The United States has always been a bad loser. Whether it has viewed itself as an imperial power, a military superpower or, in today's preferred terminology, the "world's policeman", the assumption is that everyone else must submit to its will.
All of which is the context for judging the outcry in western capitals over the US army's hurried exit last month from Kabul, its final hold-out in Afghanistan.
There are lots of voices on both sides of the Atlantic lamenting that messy evacuation. And it is hard not to hear in them - even after a catastrophic and entirely futile two-decade military occupation of Afghanistan - a longing for some kind of re-engagement.
Politicians are describing the pull-out as a "defeat" and bewailing it as evidence that the US is a declining power. Others are warning that Afghanistan will become a sanctuary for Islamic extremism, leading to a rise in global terrorism.
The subtext is that western powers need to meddle a little - or maybe a lot - more and longer in Afghanistan. The situation, it is implied, can still be fixed, or at the very least the Taliban can be punished as a warning to others not to follow in its footsteps.
All of this ignores the fact that the so-called "war for Afghanistan" was lost long ago. "Defeat" did not occur at Kabul airport. The evacuation was a very belated recognition that the US military had no reason, not even the purported one, to be in Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden evaded capture.
In fact, as experts on the region have pointed out, the US defeated itself. Once al-Qaeda had fled Afghanistan, and the Taliban's chastened fighters had slunk back to their villages with no appetite to take on the US Robocop, each local warlord or tribal leader seized the moment. They settled scores with enemies by informing on them, identifying to the US their rivals as "terrorists" or Taliban.
US commanders blew ever bigger holes through the new Pax Americana as their indiscriminate drone strikes killed friend and foe alike. Soon most Afghans outside the corrupt Kabul elite had good reason to hate the US and want it gone. It was the Pentagon that brought the Taliban back from the dead.Deceitful spin
But it was not just the Afghan elite that was corrupt. The country became a bottomless pit, with Kabul at its centre, into which US and British taxpayers poured endless money that enriched the war industries, from defence officials and arms manufacturers to mercenaries and private contractors.
Those 20 years produced a vigorous, powerful Afghanistan lobby in the heart of Washington that had every incentive to perpetuate the bogus narrative of a "winnable war".
The lobby understood that their enrichment was best sold under the pretence - once again - of humanitarianism: that the caring West was obligated to bring democracy to Afghanistan.
That deceitful spin, currently being given full throat by politicians, is not just there to rationalise the past. It will shape the future, too, in yet more disastrous ways for Afghanistan.
With American boots no longer officially on the ground, pressure is already building for war by other means.
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