It’s now more than 17 years later, years in which American commanding generals in Afghanistan repeatedly hailed the U.S. military’s “progress” there and regularly applauded the way we had finally “turned a corner” in the Afghan War — only to find more Taliban fighters armed with RPGs around that very corner. Finally, in the 18th year of the war, an American general — to be specific, Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — has come to a somewhat different conclusion. This, mind you, at a moment when the Taliban has taken control of more territory than at any time since they were forced from power by the U.S. invasion of 2001. His assessment also comes in the face of the worst casualties (“unsustainable”) for the American-backed Afghan security forces in memory (more than 28,000 deaths since 2015, according to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani). In response, Dunford has offered the shocking news that — get a grip on yourself here — the Taliban “are not losing right now, I think that is fair to say…” Hmm… give America’s top general credit for finally offering up the bad news, even if a few years late, with only a modestly optimistic spin on it. Believe me, in the twenty-first-century annals of the U.S. military, that passes for realism of the first order.
Today, however, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich, author of the new book Twilight of the American Century, offers us a timely reminder of another American commander who, 14 long years ago, sensed that the country’s war on terror was not going well and was unlikely to end in any imaginable future — and just why that might be. As it happens, that very general has just been nominated by the Trump administration as the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia. And what a moment to head for Riyadh! After all, only last week the CIA leaked to the Washington Post its conclusion that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that land’s (dys)functional ruler, had personally ordered the brutal murder of one of that paper’s contributing columnists. On the subject, President Trump continues to shuffle his feet awkwardly. Stay tuned. The war on terror may just be revving up.