Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan
© 2017 Scott Horton
Incredible as it sounds, it is nearly possible for a child conceived in the first week of the US invasion of Afghanistan to have come of age and deploy there himself. He’s out there now, a sixteen or seventeen- year old waiting for the day when he can fight in his father’s war. The Afghanistan war is an odd one — the United States’ longest war, yes, but one of its least-cared about: not popular yet not protested. Americans just don’t seem to care about the trillions of dollars burned under the shadow of the Hindu Kush mountains, the thousands of American soldiers killed, or the hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians killed in attempts to destroy the nebulous enemy. Fool’s Errand is a case not just against the war, but against apathy. This war was badly conceived, badly executed, and maintained as a litany of errors, one feeding the fire that the initial invasion intended to squelch. The United States will leave Afghanistan eventually, and the area will collapse into civil war eventually. The only question is how many more lives will be ruined and how many more enemies DC will create in its belabored efforts to fight a hangover by hailing the hair of the dog.
They hate us for our freedoms, the president said as American troops marched into Afghanistan, and the wound of 9/11 was still too raw for anyone to question the claim. 9/11 was barbaric and unconscionable and to posit that it was done as a reaction to DCs own policy in the middle east would have seemed like an insult to the innocent slain – even though bin laden and al-Queda’s hatred for the American troops parked in Arab countries, used as bases to constantly bomb Arab citizens, was well documented. Even as the United States moved toward Afghanistan with an objective of overthrowing the Taliban that had given bin Laden shelter, the war was not inevitable: the rulers of Afghanistan then were willing to give bin Laden up, given to a US ally, but the administration in its heated desire for revenge had no interest in doing anything deliberately. Instead, American men and material were thrown into the same grave that claimed the armies of Alexander, the Brits, and the Russians. Homo sapiens is a misnomer.
From there the misery continues: having destroyed the old order, as disagreeable as it was, DC fumbled repeatedly in attempts to create a new one. It created an effective civil war in the country in its use of one pliable-but-despised tribe to do the governing, and through the breakdown of social order rose the criminal chaos that the Taliban had largely arrested by imposing its own illiberal order. Oddly, people object to being invaded and bombed, and a relatively small number of scattered al-Queda fighters grew into a native resistance — and the more bombs that fell, the more lives destroyed in an attempt to get the bad guys, the more enraged and distressed men picked up guns and started fighting. Money gone to train Afghanis to defend their “country” disappeared with the trained troops, who had little real interest in fighting their neighbor insurgents. The chaos spread across the region as DC tried to intervene in other regimes, and the “war on terror” became a sustained nightmare of bombs for those on the ground, creating new lifetimes of American enemies in the middle east. Osama bin Laden, hiding comfortably, could bask behind his own MISSION ACCMPLISHED banner: he wanted to draw the Americans into an unwinnable war, and they drove straight into the minefield. (And he’s not the only enemy DC effectively helped: the Islamic Republic of Iran was once surrounded by armed Sunni states; now those rivals are ruined and Iran has much more influence over the region, to the despair of DC’s partners in crime, the House of Saud.)
Depressing and infuriating, Fool’s Errand tells a full story. There’s the military history of the invasion and growing insurgency, followed by futile attempts to squelch it, but Horton also dips into the politics of the region and of DC, showing how the anti-war aims of Obama were frustrated by inertia and the fact that the DC establishment — the bureaucrats, the lobbyists, and the defense and intelligence contractors who are guaranteed work — has no interest in bowing to history just yet. They’ll keep sending other people’s children to die and burning other people’s money.
The author’s podcast, featuring over four thousand interviews with foreign policy analysts, dating to 2003.