Afghanistan: War of the Social Workers

Regardless of who wins this election, in a few years the final planes carrying the last soldiers will shake off Afghanistan’s dust and take to the sky. They will leave behind a limited number of advisers, ex-military civilian contractors and a whole bunch of diplomats running out the clock in Kabul. A few years later when Islamist mobs are roaming the streets and rocket attacks on the US embassy have become routine, the helicopters on the roof will be back and the surviving diplomats will be on their way to new assignments in more peaceful parts of the world like Baghdad and Cairo.

The war in Afghanistan is lost and that loss is mostly unspoken. Had Obama never been elected then the left, in coordination with their Democratic big brothers, might have elevated the defeat to the level of another Vietnam. But that dream, nurtured in the early years of the Bush Administration, is a done deal after the Son of Jimmy Carter who ran on a platform of beating the Taliban. Instead of another Vietnam, the long war will be an unremarked defeat.

Neither side wants to talk about it, and the American people just want to leave. The ending is written, the cemeteries are full and all that’s left is to shake off the dust and go home.

Defeats however have to be learned from and no one intends to learn the lessons of Afghanistan. The people responsible for 1,500 deaths in implementing a directive to beat the Taliban without breaking a single fingernail on an Afghan civilian, even if he’s a Taliban gunman hiding behind a Burqa, will not pay the price for this. They will go on to lucrative gigs as lobbyists or leadership trainers, herding corporate executives around golf courses and trading on anecdotes about the time they almost came under fire.

They will not be held accountable, because when they sacrificed 1,500 American soldiers they were just following orders and the orders came from generals and the generals were following orders from Valerie Jarrett and Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton and the entire diploarchy on a desperate quest to win the war and end the occupation by getting the Taliban to the negotiating table and getting Obama to the Mission Accomplished jet in time for the election.

There’s no General Westmoreland to hang here. The closest thing to him is General McChrystal, a man who badly wanted to be the hip cool general, the Obama of Afghanistan, and cost far more lives than General Custer did in the process. McChrystal was just following the new trend that said that wars aren’t won by violence, but by winning hearts and minds and changing social conditions. The new warrior was no longer a soldier, but a social worker, a diplomat and a comparative religions scholar. And if 1,500 social workers had to die so that the Afghans would come to love us… then so be it.

The war in Afghanistan was lost because it became a kindergarten with guns, a social welfare agency with heavy artillery that couldn’t be used in the proximity of  civilians. And it was run by the same type of people who turned domestic urban centers into hellholes by pandering to criminals while making it impossible for law enforcement to do their job.

Don’t think of Afghanistan as a distant country. Think of it as New York in the 80s. Think of it as Detroit or Chicago. Think of all the social workers constantly shouting about justice and demanding an end to police brutality. Think of the lawyers helping grinning thugs out of prison. Think of the slimy pols pressing the flesh with neighborhood gang leaders and paying homage to them. That’s what happened in Afghanistan.

But that’s not why we lost the war. It’s why we lost so many good men losing it.

We didn’t lose the war in Afghanistan. When we went in the Taliban were crushed, driven out and broken down. It took them years to recover, but they were always bound to recover so long as there were neighboring Muslim countries like Pakistan and Iran who were invested in their recovery. The futility of fighting a proxy war against an insurgency in a country with a high population and a low income was known before Vietnam. It was certainly known before we tried to secure Afghanistan.

Ten years ago we didn’t beat the Taliban by patrolling roads and having tea with the local elders. We did it by finding people who wanted to beat the Taliban and providing them with supply lines and air support. We didn’t do it by winning hearts and minds, we did it by dropping bombs and more bombs. We won by winning.

The idea of winning by winning has become antiquated. The post-everything sensibility is to win by losing. To win by making so many concessions and bending over so far backward that the enemy either comes to love us or is completely discredited. This never works, but it’s the properly liberal way to approach any conflict with people who aren’t rich white men.

Winning by winning, a deep thinker will tell us, is futile. Trying to win by winning is the road to defeat. You may kill one terrorist, but a thousand will take his place. You may win a battle but by going to war you have already lost the war.

Don’t laugh. Such deep thoughts are the intellectual DNA of the diplomats and the generals, the experts in regional studies who sneer at the idea of winning wars instead of lining up all the stakeholders in a conflict and convincing them to build a working society, instead of blowing themselves up outside police stations.

So we didn’t try to win by winning. We tried to win by convincing that it was in everyone’s interest to let us help them win by living in peace. This has worked out about as well as expected in a society where winning is a zero sum game and cooperation is a temporary truce in which each party waits to stab the other in the back. Instead of winning by winning, we lost by losing. It’s the Post-American way.

And yet that isn’t why we lost the war either. It’s why we don’t understand why we lost the war.

Before these pernicious doctrines took hold, we had already adopted a nation building model that relied on restoring stability through occupation, rather than shattering the enemy’s main strength and moving on.

We didn’t lose the war in Afghanistan. We lost the nation building. We lost the hopeless effort to cobble together coalitions of the corrupt and to patrol the resulting territories while pretending that a democratic election in a country with no concept of legal equality or civil rights meant that we were making progress because the savage lands were now turning out to be just like us.

American soldiers became Karzai’s security guards. American soldiers became Afghanistan’s army. American soldiers were tasked with trying to keep the peace in a society where peace is alien and life is cheap. We lost that war to stabilize and democratize the land, but there isn’t anyone who could have won it. Even the Russians proved not to have the stomach for the kind of massive bloodshed that it would have taken to stabilize Afghanistan under their kind of government. We certainly don’t.

Our mistake was resetting our victory condition from inflicting massive damage on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, while empowering their enemies, to turning Afghanistan into a stable and healthy society. We had drunk the stability snake oil and come to believe that Afghanistan was just like Germany and Japan, that if we could teach the natives to build healthy democratic institutions, stability would follow. We were wrong.

We lost Afghanistan because we forgot that we never had it. We lost the war because we forgot that it was a war and decided that it was a humanitarian mission. We lost because we had come to believe that no war was moral unless it ended in the moral redemption of the foe. We lost the war because we could no longer justify a war to ourselves in the interests of our own defense, only in the interests of saving another people and another society from themselves. We lost Afghanistan because we still knew how to fight, but we no longer remember why we fought.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.

  • Mir Alam Zadran

    Who won the war?

  • objectivefactsmatter

    Excellent article.

  • Indioviejo

    You are right. We lost the war when we (Bush and the Neo-cons) went from destroying the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to nation-building. Every war we have lost has this component attached to it. The problem is that our leaders never learn from their mistakes.

  • Dan Schnittker

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but Gen. McCrystal advocated against Obama's surge in Afganistan, and for a retrenchment to defensible positions, cities, bases, etc. from which we could wage a counter-terror, elite forces war. He was touchy-feely only insofar as it was his duty as a commander to carry out the doctrine of his commander, Gen. Petraeus.

  • riverboatbill

    To hell with winning their hearts and minds. Their minds are rabid and their hearts are filled with evil.

  • jemaasjr

    I am pained by this if-only-we-had-given-them-hell-we-would-have-won' BS. Lets harken back to Afghanistan as it was before our involvement. Our problem, the Taliban, were occupiers of a tribal country. The place was only a staging area. Perhaps for political reasons we had to hammer them, but it was little more than revenge for 9/11. With the Taliban down, all we would have had to do would be let the country go back to its traditional tribalism and our problem would have been solved. Instead we got committed to all this other BS, and that other BS is the core problem. We are trying to change Afghanistan's culture as military occupiers. And guess what, it ain't working.

    This is not the time to turn more violent in the fantasy idea that it will somehow be of some benefit. The only thing our continuing occupation is going to accomplish is a higher body count. If we want to leave behind a country that is nasty and backward, but stable, we should re-empower the tribal cultures and then leave. If we do not give a rip, then we should just leave.

    No, they are not going to become more like us no matter how much we push them around. Time to end it. Time to move on. Time to leave.

  • Yusuf Nobami

    The way to win is to break the heart, will, and the deepest essential beliefs of the enemy. The Jihadis beat us in Afghanistan and we need to face it. The way to win against Muslims and indeed all enemies is for those who we are trying to destroy to have broken hearts and lost faith leading to either genuine remorse or irreconciliable depression and abandonment of their prior outlook and de-idolize their prior belief systems.

    To believe Allah has abandoned them, trying to imitate Mohamed is the source of all their problems. Then a gentle spirituality will emerge. Victory is accomplished with bombs, liberal use of pig blood and bacon grease, distributing photos and movies of landing helicopters on roofs of mosques and midrssas to boldly raising the US flag there, and making mockery of the aspects of their totalitarian culture and symbols that we hope they will agree needs to be discarded for them to progress. and a lot of laughing and mockery. The US strategy in engaging jihadist enemies in Muslim world has given Islam identifiers as a whole greater confidence they will defeat the infidel enemies.

  • Schlomotion

    Where Mr. Greenfield is even remotely intelligible in this article (somewhere around the middle), he is enraged that more Afghan civilians were not killed. He is blearily unclear about what we were trying to "win" in Afghanistan, and he is bitterly jealous that some of the "masterminds" of that operation will go on to become lobbyists, but he himself will not. Blogger's rage. It's amusing that this comes on the heels of the vandalism of the grave of Moshe Dayan. This article has the very same tone. Daniel Greenfield would have personally fought the Afghan War and the Yom Kippur War so much better. Except he didn't. So out comes the spraypaint. Bitter herbs.

    • curmudgeon

      oh, is greenfield a jew? well, that does explain the venom.

  • tagalog

    The purpose of our armed forces is to close with our nation's enemies and destroy them. Period.

    Nation-building is not in their MOS.

    Nation-building is for the diplomats. If we don't want to fight, but want to build nations, send the diplomats. Don't send the people who are in the business of killing people and blowing things up, then tell them they have to stand still with targets pasted on their backs.

  • Sigil

    I've deployed twice, both on combat pumps. And I know the way to the path to a peaceful Afghanistan.

    If you aren't prepared for it, then don't go in.
    We are NOT supposed to be the "good guys". We are supposed to win wars.

  • curmudgeon

    there are two ways to deal with islam. 1. what we are doing. pretend they are peaceful, import them, coddle them, pay them to breed, then surrender to them, grovel, and beg them to accept us as slaves, rather than murder us. that is the method we have chosen. 2. stay out of their hellhole countries, kick them out of our countries, ignore them, and, when some ilamic country delivers an act of war that cannot be ignored, declare total war, kill them by any means necessary, repopulate their country with people who are not muslims, then leave. sounds harsh? that is exactly what they plan for us, and have done to many peoples in the long history of islamic genocide against everyone whose lands they covet. surrender to them at your peril.

  • blindguard

    Germany and Japan is a good analogy. That was total war, every night hundreds of bombers flew over their cities and bombed them flat. Everyday hundreds of bombers flew over their cities and bombed them flat. At god knows what cost in innocent life.
    That's how you win, the people's of both nations were left in no doubt who was the strongest, and who had lost. No amount of mental gymnastics and moral relivatism on the part of their leaders could hide that fact. We will win against Islam when we crush it and its people, and then leave them to contemplate the fact they've been swatted as if they were less than flies.
    It would take almost no effort on our part, we'd hardly move a muscle
    Then they would see.

    • nina

      America had performed a miracle in the case of Germany and Japan. This has never been done before, and that is why we are stuck with this wonderful model. The West thought that this was the last war, because everybody experienced what it meant. No one dreamed that these backward, nations living in squalor, would pose any kind of threat to the cultured West. But it happened. And these primitives have the advantage over us, because they are primed by their religion and ready to annihilate without compunction anyone that doesn't belong to their uma. So we have a very big problem, as the West has still not understood that there is a problem. Let's pray that when the West understands, it won't be too late.

  • Stuart Parsons

    The War needs to be one of words, directed at the beliefs, practices and aims of Islam. The population of the world, especially Muslims, need to be informed about the contents of the Quran, Sunnah and Sirah. The war of words will be a bloody one, because many Muslims will cover their eyes and ears and irrationally resort to killing innocent non-Muslims and attacking their homes, businesses and places worship. However, the bloodshed will in total be less than that which has already been exacted by Islam and will be further shed in the future if the false Islamic ideology is not challenged.

  • rssg

    The basic problem is today, we fight "liberal wars". War is supposed to be about destroying your enemy. Today, we fight wars to build schools and water treatment plants for Mohammedans.

    It's all because we ae not a country anymore. It's all "globalism". Thats also why we don't enforce immigration laws and the borders anymore. We're all open border liberals now.

  • Constitution Gal

    I will remember the name Daniel Greenfield as this is the best article I think I've ever read! Fantastic truths put to the point, excellent job!

  • Glennd1

    Wow, such blithe ignorance of military strategy, from both the author and the commenters is kind of stunning. While he's right in his point, it's not the major one reason we lost. We lost the war in Afghanistan due to our unwillingness to put enough troops on the ground. To take, clear and hold the major population centers in Afghanistan would take about 450,000 well armed, trained and supported ground troops. We never put that force in place, so we were never going to win. Sure the strategy was to get the Afghan military/police to "stand up" to reach those force levels, and be effective, but anyone with an ounce of sense never believed that would work.

    Bush destined us to this state of affairs by being unwilling to put the appropriate troops on the ground, despite ample advice at the time. Obama is far worse because he actually did a fake surge for politics which has killed many and accomplished nothing, but the frame was established by Bush. Also, the author claims we wiped out the Taliban in the early days of the conflice, lol, there he is just making stuff up. We drove them out of Kabul, and fought Al Qaeda in the west, but never, ever achieved a widespread defeat or elimination of the Taliban. They simply moved back the villages and valleys where we weren't.

    Partisanship destroys one's thinking. Getting so caught up in hating political correctness and Obama can make you miss the big picture. Fyi, I loathe Obama and his ilk, and am voting for Romney – but believe that we should have a fact based discussion about policy, and this is my contribution.

    • curmudgeon

      i hope your candidate wins, but you will find that where the muslim threat is concerned, he will not be any better than the muslim in chief. the execrable fool george bush would not do the one thing that needed to be done, because he just did not understand the situation. the traitor obama of course would not expel all muslims from our country—they are his family, friends, and allies. romney too will dither about, deplore the violence in fine style, but he will not do the right thing, the only right thing. he will not expell the muslim invaders either.

      • Glennd1

        "My candidate" – wow, I didn't realize I had a candidate. If I did, it would be Gary Johnson, fyi. And the last thing in the world I would support is the expulsion of all Muslims from America. While I do indeed understand the threat of Islam – probably better than you – that is exactly the wrong reaction.

        Guys like you are a dime a dozen on the web now. You read a little Robert Spencer, some Daniel Pipes, watch some YouTube vids, and voila, you are an expert on Islamism – lol, NOT! If you really care as much about the threat, do yourself a favor and study some actual history of the region. What you'll begin to understand is that the Islamic/Arabic mideast history and culture is quite distinct from the west's. Just one insight for you. Mohammed was and is still revered by Arabs because he was the only leader to ever unify the Arab tribes. The founder of Islam was an imperialist, and the notion of national leadership and religion being fused are an indelible part of their psyche.

        But in fact, if you have read even basic history of the region, say starting with the Goldschmidt and Davidson, A Concise History of the Mideast, or something like that, you would understand that the mideast is a lot less concerned with the U.S. than we think. We are truly an interloper there – and most Americans refuse to see that, even though the facts are plain. Americans act as though we have some innate right to "sort things out" in the mideast, but they look at us with amazement and cannot understand why we don't get that we are invaders in their eyes. You might begin to understand how the British (and the French) created much of the mess we are stuck in – and seem unable to criticize. The real imperial/colonial powers do have much of the blame for the mess the region is, and it's also true that the Brits betrayed the Arabs – that's if you know the history.

        If you did know the history, you would realize how ridiculous you sound. There are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world, what are you going to do, kill them all?

        • curmudgeon

          you are not hiding your islamophilia very effectively. what sounds, and is, ridicuous, is for a nation of hated infidels to allow any muslims, who are sworn to kill infidels, in their country. we are not interlopers in the ME. islam is. if you actually knew any history, you would know that the middle east was christian, jewish, zoroastrian, and pagan, before the bloody, brutal islamic conquest. would i kill them all? no. only those who would kill me. it is you who are ridiculous.

          • Glennd1

            Lol, do you realize how stupid you are? How ahistorical your views are? How little you actually know about the mideast in the first place? I mean, if one were to take you seriously, is it your claim that Islam should be eliminated because it built its society on conquest and imperialism? Lol, well what would you say about the U.S. then? We built our nation on conquest, essentially ending MezoAmerican civilization as it was known until we arrived. What you don't seem to understand is that Islam failed to do what the other religions in the region that pre-dated it did. Islam unified the Arab tribes for the first time, as well as Persian and Turkish peoples. This pan-Arab/Muslim sentiment has no equivalent in our society, but it's very real. And of course I know about Zorastrianism et al. You are such an arrogant ignoramus and don't even know it.

            Last point. Do you not understand that one of the main reasons that they are so eager to kill us is because we are there? I mean, if you are trying to claim that they have no right to their lands, don't you understand that is what they are complaining about? What makes you think we have right to determine who gets what land there in the first place? Our meddling is why they want to kill us.

            Don't believe me? Instead of reading agit prop here, why don't you look up Micheal Scheuer on the web. He ran the Bin Laden unit at the CIA and is a ferocious patriot, but is non-interventionist. He's no leftie or Islamophobe – and is a legit expert on these topics. It's no mystery to someone who is informed why the Islamists are attacking us. Listen to him and see for a second if your worldview maps up to the facts in any real way.

          • curmudgeon

            "they are eager to kill us because we are there". ok. we are in agreement. so we should be eager to kill them because they are here. right? same logic. same morality. what you applaud out of one side of your antihistorical mouth, you condemn out of the other. i think your claim of "we" when referring to america is a lie. you are a muslim. that is the only possible excuse for your rabid islamophilia. if you are not a muslim, you are a suicidal fool.

  • PermReader

    After the Cold War reasonable doctrine of defending of the Communism,the idiotic idea of defending "friendly peoples" of their rulers or rebels appears.Let Arabs and Russians resist their own governments.Let`s resist their governments.

  • Infovoyeur

    Excellent comments above in re the nature of war and of the current enemy as alient to our lens on the world. An allied insight from Cultural Anthropology 101, not advanced, is that "major social change from outside does not just happen, it either has to be (1) consonant with the receiving culture (oops, briar-stalk tribalism will not accept graft of rose of democracy…), or (2) imposed by force, only way to control what happens in X, is to–that's right, control X, Occupy. Guess our educational system is not teaching certain basics such as this great wisdom of mine which nobody knows and which I impart. Well, the commenters here sure do know it; excellent comments, Clausewitz and Sun Tzu would approve, eh…..

  • Porky's2istan

    Rambling article. There's a lot of different points that are not very cohesive, but the gist seems to be:

    1. We are going to 'declare victory' and run home
    2. Nothing will change (or has ever changed) in Afghanistan
    3. 1500 American troops have died for nothing
    4. the 'winning of hearts and minds' and 'nation building' has failed utterly.
    5. It's all Obama's fault (and NOT the guy who started the war, and was president for the first 7 years of that war).

    Fail Article.

    I agree with many of the commentators here. We should never take war lightly, but if we do go to war we should annihilate them. No mercy. No nation building, No winning of hearts and minds. No worrying about civilian casualties. Kill the enemy wherever you find them, and any 'innocents' near them are just 'S.O.L.' The muslim world hates us and will always hate us, no matter what we do to appease them, so we might as well make them FEAR us.

    After 9/11 we should have NUKED every city in Afghanistan, and then salted the whole country with strontium 90 and cobalt 60, but BUSH didn't do that. 1500 Americans have died for nothing. Don't blame it on Obama just because he want's to quit this failed war and go home 'in defeat'.

  • BRL…

    Any social problem that cannot be solved with a 500 pound JDAM guided bomb, can probably be solved with a 2000 pound JDAM guided bomb.

  • saad awar

    Many big companies and investors were afraid of working and investing in Afghanistan as three decades of war made Afghanistan the world's most dangerous country. But an NGO Roshan took up the risk and since its inception ten years ago, made a large contribution to the social development of the country by investing millions of dollar in the country. The company is well-known for its corporate social responsibility arm where they have introduced many innovative programs. This shows the commitment of Roshan to Afghanistan’s economic growth and long-term development.

  • sami rehman

    Many big companies and investors were afraid of working and investing in Afghanistan as three decades of war made Afghanistan the world's most dangerous country. But Roshan took up the risk and since its inception ten years ago, made a large contribution to the social development of the country by investing millions of dollar in the country. The company is well-known for its corporate social responsibility arm where they have introduced many innovative programs. This shows the commitment of Roshan to Afghanistan’s economic growth and long-term development.