Recently I've seen interviews with veterans of the twenty-year Afghanistan war where the interviewer says at some point, "Thank you for your service; it wasn't in vain."
Not true. It was mostly in vain.
So were the 2,448 deaths of American service members, the 66,000 deaths of Afghan military and police, the 47,245 deaths of Afghan civilians, the 444 deaths of aid workers, and the 44 deaths of journalists.
I realize that it's really tough to admit that a war which cost the United States over 2 trillion dollars and caused so many deaths was a big mistake -- at least after Osama bin Laden had left the country and Al-Qaeda no longer had a viable presence in Afghanistan, which occurred soon after our 2001 invasion.
So virtually all that money and all those deaths went toward nation-building.
Just as in Iraq, the United States is great at winning wars against minimal opposition. We're lousy at nation-building, in large part because we believe that it's possible to remake other countries in our own image.
Trump wisely decided to pull American forces out of Afghanistan. Biden wisely decided to go along with Trump's decision. Yet supporters of a perpetual war in Afghanistan now are criticizing Biden for doing what most Americans support: getting out.
It doesn't make sense to argue that even though the Afghanistan war was a failure, the contributions of the American military were a success.
Sure, it's human nature to see a glass as half full rather than half empty. But when a war is almost entirely useless, those who fought that war almost entirely were doing something equally useless.
Obviously almost all of the Americans who served in Afghanistan did so with bravery and honor. However, so did almost all of the Confederate forces who fought in the Civil War. This doesn't make the Confederate cause anything other than what it was: a failed attempt to secede from the Union.
Undoubtedly some good came out of the Civil War, though I'm unsure what that might me. Some technological advances, probably. Some good also resulted from the Afghanistan war.
However, if Americans had been asked in 2001 if they'd be willing to fight a twenty-year war that resulted in Afghan women and girls having considerably more rights, and Afghanistan getting roads, schools, wells, and other infrastructure built, few of our citizens would have said that'd be worth thousands of American lives and several trillion dollars -- especially if the end result was the Taliban returning to power.
The plain fact is that sometimes a lot of effort goes into a cause that results in failure.
Everybody has experienced this in their own life to a greater or lesser extent. Countries experience this also. Witness the United States and the Vietnam War. Witness Germany/Japan and the Second World War.
Sacrifices frequently are made for a lost cause. This doesn't take away from the nobility of those who made the sacrifices, because it is impossible to know that a cause is lost until that happens.
Which is the case in Afghanistan.
Veterans of that war are entitled to look for benefits from their service. But history can't be rewritten to make those veterans feel better. For most of those twenty years, the Afghanistan war was a mistake. Our military and political leaders misled the public about how the war was going, just as happened with the Vietnam War.
Now President Biden is telling the truth to the American people. Good for him. That truth about a mostly useless war has been a long time coming.
I'll end by copying in a series of tweets that do a great job of briefly explaining the Afghanistan war and the current uproar over the American pullout.