Afghanistan was never America's to lose. The US and its Afghan allies did not, at any point, control the country, Daniel Silverberg writes in the Atlantic. Instead, officials in Washington deluded themselves and each other for two decades, until President Biden was left with nothing but bad choices. A former Defense Department official, Silverberg saw on a 2017 visit to Kabul that the government couldn't even guarantee the safety of the four-mile route from the airport to the US Embassy—and that was with the help of thousands of US personnel in the country. In congressional hearings, he heard intelligence officials assess the tenuous situation in Afghanistan, only to be followed by defense officials' optimistic portrayal of progress. In truth, the 20-year US effort went nowhere. "Biden did not decide to withdraw," Silverberg writes, "so much as he chose to acknowledge a long-festering reality." You can read the full piece here.
Writing in Slate, Fred Kaplan sees similar delusions, calling the army's collapse and the Taliban's rout "the result of an arrogance that has plagued American strategy from nearly the beginning." The US self-deception began in 2001, when an international conference assumed that Afghanistan, with the Taliban gone, would embrace democracy and civil society—if only the "mountainous, rural, largely illiterate country ruled by provincial warlords" could be shown the way. Decisions were based on US ideals, not what would work in Afghanistan. The US sent millions to the government that was used to bribe warlords to follow edicts, further ingraining a culture of corruption. Another $83 billion went to create an army "in the precise image of the US military," Kaplan writes, sustained by a combat support network maintained by American forces and contractors. When US personnel withdrew, it was over. "Not even US military units would have been able to fight well without this network behind them," Kaplan writes. You can read his full piece here. (Read more Afghanistan stories.)