Forever War

(The audio version of this essay can be found here.)

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban took control of Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, nearly twenty years after American and coalition forces ousted them in our post-9/11 invasion.

Our two-decade occupation of that country, intended to transform a land of disunited barbarian tribes into a modern liberal democracy, failed in spectacular fashion, faster than anyone had thought possible, with the whole affair broadcast live on social media. The chaotic scenes in Kabul throughout the month of August reminded many of the evacuation of Saigon in 1975 after the fall of South Vietnam. Worse, in fact: during the writing of this essay, suicide bombs exploded in the Kabul airport, killing dozens of people, including American servicemen.

A US Air Force Chinook helicopter evacuates staff from the American embassy in Kabul, August 15, 2021.

The fall of Afghanistan and the failure of our long mission there raises several hard questions that all Americans must consider.

Why have we thrown away so many lives in the cause of nation-building abroad?

Why are our leaders so invested in foreign wars, even in the face of mass public opposition?

Why did the United States – the greatest country in the history of the world – fail to accomplish its missions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, or the many other places to which our troops have been deployed?

The United States of America was born in the fires of revolution and built on the foundation of liberty. Yet our founders did not believe it was our job to foment revolution or export liberty to the rest of the world. In 1797, President George Washington famously warned against entangling ourselves in European alliances. In 1821, future President John Quincy Adams echoed Washington’s warning, saying that while America would support in spirit the cause of freedom throughout the world, we should not spend our own blood and treasure on behalf of others. “She goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy,” he said.

John Quincy Adams was the son of a president, a diplomat, Secretary of State for President Monroe, President of the United States, and finished his career as a member of the House of Representatives.

At some point along the way our country’s mission was changed. In 1898, we defeated the remnants of the Spanish Empire and took over their colonies, from Cuba to Guam to the Philippines. In 1917, we entered the Great War, sending millions of soldiers to Europe to, as President Woodrow Wilson put it, “make the world safe for democracy.” In the late 1930s and early 1940s, we lent money and equipment to Britain, France, and later the USSR to help them in their fight against Nazi Germany, joining the war ourselves after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. For really the first time in our history the eyes of America were turned outward toward the world. Our young men saw action in North Africa, Italy, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and dozens of small islands in the South Pacific. It was also during World War II that the United States first became interested in the Middle East. Those backward Arabic kingdoms, until recently under the thumb of the Ottoman Empire, were sitting on trillions of dollars’ worth of oil – oil that would be necessary to power the massive American war machine in the future.

President Eisenhower and Vice President Nixon meet with King Saud of Saudi Arabia on February 1, 1957 in Washington, DC. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

The aftermath of World War II saw American troops remain abroad to enforce the new world order as well as protect our exhausted allies from the new threat of Russian communism. Rather than sending them out on a mission with measurable aims, our troops were now expected to permanently garrison far-flung outposts of our empire. President Harry Truman made this explicit when he declared that the policy of the United States would be to contain Communist expansion throughout the world. The Truman Doctrine was a major shift from our previous policy of noninterference and would involve our country in many conflicts over the next forty-five years. The “domino theory” postulated that if we let one nation fall to communism, then it would start a chain reaction that would lead to the entire world being overcome by the hammer and sickle, and we would then face invasion of our own shores. “We have to fight them over there, so we don’t fight them here,” we were told. Does that sound familiar?

When North Korea invaded their southern neighbors, intending to impose communism on the whole peninsula, the United States led a coalition of United Nations forces to defend democracy once more. We fought to a stalemate in Korea, and tens of thousands of US troops remain there protecting a tenuous peace to this day.

Memorial to the Korean War at the Capitol Campus in Olympia, Washington.

With Korea still fresh in our memories, we allowed ourselves to be pulled into the quagmire that was Vietnam, losing fifty thousand brave young men in a futile attempt to prop up a corrupt government against the fanatical devotion of Ho Chi Minh and his own Russian-backed communists. Despite having won a massive landslide in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson was so unpopular in 1968 that he did not even bother running in his own primary. Former Vice President Richard Nixon won the election that year on a platform of peace with honor. To that end, he authorized an increase in strategic bombing, not only of North Vietnam but of neighboring Cambodia as well, slowly withdrawing American ground troops at the same time. After winning a 49-state landslide in 1972, Nixon announced the Paris Peace Accords. The US would withdraw completely from Indochina, while North Vietnam would return prisoners of war and respect the autonomy of the south.

North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho with his American counterpart Henry Kissinger after signing the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.

By this time, the United States was tired of war. Congress was fed up with how Presidents Johnson and Nixon had prosecuted the war with little oversight, and so they passed the War Powers Resolution over Nixon’s veto in 1973. The law now required the president to seek congressional approval before deploying troops for an extended mission. Consequently, Nixon’s successor President Gerald Ford could only watch helplessly as the North Vietnamese Army overran Saigon in 1975. The images of our staff and Vietnamese refugees escaping from the roof of a CIA safe house are seared into our national memory.

America’s military reputation had been seriously damaged in Vietnam. The Cold War continued through the 1970s, but without the sense of imminent destruction that had accompanied it during events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963. The American military was only used for small actions against weak countries such as Grenada and Panama. while the Soviet Union became bogged down in their own Vietnam when they invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Their invasion, and our support of the Mujahideen rebels, once again threatened to inflame tensions between the two superpowers that had cooled in the years after Vietnam.

Also in 1979, the US-backed Shah of Iran was deposed by a group of hardcore followers of Shiite Islam, taking hostages that were not freed until President Ronald Reagan came into office in January of 1981.

Iranian students climb the walls of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

The concept of terrorism began to seep its way into public consciousness during this time. In 1983, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah bombed the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, in response to our intervention in their bloody civil war. Seventeen Americans were killed. Five years later, more than two hundred and fifty people were killed when terrorists working for Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi blew up a Boeing 747 flying over Scotland. Before 9/11, Islamic terrorism was a nuisance, but it never loomed very large in the public consciousness. As late as 1993, James Cameron’s film True Lies featured Islamic terrorists as comedic villains.

Art Malik as the terrorist leader Salim Abu Aziz in True Lies (1994).

The Cold War still dominated American attention during the 1980s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was heralded as the beginning of the end of communist domination of Europe, and the USSR itself collapsed two years later. It was the fabled “end of history”. With nuclear war suddenly no longer seemingly imminent, the United States felt freer to engage in military action. As the Soviet Union was falling into the dustbin of history, America decided to involve herself in a territorial dispute on the other side of the world. Iraq, whom we had supported in their war against the hardcore Shiites of Iran, had invaded their tiny neighbor of Kuwait intending to annex them and claim their vast oil reserves. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, once an ally of the United States, mistakenly believed that one – we had tacitly approved his invasion, and two – that we had become a paper tiger, easily dealt with if we tried to intervene. Saddam had assembled the fourth largest army on earth and promised the “mother of all battles” to anyone who stood in his way.

Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti, President of Iraq from 1979 to 2003.

President George H. W. Bush assembled a coalition of nations and issued an ultimatum to Saddam: leave Kuwait or be removed. Some political leaders in the United States urged caution, worried that Iraq would turn into another Vietnam. When the invasion, Operation Desert Storm, finally, came, it was a resounding success that silenced naysayers for a decade. In a magnificent hundred-days campaign, the US-led Coalition completely defeated Saddam’s army, driving them out of Kuwait with the US suffering fewer than 150 killed in action. President Bush’s approval rating skyrocketed as most Americans celebrated the victory. Support for the troops was at an all time high, and Lee Greenwood’s patriotic ballad God Bless the USA played constantly on FM radio.

US Marines celebrate during a victory parade after the Gulf War.

America was back! With the breakup of the Soviet Union, the world had a single superpower for the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire. Our overwhelming victory in the Persian Gulf signaled to the rest of the world that we could take on that mantle. Rather than returning to a pre-World War II “America First” attitude, we doubled down on globalism, pledging our blood and treasure to maintain what President Bush called the new world order. Rather than waging wars of conquest, we would now be using our military for humanitarian reasons, to ensure that all people had food, water, medicine, and freedom.

President George H. W. Bush oversaw the end of the Cold War and the dawning of what he called a New World Order.

Despite our agreement with Saudi Arabia to maintain troops in their country only for the duration of the Gulf War, we found reasons to keep them there far longer. After Saddam Hussein brutally put down a rebellion by the ethnic Kurds in the north of Iraq, the United Nations imposed a “no-fly zone” over the area, and the US Air Force enforced this mandate from the skies. Our leaders gave us good reasons for our remaining in the Middle East, and the idea that our presence might cause resentment among people there was casually dismissed. We are the USA, the world’s only superpower, and there is nothing we cannot do.

Little did we know that we had already reached the peak of American military and cultural superiority.

The first cracks in the image of our invincible military power appeared soon. Just two years after the Gulf War, the United States intervened in a civil war in Somalia that was causing famine and starvation. The United Nations was supplying food and medicine to the Somali people, but a brutal warlord named Mohamed Farrah Aidid began attacking the aid convoys and confiscating the goods. To stop these attacks, President Bill Clinton authorized an incursion by American special forces to capture the warlord and his top lieutenants.

The mission quickly went awry, and two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down by Somali militias. American troops mounted a heroic rescue mission, but several soldiers were killed. Video of Somalis dragging the bodies of American troops through the streets of Mogadishu was like a knife in the heart of the American psyche. Our invincible military, which had so recently won a nearly flawless victory, was now being humiliated in Africa.

Scene from Ridley Scott’s 2001 film Black Hawk Down, which was based on the book by Mark Bowden.

Though the overall mission in Mogadishu was a success, the experience left the American public less willing to risk our troops on humanitarian causes. President Clinton withdrew our forces from Somalia entirely, a move decried by his Republican opponents as showing weakness. Was pulling out of Somalia the right choice? Unfortunately, we might have been in a no-win scenario already. Antiwar activist Scott Horton wrote a book in 2017 titled Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan, in which he explains the history of our involvement in the Middle East and the many mistakes we have made along the way.  In the book he claims that Osama Bin Laden, who at the time was a veteran of the Afghan Mujahideen, was disappointed that President Clinton withdrew our forces from Somalia after the Black Hawk Down incident.

“Though Bin Laden later cited this withdrawal as proof America was ultimately a weak adversary, at the time, just two years after the first Iraq war, the Al Qaeda leader claimed he sought to bog down the US in a ‘war of attrition’ there.”

Scott Horton, Fool’s Errand

President Clinton remained hesitant to use ground forced for the duration of his time in office. He refused to intervene in the Rwandan genocide, and our involvement in the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo was restricted to the relative safety of airstrikes. When Osama bin Laden’s terrorist group Al Qaeda attacked an American barracks in Saudi Arabia and two of our embassies in Africa, Clinton again limited our response to air strikes.

The ruins of the Khobar Towers apartment buildings near Dahran, Saudi Arabia, after a bomb killed 19 American servicemen on June 25, 1996.

Ever since the invention of the airplane, strategic bombing has been the holy grail for political leaders. It is a way to cause damage to the enemy without much risk, especially since post-World War II we have seldom been challenged for air superiority. Yet air strikes are often more bark than bite, more flash than substance. Factories can be rebuilt, and military equipment can be repaired. On the other hand, local populations subject to our bombs only hate us more for causing such death and destruction and become more loyal to their leaders who are fighting against us.

Despite the relative ineffectiveness of strategic bombing, it remains a favorite tool for American leaders. They can come to their citizens and say they are accomplishing something, punishing those who have harmed us, while avoiding putting troops in harm’s way. No American president wants to be responsible for the deaths of American soldiers, nor for the pictures of flag-draped coffins that inevitably follow.

US Navy A-6A Intruders dropping bombs over North Vietnam in 1969.

September 11th, 2001 changed everything. Four airplanes were hijacked. Three buildings were destroyed. Three thousand Americans were killed. Our sense of security in our nation and in our airports forever shattered. The American people demanded revenge, and airstrikes would not be enough this time. In a meeting with lawmakers, new President George W. Bush said:

“When I take action, I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.”

President George W. Bush, September 13, 2001
President George W. Bush speaks at “Ground Zero” in New York City on September 14, 2001.

Conservative country singer Toby Keith echoed President Bush’s rhetoric when he promised to “…put a boot up your ass; it’s the American way.”

The American people were united in their desire for resolute action. Intelligence reports suggested that 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was hiding in Afghanistan, which was under the control of the Islamic extremist government the Taliban. The United States demanded that the Taliban turn over Bin Laden and senior Al Qaeda leadership, and when they refused, we launched an invasion intending to topple the government and capture or kill the terrorists.

Afghanistan occupies a unique place in the world, both geographically and historically. The region lies between China to the east and the Persian and Arab world to the west, with Russia to the north and India to the south. It is crisscrossed by mountains such as the Hindu Kush and the edge of the Himalayas, with sheltered valleys in between. This unforgiving land has been home to many different tribes, cultures, and religions. Today, the Pashtun people are the most numerous, but there are significant communities of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Turkmens, Balochs, and more.

When Alexander the Great conquered his way from Greece to India, he apparently found Afghanistan difficult and inhospitable. Years later, the Silk Road made its way through the Khyber Pass on its way from China to Persia, leading to many different people setting foot in this land. The region was often a flashpoint between great powers and experienced a blending of very different cultures and beliefs. At various points throughout history, Afghanistan was ruled by the Greeks, the Persians, the Hindus, and even the Mongols. Islam eventually became the predominant force in the land, and by the mid-1800s a Muslim king sat on the Afghan throne.

Interior of the palace of Shauh Shujah Ool Moolk, Late King of Cabul, lithograph circa 1839.

Because of its strategic location, many great powers have involved themselves in Afghan affairs. In the 1800s, Britain and Russia played the “Great Game,” a series of geopolitical maneuvers to use Afghanistan as a buffer between the Russian Empire and British India. To that end, Britain invaded Afghanistan three times over the course of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The First Anglo-Afghan War ended in a humiliating defeat for the British Empire, the Second led to British control over Afghanistan and the Third, while a British tactical victory, saw the United Kingdom permanently withdraw from the region. This withdrawal presaged the collapse of the British Empire just three decades later.

The Afghan monarchy survived for several more decades before falling to a coup in 1973. The ensuing military dictatorship was itself overthrown by the Communists in 1978. The new government’s hold on power was very shaky, so their Soviet backers decided to intervene in their favor. The Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 outraged the western world. President Jimmy Carter responded with what historians call the Carter Doctrine in early 1980, warning that the United States would consider any act of aggression in the Persian Gulf region an attack on our interests. We began building military bases throughout the Middle East to counter the Soviet threat as well as to project our power more forcefully in the area. President Carter ordered a boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow, and Presidents Carter and Reagan both authorized secret deals to send weapons to the Mujahideen, the alliance of Afghan tribes fighting against the Communists.

Painting of a Mujahideen fighter shooting down Soviet helicopters with American-supplied weaponry.

In the 1988 film Rambo III, Sylvester Stallone’s action hero travels to Afghanistan to aid the Mujahideen, bringing the conflict to American cinemas. During the film, one of the American soldiers mocks his KGB captor, saying:

“Every day, your war machines lose ground to a bunch of poorly armed, poorly equipped freedom fighters. The fact is that you underestimated your competition. If you’d studied your history, you’d know that these people have never given up to anyone. They’d rather die than be slaves to an invading army. You can’t defeat a people like that. We tried. We already had our Vietnam! Now you’re gonna have yours.”

Would that our own leaders had remembered that thirteen years later.

The Soviets withdrew in 1989, and their puppet government fell just a few years later. However, the USSR itself did not even last that long, collapsing in 1991. People were beginning to believe that Afghanistan was truly the “graveyard of empires”.

Soviet troops withdrawing from Afghanistan on February 15, 1989.

After the fall of the Soviet-backed government, the Mujahideen alliance crumbled, and the tribes resumed fighting their vicious civil war. Into the fray stepped a group of Pashtun Islamic scholars from Kandahar called the Taliban. Having once supported the Mujahideen, the Taliban promised to end both the fighting as well as what they considered the pernicious influence of western culture in their country. The message of the Taliban gained them a large following, and soon they were able to defeat the other tribes and take control of the country. After conquering Kabul, they declared themselves the leaders of the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and imposed strict Sharia law on their people. Women were made to wear full burqas and were often not allowed to leave their homes without a male escort. Western culture was entirely forbidden, movie theaters were closed, and western music and literature were banned. The Buddhas of Bamiyan, enormous ancient statues carved fifteen hundred years ago into the mountains of the Hindu Kush, were destroyed on the orders of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. When Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorists were expelled from Saudi Arabia, the Taliban offered them shelter in Afghanistan.

One of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan in 1969.

So it was that the United States and our coalition partners invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001. President Bush promised that this would not be another Vietnam. At first it seemed that he would emulate his father’s quick and decisive victory in Desert Storm ten years prior. American Special Forces dropped into Afghanistan and connected with the Northern Alliance, a confederation of tribes and former Mujahideen that had been fighting the Taliban for five years. This coalition quickly ousted the Taliban from Kabul, Kandahar, and the rest of Afghanistan’s major cities. The US State Department worked with the leaders of the Northern Alliance to form a new representative government for Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai was installed as interim president in 2002, and officially elected in 2004.

Had we ended our mission there, it might have gone down in history as another American military triumph. Unfortunately, most of the Taliban leadership, as well as Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, had escaped from their mountain hideout of Tora Bora into Pakistan. Many accounts lay the blame for Bin Laden’s escape on US General Tommy Franks, who inexplicably refused to call for reinforcements to take Tora Bora before the senior Al Qaeda leadership could run for the border. The question of how and why Bin Laden escaped has plagued our country for nearly twenty years. Was it sheer luck, incompetence, or worse? Some antiwar activists have long suggested that American leadership let Bin Laden go, needing a scapegoat for future military actions.

Afghan fighters watch as US forces bomb the mountains of Tora Bora in December 2001.

Rebuffed by the US-backed provisional government, Taliban leader Mullah Omar launched an insurgency in 2002, and the United States and our allies settled in for the long and difficult task of securing a free and democratic nation in this war-torn region.

On the eve of the 2001 invasion, Steve Sailer looked at the prospects of a military adventure in Afghanistan through the lens of Rudyard Kipling’s short story The Man Who Would Be King and its 1975 adaption directed by John Huston. In the story, the characters Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnahan (played by Sean Connery and Michael Caine in the movie) decide to hike into the remote valley of Kafiristan, in northeast Afghanistan, and set themselves up as kings. Their plan seems to work at first, as they use their experience in the British Army and their superior weaponry to turn uncivilized tribes into an elite force. However, their adventure ends in tragedy when they fail to appreciate local customs.

Michael Caine and Sean Connery in The Man Who Would Be King (1975).

Sailer predicted that our invasion would likely turn out the same way – initial success, followed by a long-drawn-out tragedy should we choose to remain and try to build a nation in the wilderness. He wrote:

“Those who advocate that we stay in Afghanistan long after Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are dealt with should ponder Kipling and Huston’s parable.”

Steve Sailer, September 26, 2001

As usual, Steve Sailer was absolutely right. Before Bin Laden and his lieutenants had even escaped from Tora Bora, our leadership was already moving on to their next target.

Rather than concentrate on pacifying Afghanistan, the Bush Administration decided instead to expand the Global War on Terror. In 2003, the United States government charged Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with breaking post-Gulf War UN resolutions aimed at preventing him from committing genocide against the Kurds and for developing weapons of mass destruction. President Bush proclaimed the Bush Doctrine, which held that the United States had the right to preemptively attack foreign nations and terror organizations that threatened our safety and security. What a far cry this was from the doctrines of non-interference laid out by George Washington and John Quincy Adams. Nevertheless, at the time the American people were scared that 9/11 was only the beginning of a deadly campaign of terror.

After 9/11, President Bush had gone to Congress seeking approval to use military force to hunt down the terrorists who had committed the attack. Rather than granting this request with a very limited scope, as then-Congressman Ron Paul had wanted, Congress instead passed an open-ended bill that gave Bush and future presidents nearly carte blanche to fight a war on terror throughout the world, including Iraq. Rather than declaring war on Al Qaeda, or even on the Taliban regime that sheltered them, the Bush Administration instead launched a War on Terrorism, as if something so abstract could ever be defeated by military action.

The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force has since been used as a perpetual blank check by the Bush, Obama, and even Trump administrations to deploy troops anywhere in the world. Despite only a few dozen elected leaders remaining in Congress since the 2001 vote, the AUMF continues to be used to justify intervention in foreign nations to this day.

To listen to our political leadership and news media at the time, we had to invade Afghanistan, as well as Iraq, in response to the 9/11 terror attacks, which were committed by extremists who hated us because of our freedoms. Yet how many Americans at the time knew that we had maintained a military presence in the Middle East for more than twenty years? The Carter Doctrine had turned the Persian Gulf into an extension of the American empire. After the Gulf War, rather than leaving, we maintained bases throughout the Arab world. It was precisely this extended presence that animated Osama Bin Laden in the first place: he was offended that “infidels” – American troops – were stationed in the holy land of Mecca and Medina. This is not to say that Bin Laden was justified in his campaign of terror, but the simplistic rationale given to us by our leaders and journalists did not tell the whole story.

In hindsight, the threat of Afghanistan and Iraq to the citizens of the United States appears to have been overstated. It raises the question: did the government use 9/11 and the Bush Doctrine as an excuse to launch a series of endless wars across the globe? Had Iraq not turned into a quagmire so quickly, would we have continued invading other nations throughout the world?

In Fool’s Errand, Scott Horton tells of retired General Wesley Clark seeing a memo in the Pentagon explaining which countries were in our cross-hairs. Horton writes:

“The memo included a list of seven countries to be the subject of US regime-change policies in the new War on Terrorism: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. None of the governments of these countries supported Al Qaeda or threatened the United States.”

Scott Horton, Fool’s Errand

The existence and veracity of this memo seems likely, considering that we have used our military to attempt regime change in most of the nations on that list.

The United States invaded Iraq in 2003, with the aim of regime change. Overthrowing the leadership of Syria has been US policy for the better part of the last decade as well. US Special Forces are known to be active in Sudan and Somalia, though this garners little attention. And, of course, the United States famously intervene in Libya during the Obama Administration. Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bragged about helping to overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, an action that destabilized the entire region and led directly to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi in 2012. Images of the body of Ambassador Chris Stevens being dragged through the streets recalled the horror of Mogadishu nearly twenty years previously. Clinton, of course, famously dismissed the entire Benghazi tragedy in congressional testimony:

What difference, at this point, does it make?”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, January 23, 2013

The last country on the list, Iran, has long been the target of neoconservative warmongers in and out of the government. Recall that the United States supported Saddam Hussein of Iraq in the 1980s as he fought against his neighbor to the east. To this day there are think tanks and news websites dedicated to whipping the American people to support an invasion of Iran. Older generations remember the coup that overthrew the Shah in 1979 and the captivity of our embassy staff. We are told that the Iranian ayatollahs are hell-bent on apocalyptic war, and that if they manage to develop nuclear weapons, then they will undoubtedly destroy Israel and the United States. One might suspect that the purpose of our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in the early 2000s was to put our troops in a position to encircle Iran, which lies between the two nations. Thus far, no president has taken the bait to attack Iran, and hopefully none ever will.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei speaks about Iran’s nuclear program in 2016.

The reality of Middle Eastern politics is much more complex than what we hear on the nightly news. The Iranian Shiites are working with their Syrian and Qatari allies, as well as militias in Iraq and Yemen, to try and gain hegemony over the region. In response, Saudi Arabia has been attempting to build a coalition of Sunni Arab states, as well as the Jewish state of Israel, to oppose Iran. While this is all very fascinating, none of it requires American military involvement.

Unfortunately, by the early 2000s the conservative movement and the Republican Party had become almost entirely identified with military adventurism. In a previous essay, I traced this phenomenon back to the era of the Vietnam War. Despite the war being started by Democratic Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, by 1969 the war had become identified with the Republican President Richard Nixon. The antiwar movement that had risen under President Johnson became allied with all sorts of left-wing causes, which compelled the right-wing to come out in favor of the war. While many musicians made antiwar ballads, for example, conservative country stars like Merle Haggard sang in support of the war and of our troops.

Communist and Christian symbolism side-by-side at an anti-war rally in the 1960s.

When Vietnam veterans returned home and faced mockery and ostracism from antiwar protestors, conservatives responded with unconditional support for the military. This reached a fever pitch during the Gulf War and continued into the Global War on Terror. In the days after 9/11, the entire country was united in their desire for retribution. However, as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began to drag on without end, a new antiwar movement developed, coming mainly from the left. Conservatives still believed that it was important to support the troops, and that supporting the troops necessarily meant supporting the wars.

A Vietnam veteran at a rally to support the troops in 2019.

Mainstream media latched on to the antiwar movement in the mid-2000s because they were reflexively anti-Bush. Except for Fox News, which remained pro-war from the start, news outlets began condemning the wars and highlighting American losses, as well as showcasing atrocities such as the torture at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. Free-speech advocate Julian Assange and his Wikileaks platform, which exposed the killing of civilians by US forces, were lauded by the left-wing media. Mainstream media focused their attention on our failures every day; Cindy Sheehan, a mother of a soldier killed in action in Iraq, was highlighted for months on end.

Cindy Sheehan leads an anti-war protest in 2008.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts challenged President Bush in 2004 and attempted to appeal to both sides. He presented himself as having faithfully served his country in the US Navy during Vietnam, but he also highlighted his opposition to that war. CBS News’ 60 Minutes program tried to drive a wedge between President Bush and his military-supporting voters by presenting forged documents that claimed Bush had gone AWOL during his tenure in the Texas Air National Guard.

President Bush won reelection by a narrow margin and continued our adventures in the Middle East. As in Afghanistan, the initial invasion of Iraq had been a success. The US military succeeded in overthrowing Saddam Hussein, who was later found hiding in a hole in the ground. He was tried, convicted, and executed by the new democratic government we had quickly assembled. As with Afghanistan, however, an insurgency against our occupation soon developed, and by 2006 Iraq was in the throes of a deadly and chaotic civil war. The deterioration of our military strategy, highlighted by the left-wing media, helped the Democrats take over Congress in the 2006 midterm elections.

Both Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Hillary Clinton of New York campaigned for the Democratic presidential primary in 2008 on an antiwar platform. Obama was able to trump Clinton’s antiwar record by virtue of not having been in the Senate for the 2001 and 2003 votes to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively. Clinton, on the other hand, had initially voted for both before turning against them. Yet something strange happened when Obama was elected president that year. The antiwar movement that had so consumed the left wing basically evaporated, almost overnight. Cindy Sheehan no longer received invitations for interviews on cable news. The daily litany of combat deaths and American atrocities ceased. Outside a principled group of antiwar activists who opposed the wars on moral grounds, most of the attention disappeared now that a Democrat was in the White House. Legitimate antiwar activists who had pinned their hopes on Obama to end the wars were soon left bitterly disappointed. Even after Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden himself at his safe-house in Pakistan, the wars continued.

President Obama announces the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011.

President Obama did not follow through on his promises to end the wars nor did he close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. On the contrary, Obama expanded the wars, deploying additional troops to Afghanistan and even diverting troops from Iraq into neighboring Syria. He even began large-scale drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen, and several other countries, often with extensive collateral damage – military jargon for civilian casualties. A loose association of the remnants of Al Qaeda and other Sunni Muslim militias had coalesced into a would-be caliphate: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. ISIS quickly took control of a large geographical area in the Middle East, and videos of western soldiers and journalists brutally beheaded by ISIS fighters dominated the news.

An ISIS soldier prepares to execute American journalist James Foley in August 2014.

The geopolitical situation in the Middle East was never black and white, but it became extremely confusing in the 2010s. The Obama Administration decided to prioritize regime change in Syria, claiming that President Bashar Al-Assad was a dictator who was killing his own people. The American government sent money, material, and troops to aid the rebels who had been fighting Assad in a civil war, even though many of these rebels were themselves aligned with Al Qaeda and ISIS. American news media attempted to distill the various conflicts into a simple good guy / bad guy paradigm, but few people knew what was really going on. The conservatives who had once strongly supported intervention began to tire of the constant war, and this new right-wing antiwar movement found its voice in Donald Trump.

Trump was never shy about sharing whatever thoughts came into his head. He destroyed sacred cows on both the left and the right during his 2016 presidential campaign. He called Senator John McCain of Arizona – the GOP presidential nominee from 2008 and a POW during Vietnam – a loser, and he said that President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was a huge mistake. Trump promised to do what Obama did not – destroy ISIS and then bring the troops home. Rather than rejecting this heretical speech, Republican voters embraced it, sending Trump to the White House in one of the biggest political upsets in American history.

Donald J. Trump announces his candidacy for President of the United States on June 16, 2015.

With a Republican president in office who wanted to stop the endless conflicts, mainstream media completed the transformation that had begun in 2008 and now fully embraced forever war. In early 2017, President Assad of Syria allegedly used chemical weapons against rebel forces, so President Trump responded with a targeted airstrike against a Syrian chemical plant. This was perhaps the only time in his entire term that left-wing news media praised Trump, calling him “presidential” because he fired some missiles. The military brass, all of whom had risen through the ranks during the Global War on Terror, and who had survived President Obama’s ideological purges of the Pentagon, were entirely in favor of maintaining our military presence in the Middle East until the end of time. Many of these generals obfuscated, lied, and outright disobeyed President Trump’s orders to bring the troops home. Far from being the heroes that conservatives had long believed them to be, military leadership was exposed an arm of the deep state bureaucracy that hindered and fought our elected president for more than four years.

USS Porter launches Tomahawk missiles against targets in Syria on April 6, 2017.

General James Mattis, supposedly the “mad dog” of the Marine Corps who had fought in the initial Afghanistan invasion, resigned as Trump’s Secretary of Defense rather than obeying the president’s order to withdraw the two thousand troops that Obama had left in Syria. In the leadup to the 2020 presidential election, several active military brass and intelligence officers publicly denounced President Trump and called on Americans to throw him out of office. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley allegedly refused to follow Trump’s orders to use military force on the deadly rioters in the summer of 2020. The military leadership, most of whom were wholly committed to the cause of endless war, had no use for a president who was trying to put a stop to their schemes.

Then-Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley with Secretary of Defense James Mattis and President Trump in October 2018.

Why is the deep state, media, and the military leadership so invested in endless war? Why is it that no matter who we vote for, the troops remain deployed at the fringes of the American empire?

In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned in his farewell address of what he called a growing military / industrial complex. In the 1940s, the United States had pushed our factories into overdrive to create the military equipment necessary to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. After the war, these companies continued to innovate and produce material to keep up with the Soviet Union in an arms race that could decide the fate of the world. Yet once a system like this is created, it does not simply go away once the crisis has abated. By 1991, when the Cold War ended, there was too much money and capital at stake to simply dismantle the massive array of defense contractors and lobbyists that were designed to produce weaponry to fight the Soviets. Like all government programs, their priority shifted to justifying their own existence. They needed a new enemy to fight.

President Eisenhower prepares for his Farewell Address on January 17, 1961.

There are many jokes about how temporary government programs never go away, even if the crisis for which they were created is long gone. Our massive standing army was needed to save the world from the communists starting in the late 1940s, and now it is needed to save America from the terrorists. It always works the same way. Remember being told more than a year ago that we were only locking down for two weeks – “fifteen days to slow the spread,” they told us? Now we are looking at never-ending lockdowns, mask mandates, and vaccine passports.

The same deep state bureaucracy that has been running our government from the shadows for the past six decades has a vested interest in keeping us deployed abroad, whether in Afghanistan or in any of the other dozens of nations we are currently engaged in. In Fool’s Errand, Scott Horton says that the military / industrial complex and the deep state bureaucracy are really the same thing:

“Their priorities now vastly outweigh those of the civilian population, just as Eisenhower had cautioned. The necessity of emergency has been their mandate to maintain power, and it appears that they will never let it go. None of these things really have anything to do with helping the people of Afghanistan or even securing true American national defense interests there. Instead, the economics of politics create a conspiracy of a thousand separate interests and motives, none of them significant enough to justify the policy on their own, yet they somehow add up to a bureaucratic inertia that has thus far proven impossible to restrain.”

Scott Horton, Fool’s Errand

As I alluded to in my essay on the failures of the conservative movement, a cadre of socially liberally yet fiscally conservative activists migrated to the right in the second half of the 20th century. These neoconservatives were extremely anti-Communist, but not for the same reasons most right-wing Americans were. Many of the original neoconservatives were Trotskyites, who believed that Joseph Stalin had betrayed the purity of the original socialist revolution. They fled their homes in Russia and eastern Europe and allied themselves with American social conservatives to defeat the Soviet Union. In reality, the neocons had little in common with American social conservatives outside of their shared hatred of the USSR, but they successfully merged the concepts of conservatism with unchecked militarism. With the Cold War ending, these neoconservatives needed a new conflict to keep this alliance alive. 9/11 provided the perfect justification. Who could possible object to invading the country that harbored the people who killed three thousand Americans? The nation’s feelings were summed up by country star Toby Keith:

“Now this nation that I love has fallen under attack, a mighty sucker punch came flyin’ in from somewhere in the back. Soon as we could see it clearly through our big black eye, man, we lit up your world like the fourth of July.”

Nineteen terrorists had committed the atrocity of 9/11, and they were backed by a few hundred others. Yet our elected leaders and neoconservative thinkers did an incredible job of using our desire for vengeance against those that harmed us to justify endless intervention, invasion, and occupation for the next twenty years. If the neoconservatives and deep state warmongers learned one thing from Vietnam, it was that high casualties are the one thing the American people will not tolerate. More than fifty thousand Americans never came home from the jungles of Indochina, which combined with the compulsory draft fed the antiwar movement of the 1960s and 70s. The Global War on Terror, on the other hand, has neither the high casualties of Vietnam nor a draft. This has allowed the bureaucrats to conduct their military adventures long after most Americans have forgotten about the whole thing.

The American people have notoriously short attention spans and quickly acclimate to the new status quo. Now that we have been involved in the Middle East for decades, it can seem controversial to suggest changing that situation. Recall the Republican-led Congress pushing a bill that would have prevented President Trump from withdrawing our troops from Syria, just a few years after the same Congress had opposed President Obama’s initial deployment. There is also an element of binary thinking involved. Americans who grew up during the Cold War grew accustomed to a world that was split between good and evil. The Russians were the bad guys, and we were the good guys. When Russia invaded Afghanistan, they were the bad guys, so we had to help the good guys. President Bush elucidated this view when he divided the world into two groups in a speech shortly after 9/11:

“Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

President George W. Bush, speech to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001.

Today, that binary view is even more embedded in the American psyche. College campuses and even grade schools now teach from an intersectional perspective, looking at culture through a Marxist lens that divides everyone into two groups – the oppressed and the oppressors. The media/academia complex is therefore able to appeal to both sides’ binary thinking – the right feels a duty to intervene in nations such as Afghanistan because we must stop the evil terrorists, while the left feels a duty to stay there to ensure that oppressed minorities such as women and gays are protected from the evil oppressors in the Taliban.

We can see both sides at work as globalist leaders attempt to justify our endless wars.

In 2018, General H.R. McMaster, who was formerly a commander of US troops in Afghanistan as well as President Trump’s National Security Advisor, went on Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge show to explain why we must remain in Afghanistan forever:

“It’s not a bad investment. It is a good idea. Think of it as insurance, insurance against a return of these murderous groups that want to kill our children. It’s a myth that despite this vast investment of blood and treasure that nothing has been gained in Afghanistan.”

H.R. McMaster, Uncommon Knowledge October 23, 2018

When President Trump signed a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in early 2020, his former National Security Advisor John Bolton argued that we had a moral imperative to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely. After the agreement was announced, Bolton tweeted his disapproval:

Even former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who campaigned for the 2004 Democratic presidential primary on a platform of withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, complained when President Trump began withdrawing troops from the Middle East. Replying to a tweet by former Obama staffer Ro Khanna, Dean wrote hysterically:

This is what we call “mission creep”. We went to Afghanistan in 2001 ostensibly to destroy Al Qaeda and topple the Taliban, but now our supposed national security experts say we must stay there indefinitely, not only to prevent all future terrorism, but also to ensure that children can go to school and women enjoy equal civil rights. If this is a justification for indefinite occupation, then why not invade every other country that does not share our values? Saudi Arabia still adheres to a strict interpretation of Islamic law, should we invade and occupy Riyadh and force them to ban the burqa? Singapore imposes harsher punishments on petty criminals than we are accustomed to here, should we invade their little island and force them to adopt American jurisprudence? Should we invade Mexico and Central America to put a stop to drug crime?

Even if we accept the premise that we have a right to invade and occupy foreign nations to force them to adopt American values, this only raises the question of what exactly are American values? If you are of an older generation of conservative, you believe that American values are freedom, liberty, a good work ethic, a belief in the Christian God, fairness, true justice, and the right to pursue happiness without government interference. However, look at the American values being spread across the world by our government and NGOs today – extreme feminism, homosexual propaganda, transgender dogma, and agnosticism, if not outright atheism. Do you feel comfortable supporting this kind of worldwide evangelism? We rightly condemned the way the USSR exported atheistic communism during the Cold War, but 21st century Americanism might well be worse.

During the month of June – the so-called “Pride Month” celebrated by every American politician and corporation – the US embassy in Kabul tweeted a picture of a rainbow flag. The fact that this might offend the Muslims in Afghanistan that we are trying to convert to Americanism did not bother the embassy staff; I suspect they took a perverse joy in pushing something so controversial onto their hosts.

Several thinkers on the right have been using the phrase “globohomo” to describe this new American secular religion. The “globo” refers to globalism, the idea that national borders are outdated and that we are all citizens of the world, with no distinct culture worth protecting. The “homo” can refer either to homosexuality, their preferred vector for attacking the family, which is the foundation of all society, or homogeneity, the idea that we must all be made to think and believe the same. Globohomo activists spread their religion with more passion than the most zealous 19th century Christian missionaries. Recall that Congress overrode President Trump’s veto of a spending bill last December that included all sorts of insane budget items, including ten million dollars for “gender programs” in Pakistan. Republican leaders balk at spending money on American citizens, claiming it is creeping socialism and too expensive, but there is no foreign aid too big for our government to cheerfully fund. Our occupying armies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the rest of the world are just agents to assist in exporting globohomo propaganda to every corner of the planet.

Last March, when it still seemed like our occupation of Afghanistan might go on forever, foreign policy pundit Richard Hanania posted a long Twitter thread about a US government report on gender equality in Afghanistan. He first notes that there are no native Afghan words for “gender,” and facetiously remarks that, “the US will need to help change the language, maybe introduce new pronouns to accomplish its mission.” Reading through the document, Hanania reports incredulously that the US created gender quotas for the Afghan parliament, which predictably led to sexual harassment of female representatives. The report also says that many of these female representatives had never visited the places they were supposed to represent. The same issues came when the US tried to impose gender quotas on the Afghan National Army as well. Hanania concludes his thread by referring to the Afghanistan Papers expose, which quotes a USAID worker complaining that gender equality was often the central goal of every single project in the country and noted that it caused resentment and revolt among the Afghans.

Remember the Afghanistan Papers? They were a collection of damning exposes of our occupation that were compiled and published in late 2019. These papers revealed that much of what was reported to the American people were outright lies, and that our mission there was an abject failure. We were spending literally trillions of dollars, that rather than being used to create a modern democratic country and ensure safety and stability for the Afghan people, were instead being diverted to NGOs and warlords alike. Rather than instigate a thorough review and reconsideration of our policy there, they were quickly forgotten.

Perhaps we could have rebuilt some semblance of civilization in Afghanistan had we adapted to the local culture rather than attempting to force 21st century Americanism on the population. In a piece this week for the British news magazine The Critic, Gawain Towler remembers meeting the last king of Afghanistan Mohammed Zahir Shah around the same time that US forces were beginning their mission to topple the Taliban. Towler wonders if, rather than trying to create a democracy in Afghanistan, the US and coalition allies should instead have restored the king to his throne. Sure, Americans have an innate disgust for the whole concept of monarchy, considering how our country began, but Zahir Shah had some advantages that our puppets Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani did not. For one thing, he already had legitimacy, as he and his family had ruled over Afghanistan during its golden age between the Third Anglo-Afghan War and the coups of the 1970s. Second, monarchy has some advantages over democracy when attempting to rule a land of distinct tribes such as Afghanistan. However, the US government never seriously considered the option. Towler says:

“The US, though it was aware of the possibilities of an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem, and a solution that could have utilised the residual loyalty of the Afghan peoples, decided against. The rest is dour, bloody history.”

Gawain Towler, August 17, 2021
Mohammed Zahir Shah, King of Afghanistan from 1933 to 1973.

In its arrogance, the US decided to impose not only democracy but our twisted 21st century values on the Afghan people. It was never going to work, not in twenty years, not in two hundred, but our military and political leaders continually demanded that we remain there forever. Even today, as the last Americans are being evacuated from Kabul and the Taliban is firmly in control of the country for the first time in nearly twenty years, some neoconservative pundits are demanding we go back into the fray. Mainstream news media is lambasting Joe Biden over the catastrophe in Kabul, claiming that his decision to follow through with President Trump’s withdrawal was a mistake. While some conservatives are happy to see the legacy media finally find fault with Biden, we should not be too quick to celebrate. The only reason they attack him now is to try and return us to the paradigm of endless war that our globalist deep state wants to continue.

Some of their rationales have become farcical. Numerous articles have been published in the past two weeks lamenting the billions of dollars’ worth of rare earth minerals known to be in Afghanistan and complaining that our withdrawal means that China will soon be making deals with the Taliban to extract them. This is yet more mission creep, more excuses for us to never leave. In Fool’s Errand, Scott Horton addressed the mineral issue, had been brought up by US commanders such as General David Petraeus. He writes:

“Did the generals really think the American public would be impressed by such arguments? That the US Army should militarily occupy a country in the heart of Eurasia indefinitely because a few American companies might be able to make some money mining lithium there someday? Apparently.”

Scott Horton, Fool’s Errand
General David Petraeus testifies before Congress about the endless wars.

Why did the same country that defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in less than four years fail to defeat the Taliban and establish a modern Westphalian nation-state in Afghanistan in twenty?

Perhaps we were never meant to win at all. In a 2011 interview, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange explained his theory of why we continue to occupy foreign nations:

“Because the goal is not to completely subjugate Afghanistan. The goal is to use Afghanistan to wash money out of the tax bases of the United States, out of the tax bases of European countries through Afghanistan and back into the hands of a transnational security elite. That is the goal, i.e., the goal is to have an endless war, not a successful war.”

Julian Assange, 2011

Remember that Assange was beloved in the 2000s when he embarrassed the Bush Administration but became globalist enemy number one when he likewise embarrassed Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. Today he sits in a prison cell at the behest of the American deep state.

Julian Assange was forcibly removed from the Ecuadorian embassy in London on April 11, 2019.

Even if we really were trying to win, Afghanistan is a difficult place to fully conquer. Whereas Japan surrendered in 1945 when faced with doomsday weapons that could annihilate entire cities, Afghan rebels shrugged off the loss of their cities and faded into the mountains. All they had to do was wait us out. As the saying goes, we have the watches, but they have the time. The Taliban learned the same lessons from history as the North Vietnamese. More than two thousand years ago, the Roman general Fabius Maximus faced a similar situation. The Carthaginian warlord Hannibal Barca had invaded Italy and annihilated every Roman army that stood in his way. Fabius realized that he could not defeat Hannibal in open battle, so he instead spent years harassing the Carthaginians, keeping his army alive and intact until the Romans could send an invasion force under Scipio Africanus to threaten Carthage itself.

Hannibal remains one of the greatest generals in history, but he failed to win the war against Rome.

The Fabian Strategy has proven to be the best way for an inferior force to defeat a more powerful aggressor. George Washington utilized this strategy in the American Revolution, only giving battle to the British when he had the advantage and keeping his army alive and intact the rest of the time. While Washington won several important victories against the British, such as at Boston and Trenton, perhaps his greatest feat was withdrawing from Long Island after a defeat. So long as Washington and his army survived, the British could never declare victory. Washington knew that time was on his side. If he could keep his army intact in the face of trained redcoats, disease, and the inevitable loss of morale, then eventually the British Parliament would be unwilling to continue spending the money and lives it would take to defeat him.

Washington At Valley Forge by Percy Moran, 1911.

Our political and military leaders have forgotten this important lesson ever since the United States became a world power. Ho Chi Minh and the Vietnamese communists used this strategy against us, as did the Taliban rebels in Afghanistan and the insurgency in Iraq. In 2007, President Bush appointed General David Petraeus to implement a new counter-insurgency strategy in Iraq, but this failed as well. There was nothing we could do in the Middle East to shake the correct perception that we were an occupying army imposing a foreign culture on a proud people.

The people of Afghanistan have always been a loose confederation of tribes who would rather not have to work together with each other. Our attempt to impose democratic rule in this environment was doomed to failure, especially since our idea of democracy involved propping up globalist bureaucrats and corrupt warlords. The first president of our puppet government was Hamid Karzai, a warlord who was educated in India and had raised funds for the Mujahideen in Pakistan. His successor, Ashraf Ghani, was a globalist bureaucrat that had lectured in American universities before returning to Afghanistan to take up the mantle of leadership. The Roman Empire used to take the sons of conquered barbarian chieftains and raise them in Rome, immersing them in Roman culture, then returning them home to serve as puppet leaders. The American globalist empire does the same thing. While men like Karzai and Ghani looked good on paper to the American bureaucrats running the show, they never achieved much popular support in their own countries.

Ashraf Ghani, former President of the Republic of Afghanistan.

The various warlords we propped up in an effort to achieve democratic legitimacy were even worse. Many were corrupt, skimming millions of dollars intended to aid the Afghan people and build infrastructure. Many pundits have suggested that the supposed “three hundred thousand” troops in the Afghan National Army that Joe Biden bragged about earlier this summer never really existed anywhere but on paper, just cover for millions of dollars laundered through the Afghan government.

Pederasty was widespread, and the American government covered up the systematic rape of boys by Afghan army officers and police chiefs for fear that the truth would erode trust in the puppet government. If you were a regular Afghan citizen, how would the American occupation look to you if you knew the truth about the corruption and mass rape that was going on with our tacit approval? What would you do if the Taliban came in and promised to put an end to such things and expel the foreign occupiers? Is it any wonder that many cities and army units simply surrendered to the Taliban during their August offensive rather than fight to protect an illegitimate and degenerate regime?

One of the issues with the way we went about our occupation was that we lacked objective knowledge about the local political situation. Once tribal warlords learned that we were tracking down members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban, it became a game of settling old scores. Without knowing any better, American forces likely ended up arresting or killing people who had nothing to do with terrorism. The people who rose highest in our puppet government were the warlords who knew best how to manipulate their American allies.

Afghan leaders, bureaucrats, and warlords at a ceremony on May 4, 2017.

In Fool’s Errand, Scott Horton says:

“The US has intervened all over, picking winners and losers based on bad or scarce information, making political compromises with terrible criminals, and sowing the seeds of future distortions of power.”

Scott Horton, Fool’s Errand

Later in the book, Horton explains how locals would manipulate our troops by accusing their enemies of being Taliban. He says

“By always choosing to see each conflict as a fight between good guys and bad guys, the US creates self-defeating policies and makes new enemies they have to deal with later.”

Scott Horton, Fool’s Errand

The Taliban has learned their own lessons from the past. Military strategist and author William S. Lind describes a concept called Fourth Generation Warfare, which moves beyond the old idea of armies facing each other in the field. The Fabian Strategy can be seen as a form of Fourth Generation War, especially when it is a non-uniformed irregular force that can blend in with civilians when not fighting the superior army. This is exactly what the Viet Cong did in the 1960s, and what the Taliban insurgency has done for the past twenty years. Another component of Fourth Generation War is the moral high ground. In 2001, the United States easily held the moral position, as we were seeking justice for the horrific atrocity of 9/11. The longer we stayed, however, the more we lost that high ground. Today we are seen as an occupying force, allowing and even abetting corruption and perversity among our allies. The Taliban, on the other hand, has been able to claim the moral high ground, at least in their own country, by promising to oust the occupiers, get revenge on corrupt collaborators, and restore order and security to a war-torn nation. It is interesting to watch these past few weeks as the Taliban has stopped short of the mass bloodshed that western journalists have predicted. It is as if the Taliban has realized the moral factor of Fourth Generation Warfare and are, at least publicly, at least for now, attempting to hold that position.

A final reason that the Taliban was able to defeat us in Afghanistan is a problem that affects every area of American life today. Globalists believe that the values they espouse are universal, common to all mankind, rather than restricted to any specific culture or people. In his 2004 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush said:

“We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom. And even when that desire is crushed by tyranny for decades, it will rise again.”

President George W. Bush, January 20, 2004

But what if our definition of freedom is not what other cultures prefer? We envision freedom as growing up without government oppression, of having an opportunity to work for a living, support a family, and own a nice house with a white picket fence. We believe that freedom means we can choose how we worship, or if we believe at all. We believe a proper society is one based on democracy, and the idea of one man / one vote. Is that what Afghans want? Is that what Iraqis want? Is that what Somalis, Vietnamese, and Russians desire? The purpose of nations and borders is to allow people groups to create governments and societies that fit their needs. This is the essence of nationalism, and the basis for the Westphalian system. The values of Western European Christians were so successful at creating the most prosperous society in history that we forgot where these values came from and assumed that they were simply common to mankind. Why would an Afghan not want the same white picket fence that symbolized the American dream? Besides, abstract ideas such as democracy and liberty are meaningless without concrete things such as security, food, and medicine. In our zeal to export democracy to Afghanistan, we allowed corrupt warlords to interfere with those concrete needs.

The Taliban won because they believed in something, while we have become so tolerant, so inclusive that we no longer believe in anything at all. In an article for Tablet Magazine, Lee Smith wrote last week about a concept drawn from the medieval historian Ibn Khaldun called assabiya, or group solidarity. Smith writes:

“Its awareness of itself as a coherent people with a drive for primacy is frequently augmented by religious ideology. The stronger the tribe’s assabiya, the stronger the group.”

Lee Smith, August 18, 2021

Smith explains how assabiya is often stronger in more primitive peoples, but as civilizations develop, they lose that social cohesion. An advanced civilization like the United States has less internal loyalty than a primitive tribe like the Taliban. We have superior military technology, but they have something we lack: a reason to fight.

People fighting for a cause will often defeat mercenaries who are only fighting for a paycheck.

My friend Dan McKnight is a Marine Corps veteran and the founder of the antiwar group BringOurTroopsHome.US. As the Taliban advanced on Kabul, McKnight lamented the waste of blood and treasure in the Afghan quagmire:

“Eighty-nine billion [dollars] in equipment and training for the Afghan military was paid by you and me. 20 years and nearly 4000 lives. For what? For the Afghan civil war to continue… a war they’ve been fighting for 40+ years. They simply pushed the pause button on their civil war for 20 years while we occupied their country under an unconstitutional Authorization Of Use Of Military Force.”

Dan McKnight, August 13, 2021

What hubris we had! Everyone from President Bush to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol thought they could accomplish what the Soviet Union and the British Empire could not. They all thought that the lessons of history did not apply to the invincible United States of America. A common refrain back then was that the response to 9/11 must be overwhelming, lest the world think that the United States was weak, and take advantage of that weakness to erode our supremacy. Ironically, our failure to pacify Afghanistan over the course of twenty years has left us weaker than ever.

In the 2010 film Iron Man II, the villain played by Mickey Rourke says to Robert Downey Jr.’s title character:

“If you could make God bleed, then people will cease to believe in Him. And there will be blood in the water, and the sharks will come.”

The sharks are beginning to circle. Just hours after the Taliban took control of Kabul, Chinese state media published an article warning that the US will not be able to protect Taiwan when (not if) the CCP decides to fully annex the island:

“Once a cross-Straits war breaks out while the mainland seizes the island with forces, the US would have to have a much greater determination than it had for Afghanistan, Syria, and Vietnam if it wants to interfere.”

Global Times, August 16, 2021

The United States has tacitly guaranteed the safety of Taiwan, the last remnants of the old Republic of China, in case of invasion by the Communists. But if I were Taiwan right now, I would not count on American support.

Consider that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union for global supremacy lasted forty-five years. The era of the US being the sole superpower has been ongoing for thirty years now, and twenty of those thirty years have been spent in Afghanistan. What a waste of an opportunity that few nations in history have been fated to receive!

With the humiliation of the US military, intelligence agencies, and diplomatic corps in Afghanistan this year, look for them to take out their frustration on us. The massive national security apparatus put in place after 9/11 that was used to hunt down Al Qaeda and other Islamic terror groups is coming home. Over the last few years, the deep state bureaucracy has been working to portray conservatives as the new threat. Military and intelligence leadership have been claiming that supposed “white supremacists” are the greatest threat to peace and safety in America, and after the January 6th protests at the Capitol, anyone who voted for President Trump is seen as a potential insurrectionist. Resistance to mask and vaccine mandates is also being portrayed as domestic terrorism. The few outspoken activists who criticized the creation of this national security apparatus in the early 2000s have been proven correct. The deep state military / industrial complex must keep churning, and it does not care if its targets are Afghans, Iraqis, or American conservatives.

To resist the tyranny that we all know is coming requires a change in perspective.

First, conservatives must let go of the reflexive and unconditional support that we have always given the military. Today’s armed forces are not the red-blooded American men charging into battle to defend our freedoms that they once were. Rather, today’s military embodies the worst aspects of woke ideology – the anti-white racism of Marxist Critical Race Theory, full acceptance of homosexual and transgender propaganda, and a firm belief that the purpose of the armed forces is to bring about social change rather than win wars. The armed forces of the United States are today more likely to be used against us than to defend our freedoms.

Our military leadership is full of over-decorated men and women who have not achieved valor in the field but instead have risen through woke schools and think tanks, and who mouth the correct platitudes. A meme went around social media last week showing Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in World War II and later President of the United States, compared with Mark Milley, the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The overweight Milley has more medals on his chest than Ike, despite never having won a war, or conquered anything larger than a buffet table. Milley demonstrated why he has risen to his current post earlier this year when he testified to Congress that his priority was understanding the so-called “white rage” that drives conservative Americans and Trump supporters.

Our military no longer deserves the unreserved devotion of the American people. Patriotic Americans should stop looking to the military as a viable choice for a career or training. Stop sending your sons (and your daughters) to this arm of the deep state. I would like to see conservative veterans forming unofficial militias throughout the land, giving young men the benefit of training that will serve them well in the future without woke indoctrination and the risk of being deployed to maintain the globalist American empire.

Second, we should take a lesson from the Taliban. Obviously, those men hold values and beliefs that are antithetical to our American Christian heritage, but their tactics deserve serious consideration. In 2002, the Taliban had been annihilated, and its few remaining leaders were hiding in caves or in exile abroad. By 2021, they had taken over every major city in Afghanistan. Rather than pretending they were “winning” all along, or trying to vote in a rigged system, the Taliban adopted the mindset of dissidents and insurgents in their own country. They did not grab their guns and assault Kabul on day one, but instead spent time, energy, and money building organizations and relationships throughout the country. They demonstrated to citizens and tribesmen that they would do a better job of ensuring their safety and security than the American-backed government. When the time came for their final offensive, most of the groundwork had already been laid: many cities and armies simply surrendered, and some even joined the Taliban on their march to the capital.

What does that mean for an American resistance against Marxist tyranny? It means we cannot assume that once a civil war begins that we will automatically win. It means we must build our own dissident organizations and start forming alliances of red communities and states. It means we, our families, and our friends must become antifragile, because the heavy hand of the federal government is coming for us. We must do the hard boring work of building a shadow society that will be ready to run a new nation someday, rather than waiting for a Caesar to call us to battle in the streets.

Third, we must understand who our tribe is. Recall Ibn Khaldun’s concept of assabiya, or group solidarity. In places like Afghanistan, a person’s first loyalty is to his family and then his tribe, not to such an abstract concept as a country. For many years, the United States was a triumph over tribalism, as immigrants from England, Scotland, Germany, Russia, Poland, and Italy left their tribal loyalties behind and gave their allegiance to the nation that was America. We thought we could impose the same civic nationalism on a nation like Afghanistan, which has proud tribes with cultural memory going back thousands of years.

For many years, conservatives have repeated the slogan “my country, right or wrong.” We must think smaller. Tribalism is returning to the world. The demographics of our country are rapidly shifting from being dominated by the descendants of European Christians, to a mélange of tribes and nations from across the globe. Ironically, the importation of refugees from the many countries we have intervened in over the past twenty years since 9/11 has helped accelerate the demographic decline of our own nation. The shared culture, heritage, beliefs, and values that once united us are now sources of division, strife, and even hatred. The coalition of angry tribes that forms today’s Democratic Party wants to keep us divided so that we will not pose a threat to their rule. They want to keep us focused on abstractions like the flag, a sports team, or party labels. They know that if the historic American nation were to unite as one, nothing could stop us. The Taliban, for all their obvious faults, believed in themselves. We must do the same. No more apologizing for our ancestors or proclaiming ourselves above petty partisanship. We must rediscover the same nationalist zeal, the same reason for being that our founding fathers were so confident in.

Finally, we must look forward, not backward. America as we know it is done. There is no returning to the 1990s, the 1950s, or any other time when things were better than they are now. While we can look to the past for inspiration in building our future, we must remain focused on what is to come. We cannot undo the results of the 2020 election, and even if we could, not even Donald Trump was able to stem the tide of degeneracy that is washing over our nation, nor the creeping totalitarianism being pushed by the deep state bureaucracy. Reclaiming the culture is a tough road; why not build our own culture outside the rotting corpse of americana? Reforming the public school system is nigh impossible; better to build a new system based on homeschooling, private schooling, and online learning, with an emphasis on tradition, the classics, and the Great Books. The same goes for churches, corporations, and our very government. Did the Taliban attempt to reform the corrupt Karzai and Ghani government? No, they created a more attractive alternative.

The same Toby Keith who sang such a defiant ballad calling for revenge on America’s enemies in 2001 sings a different tune now. This summer, he released song for Independence Day that includes the line:

“Seems like everybody’s pissin’ on the red, white and blue; Happy birthday America, whatever’s left of you.”

The United States as we know it does not have much left in the tank. Our own domestic enemies are attempting to use this time of decline to establish a tyrannical state that would be the envy of totalitarian dictators throughout history. We must seize the opportunity to build a new nation once again dedicated to freedom and liberty.

In his piece for Tablet Magazine, Lee Smith writes:

“It’s frightening to see American leadership pulling America apart at the seams. And it’s shocking to see our constitutional order ripped to shreds as the establishment undercuts property rights, imposes capricious public health regulations, mandates experimental medical treatments, and holds political prisoners. But the lesson of Ibn Khaldun is that these destructive policies are simply indications that a cycle that has been repeated through the ages is once again in motion. To watch history erupt in our own timeline is indeed terrifying, but it is part of the natural order of human societies.”

Lee Smith, August 18, 2021

Empires rise, and empires fall. That is the great lesson of history. No nation is exempt from these ironclad laws. Is it just coincidence that several great empires spent their final years in the mountains of the Hindu Kush? The British Empire dissolved thirty years after their withdrawal following the Third Anglo-Afghan War. The Soviet Union collapsed a mere two years after they withdrew from Afghanistan. How long does America have before we face the same fate?

Major General Chris Donahue, Commander of the 82nd Airborne, was the last US soldier to leave Afghanistan on August 30, 2021.

2 thoughts on “Forever War

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