An all-too predictable disaster

Published date19 August 2021
Publication titleOtago Daily Times: Web Edition Articles (New Zealand)
As I watch the Taliban walking through the presidential palace in Kabul, I can't help but think about a series of articles I published in the ODT in late 2001 and then again in 2012. I predicted then that the United States was making a mistake in invading Afghanistan and the so-called ''war on terrorism'' was ultimately going to end in humiliating failure.

I argued that a ''war on terrorism'' was misconceived and the United States was acting out of hubris in regards to its military power. I remember the irate letters to the editor accusing me of being an ivory tower naysayer who knew nothing of the real world.

The scenes we are witnessing in Afghanistan represent a failure on an almost unimaginable scale.

The United States spent more than $2 trillion and lost more than 2000 troops over 20 years attempting to pacify, stabilise and reconstruct the country. For the people of Afghanistan, the cost of foreign intervention was even higher: more than 200,000 lives lost, countless injured and displaced, and two decades of unending insecurity and instability. The US has literally nothing to show for all this waste of lives and treasure, and this defeat will likely rank up there with the defeat in Vietnam in the annals of US military failures.

Certainly, when you see the helicopters flying embassy staff out, it's difficult to see the difference between the fall of Saigon and the fall of Kabul. And yet, this was an utterly predictable outcome, especially if you read the so-called Afghanistan Papers released by the Washington Post in 2019.

The defeat in Afghanistan first and foremost signals the absolute failure of military force as an instrument of national power in today's world.

For some time now, researchers have noted that the most powerful military powers in the world are no more likely to win wars than weaker states, and are in fact, winning wars less often. The failure of all the major powers of their day to conquer Afghanistan — the British in the 19th century, the Soviet Union in the 20th century and the United States in the 21st century — is a clear illustration of the limits of military force, as are the US military failures in Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and Syria. It turns out that the latest drone technology, sophisticated missiles, superior air power, supercarriers and 100,000 highly trained troops are no match for men with old Kalashnikovs, pick-up trucks and the will to fight. The clear lesson here is that military force is mostly useless...

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