Ken Burns and Lyn Novick’s Vietnam documentary recently broadcast on PBS reveals how US leaders, elected, appointed, or serving in the military, from Kennedy and his administration through to Nixon and his administration deceived the American public. In private, these leaders recognized that the Vietnam war was unwinnable. In public, these same leaders continued to justify their policies by claiming that victory was soon in sight.
Watching the series prompted me to wonder how many US leaders in the administrations of George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump privately recognize that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are unwinnable while publicly continuing to voice support for the wars.
The war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in US history. The war in Iraq is a close second. The US has spent well over one trillion dollars on those wars, all of which was deficit funded directly increasing the US debt. Future generations of Americans will have to pay for wars that have arguably made the world a less safe place. Assertions that a few thousand more troops or a new training program will enable the Afghans or Iraqis to defend themselves against internal insurrections and terrorists ring hollow and are eerily reminiscent of what US leaders said about pacification and Vietnamization efforts in the Vietnam war.
When the US withdrew from Vietnam, the collapse of South Vietnam was imminent and inevitable.
Postponing the US withdrawal from Afghanistan or Iraq will not alter the ultimate fate of either country. Afghanistan warlords increasingly ignore the central government with impunity; a resurgent Taliban is concurrently defeating Afghan forces and ruling areas. Now that the Kurds have voted for independence, Iraq appears poised on the brink of dissolution; Iran heavily influences Iraq’s Shiite government.
Squandering lives (thousands of US military personnel, hundreds of thousands of others) and treasure (more than $1 trillion) is indefensible and immoral when those sacrifices fail to make the world more just, more peaceful.