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Almost 20 years later, the U.S. military high command still didn't want to leave the country where they had so impressively turned so many "corners" amid so much "progress" for so long. They made it all too clear to President Biden that they wanted to "maintain at least a modest troop presence" in Afghanistan. He nonetheless rejected their advice, ordering a full-scale withdrawal of U.S. forces. How sad, with success so (eternally) close! After all, as late as 2017, General John Nicholson, then the commander of American forces there, was still insisting that the U.S. and the Afghan military it supported had finally "turned the corner" and were "on a path to a win." As Foreign Policy reported at the time, he was the eighth commander to make such a claim, including General Stanley McChrystal in 2010 and General David Petraeus in 2011. Who knew that there were so many corners to turn in that country or, for that matter, in similarly invaded Iraq?
It's true that, almost two decades after President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan, the latest and longest-serving U.S. commander there, General Austin "Scott" Miller, has not taken credit for even one more corner turned. All he's claimed (no less improbably) is that U.S. forces will "go out with our heads held high." In less upbeat times that would simply have been called "defeat." Meanwhile, lest you thought there was no hope at all, the CIA continues to search for ways to keep the American war going, whether from neighboring states or by drone from the Persian Gulf. (Yes, the Persian Gulf, nine hours away!)
And consider that just a small summary of war, American-style, in the twenty-first century. In other words, we're talking about endless failures with more to come if the Washington-backed Afghan government collapses under the pressure of a rising Taliban that no one involved would ever imagine taking the slightest responsibility for.
Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and TomDispatch regular William Astore highlights that very reality today, while asking just who in this country will, in the end, be saddled with the blame for all those corners left unturned, not just in Afghanistan but in this century's never-ending U.S. war on terror across significant parts of the Greater Middle East and Africa. A historian and co-author of Hindenburg: Icon of German Militarism, he reminds us today of what can happen when the blame for defeat in war proves to be up for grabs. Tom
America Is Stabbing Itself in the Back
Tough Truths Are Desperately Needed About America's Lost Wars
Americans may already be lying themselves out of what little remains of their democracy.
The big lie uniting and motivating today's Republicans is, of course, that Donald Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 presidential election. Other big lies in our recent past include the notion that climate change is nothing but a Chinese hoax, that Russia was responsible for Hillary Clinton's electoral defeat in 2016, and that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was necessary because that country's leader, Saddam Hussein, had something to do with the 9/11 attacks (he didn't!) and possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States, a "slam dunk" truth, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet (it wasn't!).
Those and other lies, large and small, along with systemic corruption in Washington are precisely why so many Americans have been driven to despair. Small wonder that, in 2016, those "deplorables" reached out in desperation to a figure who wasn't a product of Washington's mendacious Beltway culture. Desperate times engender desperate acts, including anointing a failed casino owner and consummate con man as America's MAGA-cap-wearing savior. As the 45th president, Donald Trump set a record for lies that will likely remain unmatchable in its "greatness" or so we must hope anyway.
Sadly, Americans have become remarkably tolerant of comfortable lies, generally preferring them to uncomfortable truths. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the military realm that I've inhabited most of my life. The first casualty of war, so it's said, is truth, and since this country has remained perennially at war, we continue to eternally torture the truth as well.
When it comes to war, here are just a few of our all-American falsehoods: that this country is slow to anger because we prefer peace, even if wars are often necessary, which is also why peace-loving America must have the world's "finest" and by far the most expensive military on the planet; that just such a military is also a unique force for freedom on Planet Earth; that it fights selflessly "to liberate the oppressed" (a Special Forces motto) but never to advance imperial or otherwise selfish ambitions.
For a superpower that loves to flex its military muscles, such lies are essentially par for the course. Think of them, in fact, as government-issue (GI) lies. As a historian looking to the future, what worries me more are two truly insidious lies that, in the early 1930s, led to the collapse of a fledgling democracy in Weimar Germany, lies that in their own way helped to facilitate the Holocaust and that, under the right (that is, wrong) circumstances, could become ours as well. What were those two lies?
Germany's Tragic Lies After World War I
During World War I, the German military attempted to defeat the combined forces of Britain, France, Russia, and later the United States, among other powers, while simultaneously being "shackled to a corpse," as one German general described his country's main ally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By the middle of 1916, the German Second Reich led by Kaiser Wilhelm II had, in essence, become a military dictatorship devoted to total victory at any cost.
Two years later, that same military had been driven to exhaustion by its commanders. When it was on the verge of collapse, its generals washed their hands of responsibility and allowed the politicians to sue for peace. But even before the guns fell silent on November 11, 1918, certain reactionary elements within the country were already rehearsing two big and related lies that would facilitate the rise of a demagogue and the onset of an even more disastrous world war.
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