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Is Afghanistan a Lost Cause?

“We are there and we are committed” was the regular retort of Secretary of State Dean Rusk during the war in Vietnam.

Whatever you may think of our decision to go in, Rusk was saying, if we walk away, the United States loses the first war in its history, with all that means for Southeast Asia and America’s position in the world.

We face a similar moment of decision.

Wednesday, a truck bomb exploded near the diplomatic quarter of Kabul, killing 90 and wounding 460. So terrible was the atrocity that the Taliban denied complicity. It is believed to have been the work of the Haqqani network.

This “horrific and shameful attack demonstrates these terrorists’ compete disregard for human life and their nihilistic opposition to the dream of a peaceful future for Afghanistan,” said Hugo Llordens, a U.S. diplomat in Kabul.

The message the truck bombers sent to the Afghan people? Not even in the heart of this capital can your government keep civilian workers and its own employees safe.

Message to America: After investing hundreds of billions and 2,000 U.S. lives in the 15 years since 9/11, we are further from victory than we have ever been.

President Obama, believing Afghanistan was the right war, and Iraq the wrong war, ramped up the U.S. presence in 2011 to 100,000 troops. His plan: Cripple the Taliban, train the Afghan army and security forces, stabilize the government, and withdraw American forces by the end of his second term.


Obama fell short, leaving President Trump with 8,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and Kabul’s control more tenuous than ever. The Taliban hold more territory and are active in more provinces than they have been since being driven from power in 2001. And Afghan forces are suffering casualties at the highest rate of the war.

Stated starkly, the war in Afghanistan is slowly being lost.

Indeed, Trump has inherited what seems to be an unwinnable war, if he is not prepared to send a new U.S. army to block the Taliban from taking power. And it is hard to believe that the American people would approve of any large reintroduction of U.S. forces.

The U.S. commander there, Gen. John Nicholson, has requested at least 3,000 more U.S. troops to train the Afghan army and stabilize the country while seeking a negotiated end to the war.

Trump’s conundrum: 3,000 or 5,000 more U.S. troops can at best help the Afghan security forces sustain the present stalemate.

But if we could not defeat the Taliban with 100,000 U.S. troops in country in 2011, we are not going to defeat a stronger Taliban with a U.S. force one-seventh of that size. And if a guerrilla army does not lose, it wins.

Yet it is hard to see how Trump can refuse to send more troops. If he says we have invested enough blood and treasure, the handwriting will be on the wall. Reports that both Russia and Iran are already talking to the Taliban suggest that they see a Taliban takeover as inevitable.

Should Trump announce any timetable for withdrawal, it would send shock waves through the Afghan government, army and society.

Any awareness that their great superpower ally was departing, now or soon, or refusing to invest more after 15 years, would be a psychological blow from which President Ashraf Ghani’s government might not recover.

What would a Taliban victory mean?

The Afghan people, especially those who cast their lot with us, could undergo something like what befell the South Vietnamese and Cambodians in 1975. It would be a defeat for us almost as far-reaching as was the defeat for the Soviet Union, when the Red Army was forced to pull out after a decade of war in the 1980s.

For the USSR, that Afghan defeat proved a near-fatal blow.

And if we pulled up stakes and departed, the exodus from Afghanistan would be huge and we would face a moral crisis of how many refugees we would accept, and how many we would leave behind to their fate.

Fifteen years ago, some of us argued that an attempt to remake Afghanistan and Iraq in our image was utopian folly, almost certain, given the history and culture of the entire region, to fail.

Yet we plunged in.

In 2001, it was Afghanistan. In 2003, we invaded and occupied Iraq. Then we attacked Libya and ousted Gadhafi. Then we intervened in Syria. Then we backed the Saudi war to crush the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Given the trillions sunk and lost, and the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, dead, how have we benefited ourselves, or these peoples?

As Rusk said, “We are there and we are committed.”

And the inevitable departure of the United States from the Middle East, which is coming, just as the British, French and Soviet empires had to depart, will likely do lasting damage to the American soul.

Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of a new book, Nixon’s White House Wars: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever.

36 Comments (Open | Close)

36 Comments To "Is Afghanistan a Lost Cause?"

#1 Comment By Kurt Gayle On June 2, 2017 @ 12:43 am

“…If we could not defeat the Taliban with 100,000 U.S. troops in country in 2011, we are not going to defeat a stronger Taliban with a U.S. force one-seventh of that size.”

The US should get out of Afghanistan!

#2 Comment By Joe Beavers On June 2, 2017 @ 1:30 am

Well said.

#3 Comment By Chris in Appalachia On June 2, 2017 @ 8:13 am

“…the dream of a peaceful future for Afghanistan.”

Because that is exactly what it is – a dream. A pipe dream.

If it ever does happen, it won’t be at the gunpoint of Western powers.

#4 Comment By Ray On June 2, 2017 @ 8:44 am

Although I served in Afghanistan and lost friends there, as a professional soldier I have long believed that the west is doing lasting harm to its own interests every day that we have troops there.

The fact is that the west has no significant interest in Afghanistan at all. The 2002 invasion sought to eject Al Qaeda and largely succeeded within a couple of months. In any case, the terrorists simply moved elsewhere. They don’t need Afghanistan any more than we do.

But much worse than serving no significant interest in its own right, the war in Afghanistan, and especially the presence of western troops, undermines a very important strategic interest – the stability of Pakistan.

Pakistan is an unstable, Sunni Muslim nuclear state. It is in the vital interests of the west that the state not be captured by ISIS-like Salafist extremists who, in the worst case, would make Pakistani nuclear weapons available to terrorists. Yet the war in Afghanistan has weakened the central government, strengthened the jihadists, encouraged radicalization in the armed forces, and fostered anti-western and anti-American attitudes among the population.

By virtue of its nuclear weapons, Pakistan is the most important state in the Muslim world. By virtue of its instability, it is the most dangerous. Far more dangerous than say, a nuclear armed (but stable) Iran would be.

I suggest that every action the United States takes or considers in the region should begin with the question: How will this affect the stability of Pakistan? In the case of Afghanistan the answer is easy: The war degrades Pakistani stability and should therefore be ended.

#5 Comment By jk On June 2, 2017 @ 9:37 am

We still haven’t avenged against Great Britain and Canada for the humiliation of the war of 1812.

#6 Comment By Philip Martin On June 2, 2017 @ 10:03 am

Mr. Buchanan, a sober and realistic assessment, for which I am thankful. Although I don’t fully subscribe to our President’s “America First” plan, withdrawing from Afghanistan would end significant and unnecessary carnage. How many public clinics and hospitals could have been instituted, how many road and bridges replaced, how many airports and miles of RR track modernized, with the money spent in this futile war? Expand outward to encompass all our mid-east adventures, post 1990-1991 (the first Gulf War was limited and successful, in my opinion). Not much to show for our investment of blood and treasure.

The real tragedy of our mid-east adventures is that we are using our worn-out military (a 16-year war!) to solve unsolvable problems. Yes, even in exhaustion mode, our military is superior to almost any other symmetrical force, but the Blob in Washington seems reluctant to learn from history of the other empires you mentioned–France, Britain, the USSR. The wise thing to do would be to stop wasting precious resources, get the heck out of Dodge, and stop going abroad in search of monsters to destroy (thanks, JQ Adams).

#7 Comment By Jon S On June 2, 2017 @ 10:20 am

“And the inevitable departure of the United States from the Middle East, which is coming, just as the British, French and Soviet empires had to depart, will likely do lasting damage to the American soul.”

It is a terrible shame that American leaders were unable to learn from the British, French and Soviet empires.

#8 Comment By meow On June 2, 2017 @ 10:40 am

Adam Smith might describe it as an invisible hand guiding us into folly after folly. I think it is just plain old neocons who are using us as their instrument of choice (with our treasure in human blood and economic resources) for trying to support an ungrateful and militant theocracy whose values seem totally out of whack with what this country purports. Get out and come home.

#9 Comment By Adriana I Pena On June 2, 2017 @ 11:11 am

We will exit Afghanistan eventually, as we exited Vietnam

Better to follow Shapespeare’s advice “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well
It were done quickly”

The sooner it happens, the sooner we can start recovering.

#10 Comment By john On June 2, 2017 @ 11:22 am

so at best we are playing for a tie. We can’t or won’t do what is required for a win. This is pure pride in action, we can not lose indefinitely but at huge expense in lives, money and respect.

#11 Comment By bacon On June 2, 2017 @ 11:59 am

This is America. We don’t lose. We particularly don’t lose to third world benighted societies with unintelligible religious and tribal mores. The funny thing is, we keep telling ourselves that even as we lose in exactly those circumstances. And as long as we keep sending poor inner city and southern rural kids to do the dying I suppose the charade of the essential nation fixing all global messes will continue.

#12 Comment By Tony F. On June 2, 2017 @ 12:00 pm

Why is Taliban winning? Where do they get money and supplies? Somehow things don’t make sense.

#13 Comment By One Man On June 2, 2017 @ 12:41 pm

I agree with much that Buchanan says, but as I look around, I still see Russia, Britain, and France. Leaving Afghanistan didn’t destroy them, and it certainly won’t damage MY soul. Let’s declare victory and get out. Surely this is right up Trump’s alley. “We have achieved the greatest, most beautiful victory ever in Afghanistan. No country ever had such a victory. Now we are leaving because they are in such great shape that they don’t need us anymore.”

#14 Comment By Sebastian On June 2, 2017 @ 12:59 pm

Loose or win, doesn’t matter. Most Americans can’t point Afghanistan on a map. It will have as much relevance for future Americans as the Vietnam war (with its 28000 dead) has for millennials today.

#15 Comment By SDS On June 2, 2017 @ 1:58 pm

Consider that the Taliban, Al Queda and ISIS are Sunni, and is supported, both officially and unofficially, by the governments and individuals that are associated with Sunni islam.
Like Saudi Arabia, and almost all the states in the region except Iran and Syria.
Then think about where all the money is coming from…..
Consider why Iran and Syria are the ONLY nations actually fighitng ISIS and AlQueda……
in short, all the folks your tax dollars are supporting or we are selling weapons to is funding te Taliban….
Why do you think they use Afghan uniforms and Ameroca weapons?

#16 Comment By skeptical of do-gooding On June 2, 2017 @ 3:41 pm

As a veteran of the Vietnam war, I have watched in amazement as successive American administrations ratcheted up our involvement in the Middle East, while assuring us that Iraq and Afghanistan would not be the “new Vietnam”, when in any practical sense they became exactly that: an American attempt to prop up unstable, unpopular governments in the face of a determined foe, in a part of the world that does not “share our values”. In both cases, the assumption was that American military power would quickly win the day; when it did not, the justification for our continuing to fight was that “American prestige was at stake”. End result: enormous loss of life, enormous waste of money, and no positive result to show.
As stated by others, every empire has had its try at conquering some part of the Middle East, and every one of them has been driven out.

Although not a result, each of these empires has ceased to be an empire. So, in the final analysis, their battle for the precious “credibility” or “prestige” came to naught. The US will eventually be driven out too; indeed, if we still had a military draft, our own public would have forced a withdrawal long before now.

#17 Comment By Janwaar Bibi On June 2, 2017 @ 4:09 pm

Why is Taliban winning? Where do they get money and supplies? Somehow things don’t make sense.

They get money and supplies from Pakistan but instead of grabbing Pakistan by the throat and forcing them to stop funding terror, the US sends a billion dollars of aid to Pakistan every year. Some of this is funneled directly or indirectly to the Taliban by Pakistan; the rest is funded by the Saudis, Qataris and assorted Sunni thug regimes that we cozy up to.

We will lose in Afghanistan for the same reason that we lost in Vietnam – as long as a hostile neighboring state provides sanctuary, arms, and support without fear of attack, we will never win.

That’s the main difference between WWII and all these futile wars the US has fought since – WWII was total war, and the Allies attacked and destroyed every ally of Germany or Japan.

#18 Comment By Lefty On June 2, 2017 @ 4:31 pm

This story is so sad and so predictable. But that’s all water under the bridge now, can’t change the past. Gotta agree with One Man, Trump is so delusional and such a con man, he is the ideal tool to declare victory and get us out.
No one else could do it with a straight face, it’s all in a days work for Donald.

#19 Comment By jcastarz On June 2, 2017 @ 4:31 pm

Ray: You make a strong case for what really matters in that region. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

#20 Comment By Kurt Gayle On June 2, 2017 @ 4:41 pm

Vietnam vet “skeptical of do-gooding” makes a really important point about US troops in Afghanistan when he says, “If we still had a military draft, our own public would have forced a withdrawal long before now.”

He’s right. Bringing back the draft would create a powerful US anti-war movement overnight. The draft would force Washington to avoid overseas military actions unless the US national interest was at stake.

#21 Comment By Dave skerry On June 2, 2017 @ 5:03 pm

Answer: YES. Why is anyone still asking?

#22 Comment By TP 2010 – present On June 2, 2017 @ 5:15 pm

I voted for Trump. If he sends troops back into Afghanistan he can forget about my vote in 2020, and any Congressman who advocates or in any way supports such a stupid move can forget about my vote in 2018.

#23 Comment By JRP On June 2, 2017 @ 5:16 pm

Having lived through the Vietnam era Afghanistan is just another quagmire we’ve stepped into. My heart goes out to those who lost their lives or seriously maimed for in service for their country but I have to ask, for what?! As a US Marine my son served in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a combat grunt and thank God he came home in one piece but even he has said to me all seems to be in vain. as Mr. Buchanan has intimated our policy towards Afghanistan puts us between a rock and a hard place.

#24 Comment By cdugga On June 2, 2017 @ 5:23 pm

The shortage of attractive women relative to a large number of religiously motivated misogynists, led by men who achieve leadership by being a psychopathic murderer, appears to be an intractable problem. But I do not think that it is a problem that should have been anticipated. At least by now, we should know that winning is a dishonest hindsight measure of an endeavor’s justification. Once we do that, we have to measure continuing the costs of impossible victory, with the costs of complete loss. It appears that the Obama administration may have recognized the impossibility of complete victory, and chose to continue the costs as cheaply as possible by lopping the heads off leaders as they stand in line for their turn at cultural suicide and the glory of trying to take down as many with them as they can. Even if the taliban know that a small army of gorgeous virgins really does not await them, they already know that life in afghanistan has limited rewards, if it has any at all from a western perspective.
I remember many years ago, a brave reporter out somewhere in the afghan desert interviewing taliban fighters. Besides all the god willing stuff, one of them basically said that he would always go where there was battle. He said he would always live and die as a warrior. If representative, winning to those people is not the result that ends with them no longer having to fight. So we have to ask ourselves if we want to continue the costs, as cheaply as possible, of impossible victory, or accept the costs of what losing would be. Like, does losing embolden the men who live and die as warriors and nothing else, encourage them to take the fight outside of Afghanistan?
I think that the initial justification for going into Afghanistan was to cripple the ability of those who live to die warriors, from exporting their jihad. I think that mission continues, but I wonder if we have the stomach for it. People that say if we cannot win, then the sooner we get out the better, may be over simplifying the situation. The sooner we get out may mean the sooner jihad is exported in greater mass from the training grounds we initially sought to cripple. If we have forgotten the justifications used for going into Afghanistan, and we question the morality of the continuing costs of impossible victory, I suspect we will be reminded after accepting defeat. If there is a god for the faithful, and not just a god that rewards the righteous and punishes the undeserving, then the western mind needs to accept that most of our responsibilities are continuous, and many do not end in victory or defeat. The lemonade may not even have sugar in it.

#25 Comment By Adriana I Pena On June 2, 2017 @ 6:10 pm

About Vietnam, I am amazed by how many clothing I can see “made in Vietnam:

I wonder if we would have fought that war so hard if we knew it would end like this: us buying their stuff.

(Reminds me of how someone told WWII: We beat the Germans and the Japanese, and now we have to buy their cars)

#26 Comment By Alex On June 2, 2017 @ 6:17 pm

I thought that to throw a Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan was a huge victory.

Trump is a “tough” guy and he is surrounded by a lot of military men. Remember, Trump is a winner. Can you imagine how much money is made there by our military complex. I am not counting on leaving Afghanistan anytime soon.

#27 Comment By Hexexis On June 3, 2017 @ 9:38 am

Janwaar Bibi says:
June 2, 2017 at 4:09 pm

“They get money and supplies from Pakistan but instead of grabbing Pakistan by the throat and forcing them to stop funding terror, the US sends a billion dollars of aid to Pakistan every year.”

& This was true 20+ yr ago, in 1996, when the Taliban occupied Kabul. & Not just the Taliban: Pakistani gov. looked approvingly on those Arab freedom fighters, recruited by bin Laden. & Why? Oh, because they were eager to fight India in Kashmir!

Russia may be “talking” w/ the Taliban now, but even back in 1988, it was cautioning US of A of the Taliban menace, but H.W. Bush & then W.J. Clinton turned an ambivalent & then indifferent eye toward it.

Saudi & Pakistani duplicity on this account matched only by U.S. bewilderment & indifference.

#28 Comment By Kurt Gayle On June 3, 2017 @ 10:13 am

@ Adriana I Pena who wrote: “I am amazed by how many clothing I can see ‘made in Vietnam’: I wonder if we would have fought that war so hard if we knew it would end like this: us buying their stuff.”

Business Insider (May 17, 2013) listed the Average Hourly Wage for a Garment Worker in Vietnam as $0.53. American clothing manufacturers have closed American factories, set up the factories in Vietnam, and imported the clothing back into the US duty-free.

Mega-profits for the garment industry fat cats. Lost manufacturing jobs for American workers.

#29 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 3, 2017 @ 2:31 pm

“We still haven’t avenged against Great Britain and Canada for the humiliation of the war of 1812.”

I know his is facetious. Ad it would be hilarious to me if not for one simple stand out.

We started the war with GB and it was totally unnecessary, our loss and our only loss until now was as those of today our doing and lacked any justification. Though I have my issues with British absconding with US sailors.

This is a tough article. While I certainly contended against nearly of the previous admin’s agenda. I am not going to saddle him with the mess of Afghanistan. He faced the same dilemma the current executive faces. The mission in Afghanistan should have ended with the death of Osama Bin Laden. Trying to transform an entire culture so that the women of Afghanistan can vote and have bikini waxes was always going to be a dubious proposition. It is not the mission of the US to advance global feminists objectives nor should it be. Human rights, as vague as the term is when applied to various cultures is admirable, but does demand US intervention save in very rare circumstances – very rare. And then such intervention should be limited.

There are some ways of winning, but I am doubtful we have the will to do in Afghanistan what was done in Africa and worse. That method would entail systematically dismantling the society in total. Of their faith and culture interfered, we would either incorporate it or destroy it. In our ethos, it would be an absolute brutal affair on every that challenged our supremacy – rivaling the method pf the Vikings, or Genghis Khan and others who on occasion completely demolished entire societies.

We could partition the country, again requiring enormous military presence. Occupy that territory for fifty years and every fifty years expanding that outward conquest in fifty year increments. Thereby influencing new generations as the previous die out.

We could withdraw allow the Afghans to workout their issues as they see fit and start from scratch. We were in a much healthier space to influence the society before we invaded.

The first two are predicated on the assumption that we could actually enforce our will in such a manner, and that is questionable for lots of reasons.

As for Vietnam had we helped S. Vietnam secure a hard won victory, North Vietnam would have imploded much sooner than they are.

any double post was unintentional excuse me.

#30 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 3, 2017 @ 2:34 pm

“(Reminds me of how someone told WWII: We beat the Germans and the Japanese, and now we have to buy their cars)”

Anyone who thinks they have to buy German or Japanese cars, is misguided.

#31 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 4, 2017 @ 12:20 am

“I think that the initial justification for going into Afghanistan was to cripple the ability of those who live to die warriors, from exporting their jihad. I think that mission continues, but I wonder if we have the stomach for it. People that say if we cannot win . . . ‘

It would be a good idea to examine the events and the players surrounding 9/11. They were not members of the government and there’s no evidence to suggest that any of that very loose confederation even knew what would transpire on that day.

The entire event was treated as an act of war when in reality, it was a crime. And should have been treated as such.

#32 Comment By R Clark On June 4, 2017 @ 10:06 am

A fine article as per usual from Mr Buchanan.
But I believe it skirts or misses the main issue.

Which is: That war is a business, enriching arms merchants, bankers, politicians, and providing jobs for millions of Americans.
So the “enemy” or the cause really matters little. The purpose of our never ending wars is simply to wage war.
Winning a war stops the cash flow.
Ike warned us in very clear language, as he was leaving office.

#33 Comment By Liberty or Death On June 4, 2017 @ 10:30 am

While the majority of global heroin comes from Afghanistan and given the significant US military and intelligence presence in Afghanistan & Pakistan since 1990, it makes one wonder why the heroin epidemic in the US.

We know al quaeda spawned from CIA funded mujahadeen.

What alphabet soup apparatus of the US government is responsible for importation of heroin into US.

#34 Comment By Joseph Belker On June 4, 2017 @ 12:30 pm

Library of congress: “although there is no evidence that the founders were aware of the religious convictions of their bondsmen (muslims in this sense), it is clear that the founding fathers thought about the relationship of islam to the new nation and were prepared to make a place for it in the republic.”

With regard to the choices made by our nation’s founding father:

!! If only they knew !!
!! If only they knew !!
!! If only they knew !!

!! At the writing of our first constitution, if only our nation’s forefathers knew about the main central particulars of islam, that it, by design, makes several excuses for continual perpetuated conquest of the entire world through eliminating free speech, stifling personal individual thought, human abuses, slavery, discrimination, degradation of non-muslims and unending murder – they would never have deemed islam as a valid religion !!

While authoring, settling and signing the Constitution, the Founder’s decisions toward islam were based on their ignorance of the cult (is NOT a religion). Had they known the basic history of islam, they would have aggressively opposed the cult’s inclusion in the Constitution and personal views as fully anti-American, anti-Constitution, anti-freedom – the exact opposite of what they were to vehemently trying to create in the USA.

So …

!! If only they knew !!
!! If only they knew !!
!! If only they knew !!

Then, after the constitution was placed in action, they had to deal with the muslims at the Barbary coast. Look it up from a good reliable historical accounts. Was islam at the height of its long-perpetuated historical behavior. Was dealt with eventually in correct appropriate treatments, the conquest of a cult medieval crime mob.

#35 Comment By Joseph Belker On June 4, 2017 @ 12:32 pm

Just because a so-called “religion” has people bowing to the ground, does NOT make it peaceful, civil, assimilating, accommodating, collaborative, Constitutional or otherwise. They can be a dangerous throughout history as islam has always been. Follow the cult’s history of so-called peace. It’s NOT peaceful, never has been.

#36 Comment By Ivo Olavo Castro da Silva On June 13, 2017 @ 10:36 am

The Taliban is winning for the very simple reason that the U.S. put back in power those who were praying on the Afghan people for centuries (warlords and opium merchants). They did something that seemed impossible. In the country’s religious and cultural environment those Sunni militants were not radicals at all, this was a neocon spin. Now they are slowly expelling the world’s mightiest military power, as they did in the past with the British and the Russians. The U.S. should only intervene when it is in the nation’s real interest and of their true allies (not those that keep practicing endless ethnic cleansing).