US Has Devised a Way of Waging War That Inevitably Leads to Failure, by Patrick Cockburn

SLL has said repeatedly that : “In Washington, nothing succeeds like failure.” Not once has that statement been meant to be facetious. The companion aphorism: “If at first you don’t succeed, ask for a bigger budget.” From Patrick Cockburn at

An ill-judged attempt to find out who is to blame for failing to predict the swift victory of the Taliban and the disintegration of Afghan government forces is masking the most significant strategic lessons of the Afghan war.

Turning points in history usually come by surprise because, if the powers-that-be of the day could see those turning points coming at them, they would take steps to avoid them. Governments and the public like to believe that there is more inevitability in history than there really is. Unexpected events of great significance, such as the fall of France in 1940, the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 were followed by inquiries into why experts did not foresee them.

These investigations dig down deep in search of root causes of historic change and always find them. But, as Lord Northcliffe said, one “should never lose one’s sense of the superficial”. Key ingredients in important historic developments may be decisions and actions occurring that could easily have gone the other way. For instance, there were long-standing reasons for Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait in 1990, but none of these would have mattered if the Iraqi leader had changed his mind at the last minute.

I argued for a decade that the Afghan government was a floating wreck and that it was its unpopularity and fragility, and not the strength of the Taliban, that was the driving force of events. Yet, unsatisfactory though this situation was, it could have gone on for a long time had not Donald Trump signed an extraordinarily one-sided US withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in February 2020. And even this might not have produced the final debacle, had Joe Biden not decided for domestic political motives to grandstand in his speech on 14 April this year confirming the American departure before the 9/11 anniversary.

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