Amid the tragic scenes of the swift Taliban takeover of Afghanistan’s capital after the U.S. military withdrawal, mainstream American media outlets have tossed nuance and sober analysis aside and instead turned hysterical, seemingly incapable of distinguishing between the limits of U.S. military power and their understandable desires to help the Afghan people.
As part of that campaign, news outlets have been promoting the very people who were responsible for pushing the United States into this 20-year quagmire, along with their claims that the U.S. military should stay in Afghanistan indefinitely (in most cases without an examination of the costs that that course of action would entail).
In one of the more brazen examples, H.R. McMaster — a former U.S. Army lieutenant general who spent time as a senior military official in Afghanistan and served at one point as Donald Trump’s national security adviser — blasted the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan on CNN Monday while calling for the U.S. military to remain there indefinitely.
“And what’s so sad … [is that] it was a sustainable level of commitment, right, this ‘end the endless wars’ mantra,” he said, deriding those who want to end our forever wars. But then in his very next breath, McMaster proposed staying in Afghanistan forever to prop up an endless conflict. “You’re talking about 3,500 troops or maybe 8,000 troops. I mean, it really doesn’t matter that we’re enabling the Afghans to bear the brunt of the fight.”
Of course there was no discussion of what that proposal might cost the American or Afghan people.
But recall that McMaster himself, almost a decade ago, provided a rosy assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, all while seeming to acknowledge the permanent roadblock toward stability there: rampant corruption.
“Our soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors, working alongside Afghans, have shut down the vast majority of the physical space in which the enemy can operate,” McMaster said during an interview with the Wall Street Journal in May 2012. “The question is, how do we consolidate those gains politically and psychologically?”
Later in the interview, McMaster identified the key problem with consolidating military gains, noting that Afghan officials in Kabul were “robbing Afghanistan of much-needed revenue, undermining rule of law, degrading the effectiveness of state institutions, and eroding popular confidence in the government.”
But it’s not just McMaster. David Petraeus — former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan who would later get caught sharing classified information with his mistress — argued on CNN this week that Afghanistan “was not Vietnam,” and called for a “sustained commitment” there. Petraeus didn’t elaborate on how long that commitment would extend, but comments he made to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in 2017 suggest that he knows there would be no end date. “I told Congress we wouldn’t be able to flip [Afghanistan] the way we flipped Iraq,” he said. “I had no expectation that we would be able to flip [Afghanistan].”
Cable news this week has featured a cacophony of calls for the U.S. military to remain indefinitely in Afghanistan under the assumption that there would be no substantial cost to doing so. Pundits have pointed to the relatively quiet U.S. military presence there for the past year and a half, forgetting that the Doha peace deal with the Taliban was largely responsible for absence of American casualties or omitting the fact that the war between the Afghan military and security forces and the Taliban was actually intensifying.