The mujahideen’s tactical victory over the United States in Benghazi is significant, but its importance pales in comparison to the strategic victory Obama and his predecessors have handed to the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
As justifiable furor continues over the Obama administration’s blatant negligence in Benghazi, the Washington Post, on 19 October 2012, helpfully published an OpEd entitled “The U.S. isn’t losing in Afghanistan,”* a disingenuous piece that tries to assist Obama by portraying as success the president’s abject willingness to accept — and even assist — America’s strategic defeat in Afghanistan.
The author is a man named John Nagl, a former Army officer, a self-proclaimed “expert” on insurgency, and now a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. The core of his argument comes in the first sentence. “Americans,” Nagl asserts, “haven’t lost a war in so long we’ve forgotten what it looks like — and what it costs.” Nagl argues the only war we lost since 1945 is Vietnam. Really?
The truth plainly contradicts Nagl: U.S. military forces have not won a war since the day the Japanese surrendered in 1945. They may have scored a draw in Korea, but the remaining list of conflicts are all loses for the United States. I should add that the U.S. military has lost because its political leaders from both parties have been embarrassed by or ashamed of U.S. military power, and have not allowed U.S. forces to use their power to whatever extent necessary to destroy the enemy or convince him to retire from the field and henceforth steer clear of America. This pattern of cowardly political restraint must anger and frustrate U.S. general officers — who send their men to die knowing their presidents do not intend to win — but they seem to be getting use to it. Recall how utterly incapable General Petraeus and General McChrystal were in even suggesting that America sought “victory” in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.
Mr. Nagl’s analysis-by-assertion will not hold water, and it reinforces the view of the brilliant Israeli historian Martin van Creveld that most doctrine and assessments for counterinsurgencies are written my individuals who were on the losing side and whose ideas contributed to the loss. Van Creveld’s description fits Nagl precisely.
Without question, America has lost in Afghanistan. Our political leaders invaded Afghanistan with only one achievable mission. That was the military mission of applying as much force as was needed to destroy the Taliban, al-Qaeda, their civilian supporters and abettors, and Afghanistan’s infrastructure — and then get out lock, stock, and barrel with the full knowledge the exercise might need repeating. This was a mission that should have taken at most 15 months. Instead, President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld sent too few forces, used too little lethality, and arrogantly believed al-Qaeda and the Afghan mujahideen would give up when challenged by a superpower — apparently their clever advisers did not tell them about the USSR’s 1979-1992 Afghan debacle.
So the Bush administration slackened its already feeble military effort, claimed victory, and undertook the secularization and democratization of Afghanistan, using U.S. soldiers and Marines as well-diggers, political organizers, and social workers. The soldiers and Marines did their job and gave Afghans more schools, medical clinics, electricity, and paved roads than they have had in the last 35 years. But guess what? As these armed social-workers succeeded, the al-Qaeda-backed Taliban returned from its hiatus in the Afghan mountains and Pakistan, and its insurgency began a gradual process of gaining strength, nationwide reach, and popular support that continues today and will lead to a new Islamist regime in Kabul. The lesson here is that Afghans hate all foreign occupiers and will ultimately defeat any foreigners historically ignorant enough to move into the country and try to change their religious, political, social, and tribal traditions.
President Obama’s administration took over from Mr. Bush and made things much worse. He and Mrs. Clinton — who cares not how many Marines die as long as Afghan women are feminized to her liking — increased the pace and expense of certain-to-fail secularization and democratization programs. Generals Petreaus and McChrystal, Mr. Nagl, and an Australian lad called David Kilcullen cooked up a “counterinsurgency doctrine” to abet the delusions of Obama, Clinton, et al, a doctrine which has ensured America’s defeat in Afghanistan. This doctrine, of course, included the train-the-Afghan-military-to-take-over-from-NATO-forces plank, which has now yielded several years of NATO-trained Afghans killing U.S. Canadian, and British military and intelligence personnel — attackers who Mr. Nagl in his essay truthfully says oppose the U.S.-led occupation — and an Afghan military wholly unable to operate on its own and certain to melt away after NATO leaves. Again, none of President Obama’s crack counterinsurgency advisers — like Mr. Nagl — seems to have told him that the Red Army tried the same tack in the 1980s and failed utterly.
In a perverse way, Mr. Nagl is right in saying we are not losing in Afghanistan — but only because we lost when we remained in that country longer than 15 months and decided to pursue anything more than a military mission.
He is wrong, however, about Americans not being able to recognize a lost war. Because Americans have seen a lot of them since 1945, they are easy to identify. In the case of Afghanistan and Iraq all the boxes of defeat are checked off: (1) a complete failure to accomplish any U.S. war aims, except for two scalps — Saddam’s and Bin Laden’s; (2) the surrender of each country to America’s enemies, the Iraqi Shia and their Iranian pals and the Afghan Islamists, al-Qaeda, their allies, and our so-called Gulf Arab friends; (3) about 8,000 dead U.S. soldiers and Marines — and many thousands more maimed, hobbled, and mutilated — in wars their presidents and kow-towing general officers never intended to win, and which are now seen by the coming generation of Muslim males as Allah having allowed the mujahideen to defeat the second superpower; (4) the Islamization of Pakistan thanks to the inexcusably prolonged and un-won Bush-Obama Afghan war, which in turn sets the stage for an India-Pakistan confrontation over Afghanistan after NATO leaves; and (5) the construction of something akin to an east-to-west highway for mujahideen traveling from Pakistan to the Levant, Turkey, and Africa, giving them easy access to the powerful Islamist forces and immeasurable mountains of arms made available by the Arab Spring.
The foregoing amounts to utter defeat, and Mr. Nagl‘s assertion that America can control the now-growing threat in Afghanistan with air power and Special Forces after the U.S.-led coalition departs is quite simply a self-serving, American-killing piece of nonsense. The commonsense bottom line is that U.S. counterterrorism doctrine failed in Afghanistan. We have lost the war there, and, soon after next January’s inauguration, our new president will find that the Islamist threat to America is greater and geographically broader than it was at 9/11; that the U.S. military and its equipment are worn out, while the mujahideen are thriving with upgraded weaponry; and that American parents are becoming decidedly less eager to contribute their sons and daughters to die in wars our presidents and generals never mean to win and apparently do not mind losing.