The report was devastating — or would have been, if anyone here had noticed it. “Between 2001 and 2017,” it concluded, “U.S. government efforts to stabilize insecure and contested areas in Afghanistan mostly failed.” I’m thinking of “Stabilization: Lessons From the U.S. Experience in Afghanistan” put out by the office of the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, or SIGAR. It focused on 15 years of U.S. efforts to defeat the Taliban and “reconstruct” that country. Issued in late May, it got a few cursory news reports before disappearing into the maw of Trump addiction. But don’t blame The Donald for that. When was the last time — even before he entered the Oval Office — that any serious attention was paid here to the longest war in American history, our forever war or “generational struggle” or “infinite war”? When was the last true policy debate on it?
Presidents — even Donald Trump — just re-up on coming into office, surge more U.S. troops in, and watch as things devolve. The generals fight; U.S. commanders come and go (the 17th of the Afghan war is just arriving); our European allies ever more wearily support the last superpower on the planet; and things only get worse while SIGAR issues its reports. Even its latest one only ended up recommending yet more military and other efforts at greater cost to “stabilize” that country. There’s a certain pathos to it, even as yet more Afghans die, more lives are ruined or uprooted, and yet more insurgent/terror groups form in that country (and neighboring Pakistan). It has all the charm of watching mice on a treadmill. Recently, for instance, there was a new “insider attack” that took the life of an American serviceman and wounded two others, the first in perhaps a year; the Taliban seemed once again to be gaining ground as Afghan government security forces shrank; British Prime Minister Theresa May, preparing to be kicked in the teeth by President Trump, obsequiously came close to doubling her country’s force in Afghanistan; approximately 15,000 U.S. military personnel (not counting private contractors) continue to serve there; the U.S. air war has been ramped up; the latest Pentagon review of the American effort may soon be launched; and undoubtedly SIGAR has begun to clear the way for its next report.
Meanwhile, in this country, America’s forever wars, which should be on all our minds, have long since largely dropped from public consciousness. There is neither discussion, nor debate, nor protest of any significant sort about them, which is why it seemed worthwhile to ask TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon to review America’s wars in the Middle East before a new one, in Iran, can be added to the mix.