As a kind of footnote to James’s post, I wanted to draw some attention to a thought exercise that has been conducted at the blog Chicago Boyz. They have asked for and received a number of predictions of what Afghanistan might look like in forty years, all of which have been posted there. The posts vary from WAG to moderately informed opinion and are mostly but not exclusively written from a libertarian right point-of-view. The exercise is summarized here by my blog-friend, Lexington Green.
I’d like to draw special attention to one of the contributions since it encapsulates nicely my own view of Afghanistan:
In US history, almost all successful wars have been prosecuted to battlefield victory and followed by a prolonged (generally endless) occupation by US forces. That US strategic interests were at issue has made the follow-on occupations politically uncontroversial. Indeed, if a long-term occupation by US forces would be unacceptable to either the US populace or the occupied lands, it is unlikely that military action would advance US interests. Contrarily, in those instances in which US forces were withdrawn after battlefield victory, the battle-space they vacated was often occupied by the modern horsemen of the apocalypse – misgovernment, political oppression, and poverty. Successful wars followed by US occupation? The American Civil war, the Indian Wars, the Spanish American War, World War 2, and Korea are all good examples.
The understanding that strategic victory requires occupation helped prevent the US from becoming entangled in conflicts in which it had no enduring security concerns, notably in South America, Africa, and South Asia. It was only in the late 20th century that the fantastic, unproven notion that the limited use of arms over a short period of time could produce an important and enduring change in the status quo, and US political and military leaders began to make war plans predicated on this unproven theory. Afghanistan 2001-2010 and Iraq 2003 are examples of the folly of this thinking. With few exceptions, if it’s worth a war, there is no exit strategy.
And, conversely, at least in my opinion, if the campaign is not worth a major commitment of indefinite length, it’s not worth a war. The commitment and the war should be synonymous with no space whatever between them. Clearly, we were not prepared for a commitment of indefinite length in Afghanistan and are still trying to back away from such a commitment. Consequently, we should not have invaded.