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U.S. Continues Strategic Blunder in Afghanistan

Syria is on the verge of defeating ISIS. The final big battle is about to occur at Deir Ezzor. The Syrian forces have been greatly aided by Russian air forces. Russia has a large interest in defeating ISIS because it has experienced so many terrorist attacks on its soil.

Why is Russia succeeding in Syria after only 2 years with limited forces while the U.S. has failed in Afghanistan after 16 years and trillions of dollars?

Syria had its own conventional armed forces to fight ISIS on the ground. They have fought loyally for the government. The population was against ISIS. Syria invited Russia to help. They worked together. They used the right military strategies to defeat ISIS.

The U.S. quickly defeated the Taliban government of Afghanistan in 2001. However, the Taliban under Mullah Omar began an insurgency. The new government of Afghanistan didn’t have armed forces that could defeat the insurgency. The insurgency found support from important elements within Afghanistan and in Pakistan. The corrupt government didn’t command the loyalty of all Afghans. The U.S. forces in Afghanistan didn’t have a good Afghan armed force to work with. The U.S. counter-insurgency strategy (COIN) failed.

The U.S. applications of COIN are proven failures. This has been known since Vietnam. If a country doesn’t already have a strong government and strong armed forces, COIN fails against insurgencies. The U.S. cannot simultaneously build up a nation-state and fight an insurgency, even if it commits 500,000 ground forces and drops more bombs than in World War II. When we have experienced soldiers telling us “This needs to be a 50- to 100-year campaign. It requires persistence and presence. Colombia should be a model, not Iraq”, we know that COIN is a loser.

Bush and Obama made the same strategic mistakes again and again that Johnson and Nixon made in Southeast Asia. Trump is now repeating these mistakes. To name a few:

1. They think that the U.S. has interests in these distant lands important enough to require American armed forces and warfare. This is false.
2. They think that they can secure these interests by military means. This is false.
3. They think that the potential benefits are worth the costs. They aren’t.
4. They listen to over-optimistic top brass military and political advisors. They shouldn’t.
5. They listen to war hawks in Congress and intelligence agencies. They shouldn’t.
6. They fail to gather independent information. They fail to listen to lower-level military figures who have experiences with failed COIN strategies. They should.
7. They personally don’t want to preside over defeat or be blamed for defeat. This is an institutional defect built into any system of power that attracts ambitious men and women who want fame.
8. They personally do not bear, experience or even feel the increased misery of both their own and foreign peoples brought about by their decisions to make war. This is a human characteristic shared by all human beings, but it becomes a huge negative when its consequences are amplified by placing huge power into the hands of a very few.

The American people attempted to install a president who would exit Afghanistan. They failed. The system has thwarted them. Trump, a man who explicitly and repeatedly spoke up for withdrawal, has changed his mind. Presidents do this all the time. They often get away with it and get re-elected. There is a deep and continuing evil in a system of government in which the sound instincts of both a people and their president are perverted.

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8:47 am on August 23, 2017