On the two-year anniversary of the Kabul withdrawal, if Washington forgets the war’s lessons, its mistakes are likely to be repeated.

by Anatol Lieven, Responsible Statecraft

On the second anniversary of the final debacle of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, we should consider the lessons of that disaster for U.S. strategy elsewhere.

While the case of Afghanistan itself is by nature unique, Washington mistakes and failures reflected wider and deeper patterns — and pathologies — in U.S. policymaking and political culture. If left unaddressed, these will lead to more disasters in future.

Yet most of the mainstream media and the think tank world are treating the memory of the U.S. war in Afghanistan not as a source of reflection but as an embarrassment to be forgotten as quickly and completely as possible.

Two Afghan women walk with a damaged palace in the background

This parallels the approach to the memory of Vietnam in the U.S. mainstream — and the result was the disaster of Iraq. One of the most astonishing things about the U.S. debate — to give it that name — prior to the invasion of Iraq, was the general failure to consider, or even mention, what the experience of Vietnam might have taught. Today, this refusal to learn lessons applies above all to U.S. engagement in Ukraine.

The failure to pursue diplomacy with the Taliban prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan can be explained and excused by the fury naturally felt by Americans at the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and the Taliban’s refusal immediately to hand over the al-Qaida leadership that was clearly responsible. Nonetheless, given the appalling costs that resulted from the U.S. invasion, it is worth asking whether an approach that allowed the Taliban to save face and remain true to their own beliefs might have produced better results for both Americans and Afghans: for example, exploring the possibility that the Taliban could be persuaded to deliver the AQ leadership to another Muslim country.

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