Sometimes I imagine the last 14 years of American war policy in the Greater Middle East as a set of dismal Mad Libs. An example might be: The United States has spent [your choice of multiple billions of dollars] building up [fill in name of Greater Middle Eastern country]’s army and equipping it with [range of weaponry of your choosing]. That army was recently routed by the [rebel or terrorist group of your choice] and fled, abandoning [list U.S. weaponry and equipment]. Washington has just sent in more [choose from: trainers/weaponry/equipment/all of the above] and [continue the sentence ad infinitum]. Or here’s another: After [number, and make it large] years and a [choose one or more: war, air war, drone assassination campaign, intervention, counterinsurgency program, counterterror effort, occupation] in [Greater Middle Eastern country of your choice] that seems to be [choose from: failing, unraveling, going nowhere, achieving nothing], the [fill in office of top U.S. official of your choice] has just stated that a U.S. withdrawal would be [choose from: counterproductive, self-defeating, inconceivable, politically unpalatable, dangerous to the homeland, mad] because [leave this blank, since no one knows].
The president recently made just such an announcement about Afghanistan 14 years after the U.S. first invaded. Undoubtedly, his “legacy” would have been at stake if he had withdrawn U.S. forces from that country (as he promised to do in 2013) and the Afghan army and police into which the U.S. has sunk an estimated $65 billion had unraveled, as American officials clearly now fear might happen.
This means that a baby born somewhere in the United States on September 12, 2001, who is already 14 years old, will turn 16 with America’s second Afghan War still ongoing and, given the trend in American wars in the Greater Middle East (always in, never out), might at 18 be able to join the U.S. military and continue the fight either there, in Iraq, or perhaps in Syria or elsewhere. It couldn’t be a grimmer tale, one in which, as Peter Van Buren suggests in “What If They Gave a War and Everyone Came,” there is a single injunction when it comes to Washington policy: such wars can never end, even if we no longer have a clue as to why.
Van Buren has been writing a prescient series of pieces for TomDispatch under the rubric: What could possibly go wrong? The predictable answer, of course, is you name it and, increasingly, you -- that is, Washington -- should have expected it.