Lady Butler, Remnants of an Army, 1879, Tate Gallery. Assistant Surgeon William Brydon, the sole survivor of a British Army of 16,000 men, arrives at the gates of Jallabad in 1842.
Thomas Joscelyn sums up why we failed with dead on precision.
There is plenty of blame to go around.
Blame President Bill Clinton. His administration didn’t take Al Qaeda seriously. Clinton and his advisers passed up multiple opportunities to target Osama bin Laden. The Al Qaeda threat manifested on Clinton’s watch, leading to 9/11 and, ultimately, the war in Afghanistan.
Blame President George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld. In 2001, they had the opportunity to deliver a death blow to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But instead of committing the forces necessary to hunt down bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and others, they hesitated. The U.S. relied on local warlords and other actors, some of whom were duplicitous. Bin Laden and Zawahiri finagled their way out of the remote Tora Bora Mountains. Al Qaeda regrouped in the years that followed.
Blame Barack Obama. Obama decided it was in our “vital national interest” to help the Afghans build the “capacity” to defend their country on their own. In December 2009, he committed forces — at their peak, more than 100,000 of them — to accomplish the task. More Americans were killed in Afghanistan during Obama’s war than in any other period of this debacle. But Obama wasn’t fighting to win. His surge in forces came with an expiration date of just 18 months and then he chased a fanciful peace deal with the Taliban. To his credit, Obama ordered the raid that killed bin Laden. But Al Qaeda lived, despite Obama’s attempts to declare the group dead.
Blame Donald Trump. His instinct was to bring the soldiers home. Instead, he agreed to a small increase in America’s footprint, claiming that the U.S. was fighting for “victory.” He didn’t mean it.
Blame Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who portrayed the Taliban as America’s counterterrorism partner, saying the group had agreed to “work alongside of us to destroy” Al Qaeda. Trump repeated Pompeo’s claim, saying the Taliban “will be killing terrorists for us.” This is nonsense. The Taliban’s men are terrorists and there’s no evidence they’ve broken with Al Qaeda.
Blame the generals. It is true that they were asked to fight a war that was undermined by America’s erratic political leadership. But no general ever stood up to say: No. We cannot prosecute an unwinnable war.
Since 2018, the U.S. military has been invested in the State Department’s delusional peace process with the Taliban, repeatedly claiming that there was no “military solution” to the conflict. But this was always a lie.
As the Taliban takes control of Kabul, Americans can see for themselves that the jihadists had a “military solution” in mind all along. The Taliban and Al Qaeda were never ambivalent about their jihad. They were fighting to win.