Given America is constantly expanding its military footprint around the world—most recently into Syria and the Central African Republic—one can be forgiven for forgetting about the longest war in the history of the United States: the war in Afghanistan. But a new column by retired colonel and professor Andrew Bacevich pulls the war back into focus, and the picture is not pretty.
Despite over 15 years of support, the government in Kabul currently controls only 63% of the country. It is likely to lose control of more territory with serious advances by Taliban forces in the last year [PDF]. The government has been rife with corruption primarily related to stealing U.S. development funds and facilitating heroin smuggling. Afghanistan remains the world capital for opium production, and is even hitting new highs.
None of these problems are new. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s own brother was allegedly one of the biggest heroin dealers in the country. And the Taliban have never really been under threat of being outright defeated, so much as temporarily setback.
But that’s the point. The war has gone nowhere and, even though there are no prospects for victory, it continues on and on. There remains no solid plan for the U.S. to either succeed or withdrawal from Afghanistan. In truth, there does not appear to be much of an interest in coming up with such a plan from anyone within the federal government.
The reasons for this, as Bacevich notes, are a mix of normalization and opportunism:
As with budget deficits or cost overruns on weapons purchases, members of the national security apparatus — elected and appointed officials, senior military officers and other policy insiders — accept war as a normal condition.
Once, the avoidance of war figured as a national priority. On those occasions when war proved unavoidable, the idea was to end the conflict as expeditiously as possible on favorable terms.
These precepts no longer apply. With war transformed into a perpetual endeavor, expectations have changed. In Washington, war has become tolerable, an enterprise to be managed rather than terminated as quickly as possible. Like other large-scale government projects, war now serves as a medium through which favors are bestowed, largess distributed and ambitions satisfied.
The underlying logic of the Afghan policy, beyond the petty greed and careerism of its operators and architects in Washington D.C., is that in order to prevent the risk of Afghanistan becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks like 9/11, it must be permanently occupied. There must be, as historian Charles Beard once lamented, perpetual war for perpetual peace [PDF].
Pointing out that it is exactly this type of imperial hubris that led to the 9/11 attacks is apparently pointless. Perpetual war serves too many interests to end anytime soon.