a shooting range and some tents. That is what the US managed to conquer, in addition to destroying the agricultural life of Afghanistan, which forced the locals to turn to quicker, more profitable crops. Bolton doesn’t understand what risk is. Why is the media still even talking to that imbecile?

Remember: all of that was an extended police action. The US could have checked out Tora Bora and left but instead they stayed to conquer and build a new imperial base. Meanwhile, the idiots in Washington are poor-mouthing about the budget, “we don’t have any money…” Well, maybe we could have saved ourselves the whole Afghanistan thing, which obviously was never going to work, and was a sump for lives and money.

We came in second.

------ divider ------

PS – Nietzsche called and said he wants his mustache back.

Yes, I know that the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, mostly, and that US intelligence knew that the 9/11 op was run from Pakistan. The problem with Pakistan is they have nuclear weapons, so there was no way to overturn their dictatorship without a serious fight.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    … at the time, nobody knew where Bin Laden was.

    As I vaguely recall, Mullah Omar & Co. said something about OBL being their guest, implying they could reach out and touch him at will. I thought then (but have to reconsider, in light of this [unsourced] claim) that a Pushtun-fluent CIA agent with a duffel bag full of hard cash could’ve quickly acquired Osama BL wrapped up in a pretty green ribbon – except that Cheney and his puppet wanted an “easily” gobbled-up land base bordering Iran, China, and other Central Asian future targets.

    The problem with Pakistan is they have nuclear weapons…

    AND a non-trivial ally of some note (go north from Islamabad, hang a right at Nuristan, can’t miss it), even then capable of serious disruption.

  2. JM says

    My view on this is that the US didn’t lose the war, we lost the occupation. This is something that war hawks throughout history have failed to understand. A small superior military force can move in and destroy the current government of a small state fairly easily. Occupying a country is actually harder then the war phase for a couple of reasons. You can’t skimp on the size of the army because you need enough to spread across the country, you need to invest your own money in rebuilding and developing the country your occupying, you need to treat the population with respect, you need to pick the right locals to put in power and you need to have a plan for 10+ years down the road.
    Historically picking the right people to put in power has been the hardest part for the US. You need people willing to work with you but not so corrupt or violent they wreck the country. The US didn’t want to work with non-corrupt locals that wanted a more modern country. They expected the US to finish off the Taliban, rebuild the country* and treating the citizens with respect. The US was looking for a puppet that would focus on keeping the locals under control and provide military bases to the US close to various hostiles in the region.

    * A bunch of publicity projects were done but not the important background work. The US could have done more to cut of the Taliban by rebuilding the farming trade system that gave local farmers something profitable to grow other then heroin but that was expensive and didn’t help the US use Afghanistan.

  3. jrkrideau says

    I believe that the Taliban said that they would turn Bin Laden & crew over to an Islamic state as long as the USA provided decent evidence against them before the US invaded. The USA did not this. It attacked.

    As far as I can see the Taliban were horrified at the 9/11 attack because they could see that this was a pretext for invasion. They would have been delighted to throw Bin Laden to the US, given the slightest face-saving excuse.

    @ 1 Pierce R. Butler
    Mullah Omar & Co. said something about OBL being their guest, implying they could reach out and touch him at will.

    This was probably quite true til the invasion started. After that, there was probably close to total chaos and Bin Laden was smart enough to disappear.

  4. Allison says

    It seems to me that people are ascribing more intelligence and realism to the USA war-makers than they actually evidence. Based on how the USA has conducted every war since the Korean War, I think most of them still have the fantasy that since the USA has more bombs and fancy weapons than anyone else, they don’t need to actually know what they are doing. It was obvious from the beginning that the Taliban would be “defeated” only until the USA got tired and pulled out, and then they would take over the country again. Just like when the USSR was trying to conquer them.

    Actually, it wasn’t clear what the actual goal of the war was in the first place. The stated goals, to the extent any goals were stated, were contradictory and ill-defined and changed from day to day or hour to hour. Not surprising, since USA “policy” is the collection of the decisions by various decision- and policy-makers in the US government, who don’t all have the same goals or the same view of reality and are often pursuing conflicting agendas.

  5. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 Allison

    Please! Intelligence & realism are not terms I would apply to US war planners. Hubris, ignorance and incompetence, perhaps. Oh, and dishonesty of course though sometimes it is difficult to separate this from abject ignorance.

  6. mailliw says

    An Afghani friend says the Taliban are all Pakistanis and Saudis rather than Afghanis

    He also said that thanks to the Soviets he had had the opportunity to study medicine in Czechoslovakia.

    He told me the story about an uncle of his who kept complaining about a field of his that was full of weeds. The next time he went back the uncle had built a new house – his uncle said some crazy guy bought his field full of weeds for 20,000 dollars.

    If having a democracy in the Middle East was going to encourage other countries there to become democracies, then why did the British and US overthrow Mosaddegh’s democratically elected government in Iran and replace it with the Shah’s dictatorship? Could it be because the UK and US are in favour of democracy unless it happens to interfere with the business interests of BP and Exxon Mobil?

  7. lorn says

    1) Observe the emotional involvements. W was never deeply committed to Afghanistan emotionally. Yes, they had been a/the base of Taliban/OBL operations, not the same thing but linked, reasons, so we were going to hunt OBL and disrupt the Taliban. Early on, in large part because we decided to put an Afghan face on it, largely by renting third-rate troops at top-shelf prices from local warlords, we did a poor job. Tora Bora could have been surrounded in a day and liquidated at leisure. As it was rented fighters, and interpreters, with loyalties to their warlord, who were selling information and their ability to slow-walk maneuvers and leave gaps to the Taliban meant the area was never contained. OBL and senior leadership slipped into Pakistan. Military leadership charged with Afghanistan warned of this sort of thing but by the time the administration was convinced it was too late.

    2) In part the administration was careless in Afghanistan because W wasn’t really focused on Afghanistan. W was pushing the peas around the plate thinking about desert. In this case, his plan to show papa Bush his worthiness by finishing off Saddam. A job left incomplete by H. Of course there was also the heroic aspect of payback for SH sending a hit-team to get H.

    Effectively chasing two rabbits neither plan worked. Plans to get OBL were half-assed. They did punish the Taliban and ended up killing some of their leadership. OBL slipped away and the Taliban would be given plenty of time to reorganize around more ruthless and bloodthirsty leaders.

    Having failed in Afghanistan W moved quickly to Iraq. A big finish that would be so successful that everyone would forget the failures. It would be an ideological proof of the power and practical effectiveness of all the core conservative concepts. The neocons, libertarians, free-market purity folks, trickle-down believers, every-man-an-investor theorists would have their way and a blank slate to draw on.

    It all utterly failed. Iraq would have a stock market before it had a stable currency. Legal protections of property right for millionaires before anyone had running water. The organization of Iraqi courts would be locked in on paper. Judges were assassinated faster than they could be appointed and the only laws were at the point of guns controlled by warlords but it sure did look good on paper.

    Ironically, the US corporations felt obliged to work through the official channels so early on they lost out to European corporations who sidestepped the Emerald City and went directly to the warlords who really ran things.

    In both Iraq and Afghanistan the locals knew the drill. In the end the US, like all the other great powers, would tire of the fight and move on. Few would have thought it would take so long . Over twenty years. Trillions in cash. Thousands of US lives and hundreds of thousands of Afghanistan and Iraqi lives. They were right. We had all the watches and they had all the time.

Leave a Reply