Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

Everyone Knows America Lost Afghanistan Long Ago

| Dec. 16, 2019

Inflated threats, concealed costs, and lack of accountability for failure—and the complicity of the foreign-policy establishment—have kept the infinity war going for 18 years.

Last week, the Washington Post published a massive set of documents on the protracted and still unsuccessful U.S. war in Afghanistan, a conflict that Samuel Moyn and Stephen Wertheim have aptly dubbed the "infinity war." 

While not quite as revelatory as the Vietnam-era Pentagon Papers, the release of these documents is still an important contribution to public understanding of U.S. national-security policy. In more normal times—without a looming impeachment, an endless parade of Trumpian distractions, and a congenitally irresponsible Republican Party—discovering that U.S. officials had obscured their doubts about the war and their recognition that U.S. strategy was failing might even prompt change of course.

To be clear, U.S. officials didn’t lie to the public so much as they misled them, largely by keeping their doubts hidden under a veil of government secrecy.The documents show that they understood the Afghan government was corrupt and unreliable, that Pakistan wasn’t going to end its support for the Taliban, and that U.S. strategy was ill-informed and riddled with contradictions. Yet instead of explaining these facts clearly to Congress and the American people, U.S. officials and military commanders repeatedly offered upbeat assessments of how the war was going in order to sustain public support and congressional approval....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“Everyone Knows America Lost Afghanistan Long Ago.” Foreign Policy, December 16, 2019.

The Author

Stephen Walt