By Ross Douthat, New York Times
A month ago I thought I was a cynic about our 20-year war in Afghanistan. Today, after watching our stumbling withdrawal and the swift collapse of practically everything we fought for, my main feeling is that I wasn’t cynical enough.
My cynicism consisted of the belief that the American effort to forge a decent Afghan political settlement failed definitively during Barack Obama’s first term in office, when a surge of U.S. forces blunted but did not reverse the Taliban’s recovery. This failure was then buried under a Vietnam-esque blizzard of official deceptions and bureaucratic lies, which covered over a shift in American priorities from the pursuit of victory to the management of stalemate, with the American presence insulated from casualties in the hopes that it could be sustained indefinitely.
Under this strategic vision — to use the word “strategic” generously — there would be no prospect of victory, no end to corruption among our allies and collateral damage from our airstrikes, no clear reason to be in Afghanistan, as opposed to any other failing state or potential terror haven, except for the sunk cost that we were there already. But if American casualty rates stayed low enough, the public would accept it, the Pentagon budget would pay for it, and nobody would have to preside over anything so humiliating as defeat.