Biden Ended Our Longest War, Has America Learned Its Lesson?

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The old axiom that war is hell might be one of the most understated sayings we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Unfortunately, the United States of America hasn’t learned that lesson in recent times. The question for all of us, though, is, do we get it now?

Having ended the longest American war in history, President Joe Biden now must follow through on his pronouncement that America should no longer attempt to remake any country in its image. The failure in Afghanistan is, and should forever be, the final nail in the coffin for the folks who continue to argue for indefinite occupation and conflict in faraway places that want no part of American democracy. Some are calling it the Biden Doctrine. Let’s hope so.

But there will always be those who call for forever wars and occupation no matter the circumstances. Senator Mitt Romney was on CNN’s State of the Union last week equating the United States keeping a small residual force in Afghanistan with what we’ve been doing in Germany, Japan, and Korea for decades.

Last I checked, those countries are all thriving democracies without the kind of tribal hatred and religious extremism that currently exists in Afghanistan. Romney is wrong here, but his one-time rival for the presidential nomination, the late Senator John McCain, would undoubtedly have agreed with him on this. McCain at one time argued we could be in Afghanistan for a hundred years for all he cared.


We don’t seem to learn from these massive mistakes. You’d think losing 58,000 human beings in Vietnam would have been enough to change the minds of those in power forever. But it wasn’t enough for George W. Bush when he and Vice-President Dick Cheney launched their war in Iraq under the pretense they possessed weapons of mass destruction. They told us it would be a walk in the park, they’d greet us as liberators, and freedom was on the march.

Mission NOT accomplished.

When Bush proclaimed victory aboard the US Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier in May of 2003, I’d began hearing about roadside bombs beginning to kill American soldiers. Slowly but surely, these incidents started increasing, to the point we were in a full-fledged counter-insurgency battle against Al-Qaeda and other elements of disaffected Iraq soldiers from the disbanded military, which ultimately became the building blocks for ISIS’ formation in later years.

You see, neither Cheney nor Bush understood the religious differences in that part of the world. They couldn’t tell you the difference between a Sunni or Shia Muslim if their lives depended on it. It’s the one thing the dictator Saddam Hussein did understand about his country. It’s why he ruled Iraq the way he did – taking care of the minority Sunni population while ultimately brutalizing the Shia majority.

Once we invaded and took out Hussein, it was like uncorking a champagne bottle of religious extremism and hatred. Was it all worth it, knowing what we know now?


Afghanistan was and is much like Iraq when it comes to these centuries-long rivalries among the populace. Now that the Taliban is in charge of the country, like they were before we invaded, I suspect a civil war is about to commence. We’ve heard many reasons for the Afghan military’s ultimate retreat and surrender to the Taliban, but now that we’re gone, it’s time for that country to determine its future.

We know that American-style democracy isn’t what they want. President Biden has said that we’re more than able to contain terrorism from ever taking hold there through “over the horizon” capabilities, at least as it pertains to threats to our homeland. We all should hope he’s correct on that.

The sheer numbers in lost treasure and human life are staggering when you combine both wars over the last twenty years. According to the influential Cost of War project, founded more than a decade ago by two Brown University scholars, the just-released report estimates that the total cost of the country’s post 9/11 wars is $8 trillion. That cost includes, among other things, funding for the Department of Defense, State Department war expenditures, and care for veterans now and in the future.

The death toll stands at an estimated 897,000 to 929,000, including U.S. military members, allied fighters, opposition fighters, civilians, journalists, and humanitarian aid workers. According to the researchers, the toll does not include the many indirect deaths the war on terror caused by disease, displacement, and loss of access to food or clean drinking water.


The horrific loss of life alone ought to be enough to keep America from ever embarking on such a dangerous and pointless endeavor. I’m not hopeful, unfortunately.

And neither is John Sopko, the Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), who just released an equally bleak portrait of our 20-year attempt at rebuilding that country. Sopko somberly predicted it wasn’t a matter of if, but when we have to do this type of thing again.

He argues that in going forward, we ought to have at least a very well-thought-out plan on how to do it. The mistakes we made should serve as a barometer for how NOT to conduct such an operation. Sopko pointedly referenced America’s misunderstanding as mentioned above of Afghan social, cultural, and political differences.


However, it all comes down to the fact that most of us have no idea what happens during war. Roughly one percent of the population has participated in our wars since 9/11, and how can those who haven’t witnessed the carnage ever begin to understand the human sacrifice involved when it comes to these kinds of conflicts?

I want to end with a tweet from someone who does know about war. Longtime journalist and author Dan Rather spent quite a bit of time in Vietnam. No, not fighting it; he reported on it for the American people. When he speaks of war, I listen.

What the world is seeing now in Afghanistan is what the world chose to ignore for far too long. War is hell. It always has been. And it always will be. Its currency is death, dismemberment, desperation, and fear. It doesn’t end in parades. It ends in caskets.

For the love of God, let’s never do this again.

35 comments

    1. I get that Nan. I use that term more for emphasis and clarity to focus the importance of what I’m saying. No way am I advocating for, or even acknowledging existence of any kind of religion/God etc…To each is own on that subject!!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It was an expensive lesson. But, I regret, no we have not learned that lesson.

    Yes, some people have learned. But the people in government keep changing, so that is no solace.

    The lesson I see, is that if politician can manage to paint their ideas as patriotic, many people will fall in line. They will not oppose bad ideas if opposing them might make them look unpatriotic. Just look at how many people went along with the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions. Even the NYTimes was more supportive that I would have expected.

    And yet it seemed obvious from the start, that these invasions were doomed to become quagmires.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s true Neil, and if you take both of those wars in context, in that they both occurred in response to 9/11, one can get a sense why the patriotism thing was used so deftly. I think we were all shocked about what happened and while many of us agreed with Afghanistan, Iraq was clearly an overreach by Bush/Cheney. I got caught up in Iraq initially to be brutally honest. I admired Colin Powell at the time. In fact, he’s the only one in that admin I actually trusted. I relied on his testimony and believed it was the right thing at the time. Boy was I wrong. I soon soured on it after W’s Mission Accomplished speech. The lies began to catch up to the reality of what was happening.
      I quickly became anti-war after that debacle and remain that way today. What a mess it all became. But your point is spot on. No, we have not learned our lesson.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I did actually have some respect for Colin Powell at that time. But I also looked at France and Germany. These are nations with whom we share a lot of intelligence. And if there had been clear evidence of WMD, they would know. Their reaction told me that the evidence of WMD was being greatly exaggerated.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Sigh. Yep, and W said before he was ever elected that if he became president, he would not waste the political capital he would have and would finish the job in Iraq, if given the chance. Well, he certainly made good on that promise, didn’t he?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. For me, the moral of the story is that no power on earth can extinguish evil in its own country, much less in other countries. Th American presence in Afghanistan brought a measure of freedom and helped a lot of people (particularly women and girls), but in the end, the sword of evil (not to mention Afghan Government corruption) was mightier than the pen of education. War is hell indeed — all the more so when its end destroys hope.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, the future for Afghanistan doesn’t look to good, does it? We shall see. I agree that the whole 20 year occupation was not totally without some good. But it’s very hard to bring people into the 21st century when so many seem to want to go back to the 6th. Until that changes, I see a very dark future for them. It’s a damn shame.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Here again is The Story as old as any. Yes, nations have been overwhelmed by the military might of other nations and subsumed into vassal states, or simply subsumed. For each of those are the ones about the ‘natives’ who did not feel inclined to be subsumed. Never a matter of simple noble, freedom loving folk wanting to be left alone, no far more messy than that and the result being those who would impose finding they are carrying a great burden paid for in ‘blood and treasure’.
    There will be other Afghanistans though. Larger nations always perceive their interests extend beyond their own borders.
    From a very stark perspective the Western intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq was a reaction to size of the 9/11 attack. Such events trigger a large military response and in short term in Afghanistan that was arguably effective from the cold military perspective. As you point out the mistake was trying to then set up a form of government which suited the outsider and trying to impose that through excessive use of force; soldiers are trained for battle, they are not trained for social mission building, equivalent to sending a body of troops to storm a heavily defended position with nothing more than the weapons they carry.
    The difficulty lies in discerning the nature of the event taking place, how it will impact on your nation and how to approach it; read histories of the USA’s political positionings in the years prior to December 1941 for an example, or the issue on entry into the Korean War to see the problems which face an administration. Of course those were relatively easy; the opposition displayed conventional military force; much easier.
    There will be other Afghanistans though. That is the Human folly.
    I will add just one warning coda for anyone embracing political social or religious creed with reference to ‘God is not a pacifist’. That should be amended to the followers of ‘God’ are not pacifists. Humanity always twists beliefs. When Marx wrote Das Kapital I doubted if he envisaged Stalin or Pol Pot ‘s approaches. When the Founding Fathers wrote the USA constitution they tried to avoid a Trump and MAGA.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Good to hear from you Roger. You’re right, there will be other ‘Afghanistans’ most likely. I agree with your premise that the initial actions there, directly after 9/11, was warranted, and we did what we had to do. But it’s the aftermath. The long occupation and futile battle to give them a democracy-that they most clearly did not want. That’s where we as a nation over here must take a long hard look at ever trying to build such institutions in nations that do not want it. Perhaps the intentions were good, but the execution was terrible. All we’ve had in our global history dating back thousands of years, are wars. I see no reason to think we won’t continue to have them. Human nature Roger. Human nature. I guess you could say we’re evolving. I just wish we could evolve to the point where war is NEVER an option. I know…naive thoughts. How dare I?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s a hard call to answer Jeff.
        In the world of International Politics some schools of thought will maintain that whether we like it or not there will always be wars and judging by the evidence to hand that is difficult to argue against.
        However, if you go back two centuries the idea that both women and all races were equal and deserved respect was very much a minority view and given little credence in the public domain.
        These days despite the fight back from revisionists, racists or misogynists (both conscious and unconscious-lot of those about) these twin ideas are now in the public domain and importantly have captured to attention of the commercial arena (yeah I know that sounds cynical, bear with me it’s a practicality to bear in mind- purchasing power wins all times). Now this is far from perfect but ‘we’re getting there’. So we can evolve.
        To skip onto the military theme.
        That one is not so easy. In view of the current predatory nature of Humanity a nation without arms is open to assault by groups with no national adherence; to be simple bandits. Therefore an armed presence of some sort is the duty of a state to its population (whoops there are my far-left credentials showing again). What is possible though is that sliver of evolution where by nations realising whether they use conventional, nuclear, nbc or cyber warfare, the other folk will use it to and they all have to keep diverting resources from a shrinking world and their populations are getting restive. It can be therefore be possibly, just possibly argued that nations will take a collective shrug and informally over a period of time say ‘OK. Screw this. Look you stick to your borders; we’ll stick to ours. We’ll both dial down on the offensive/defensive thing. We all have just enough to keep our own trouble makers under our thumbs. Then we leave the rest up to commerce and financial practices. Armed forces personnel? No problem we’ve all got enough infrastructure issues to put them to work on, they’ll like it, not getting shot at; it’s a winner,’
        Yeah there are problems with that to, like ignoring what’s going on in someone’s borders and the urge to sneak and take a peek. It’s not perfect by any means. When it comes to Humanity, nothing.
        It would be a start, though. It’s either that or spending on weapons, instead of the social and the environment and splat! We’re a smear on the fossil record.
        It could work, just needs a lot of swords into ploughshares thinking.
        You dare Jeff, you dare. One step along the road.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Indeed Roger. I just know that in the time I have left on this earth, my ‘utopian’ thoughts of no more wars will never come to fruition. Hell, who knows what type of warfare will exist far into the future? My real fear, and I’m sure for you as well, is cyber. I think at some point, some country/entity, is going to grind our economy to a halt by screwing around with the electrical grid, or something like that. Russia or China would be the first suspects, but hell, it could be Iran or some other rogue nation as well. And when, not if, it occurs, what will the United States’ response be? I shutter to think Roger. Take care friend, and thanks for all of your thoughtful insights.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. HA! If tRump is in charge, he’ll just go have a “secret meeting” with the head of the country and then pay them off with American $$$$$ to not do it again (because money talks, doncha’ know?)

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes Jeff. Cyber is the most likely because it is ‘cheap’ for the attacker and ‘environmentally friendly’ (in a quirky way, ignoring the catastrophic failures of large industrial plants).
        Militarily if one nation has ‘it’ then it’s rivals will too. Thus, there is most likely to be a cyber attack capability within the USA. In turn there will be a defence, counter-attack, counter defence, first strike capability, and so on. So instead of The Cold War we have a ‘Soft War’.
        The ironic thing is, whether the very, very mega rich folk who rely on the cyber networks will be content for politicians and generals/admirals to footle and risk all those fortunes evaporating is another matter.
        You take care too Jeff, we live in turbulent times,

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Because those who died, in these wars the U.S. sent its troops aren’t directly related, to the government officials who rule the country, which is why, they could, care less, but, I’m more than sure, that no officials would, want to declare war, if it were their, sons, brothers, daughters, siblings who had, lost their, lives, it’s always someone else’s problem, until, we lose someone, closest to us in life…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s very true. We have an all-volunteer army. I’d like to think things would change if every American had to serve in some capacity, including the sons and daughters of politicians. We just might think twice about invading countries to force them into democracy. Sadly, I highly doubt we ever get to that point.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. People want to oppress others not like them and they will turn this into hatred. Arms manufacturers make a fortune. Politicians get elected because they appeal to the lesser angels of our nature. Each culture refuses to understand and respect other cultures. We are a gullible frightened lot of a species and war has been around forever and will continue somewhere in the world. War is intimately a population control and cares not which population.
    Our current situation in the US is a microcosm of the insanity and why there will always be wars.
    Biden did the right thing but he is vilified by many and it’s all political. The same people would have hailed trump as a savior.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Sigh. All true Mary. Politics, and $$$$$ seem to go hand in hand, do they not? If we could get that big money out of politics, maybe people would think twice about getting into un-winnable wars and long occupations.
      It’s funny too, that the same politicians who complained about the evacuation, and how we left a lot of Afghans who helped us, want no part of those people coming to this country as refugees. It’s hypocrisy to the millionth degree. But, that is today’s Republican Party. Never believe one word that comes out of their mouths. Never.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Mary, your last line sums things up perfectly. It all depends on which side of the fence you’re on.

      Thing is, this wouldn’t have been as big of an issue some years back, but since tRump entered the picture, the lines of division have become deeper and darker. One wonders if one day we won’t have tRump “border fences” erected between the states … !!

      Liked by 3 people

  6. Nature abhors a vacuum said Aristotle. There are exceptions, but in the case of Afghanistan, the Taliban has rushed in to fill the void. In no time, that country is once more becoming a haven for terrorist groups whic will affect us all. Keeping a caretaker group there to support the Afghans, would have made all the difference. The way it was done and the resultant deaths and chaos is an absolute disgrace.

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    1. Time will tell on that friend. I appreciate your opinion. So I assume you didn’t want to totally leave, even under the last president? You wanted to leave a residual troop presence for, what, ever? Infinity?
      Look, it wasn’t an easy decision. He made it and will have to live with it. He was left a pretty untenable position by the previous administration. Like I said, time will tell. I hope you’re wrong that it will be a haven again for terrorism. If it does, we will have to deal with it, along with our allies. I personally am glad we’re out of that God forsaken place. Enough blood and $$$$$ was spent there. Let the Taliban show the world who they are. And if the people there do not like them, let them fight for the country they want. We’ve done enough.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Quite right, Brook. Even under the last President. There’s a whole generation of educated Afghan women, marching for their freedom braving the most unimaginable reprisals. They would agree with me. That image of people clinging to the outside of a military plane will forever be etched in my mind. When you say that Joe Biden was left in an untenable position, I have to disagree. Joe Biden hasn’t had any trouble at all unravelling as many of Trump’s achievements as he could, in his short time in office. I’m not even sure who’s making the President’s decisions for him. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that Joe Biden isn’t up to the job. And I’m sorry, but there’s no dealing with terrorist groups in Afghanistan, ‘when the time comes’ because the time has come and gone. It’s already too late. We can’t just shrug it off and say it’s not our problem, because twenty years ago they were a global menace. It’s all on again.

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      2. I disagree with your disagreement. In this case, Trump had a withdrawal date of May 1, I think, which he negotiated with the terrorists Taliban, and not with the Afghan government. If he were to ignore the agreement, he’d have to put in thousands of more troops that would have prolonged the war months, or years. That’s how I’ve heard it explained to me.
        In other words, we would have been fighting the Taliban forever. To me, that seems what you wanted to do. At some point, you have to make the tough decision one way or the other. Biden never wanted the surge that Obama implemented in, what, 2011 or so? He’s always wanted to leave. Now, he has. I hope you’re wrong on what happens going forward. I’m just an observer and we’ll see if you’re proven correct.
        As for Biden’s decision-making. I won’t agree with everything he does. But, if he finally gets Covid under control, which btw is why he was elected (and, he wasn’t Trump), passes these infrastructure bills, he will be rewarded for it. Yeah, he’s old. So what? He doesn’t have the command he once did, but I’m quite fine with how he’s conducting himself. I doubt he runs in 2024. In fact, I hope he doesn’t. We need someone younger in there. He’s totally up for the job friend. A lot has been accomplished already. Things are slowly getting back to normal. Football stadiums and concert venues are back, with people in them. Over 78% of eligible adults have at least one shot. Millions of jobs have come back, although we’re going to have a tough few months until the supply chain issues are solved. Oh, btw, Child poverty was nearly cut in half, with the child tax credit that was implemented in the rescue plan.
        Is everything perfect? No. And I’m going to keep blaming the previous so-called president for much of the problems we’ve had. The mess Biden inherited was beyond comprehension. You’ll probably fight me on that. So be it. Facts are facts, and I think they’re on my side.
        That’s my take friend. Thanks for the debate. We disagree on most things I’m afraid. That’s ok though. That’s what it’s all about here. Speak your mind freely and don’t be rude. That’s all I ask. Take care and be well!

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      3. I do know that there’s no point debating people who are rusted on to either side of politics. BUT I thank you for allowing my opinion on your post. This will be my last response.

        Biden is old, but unfortunately he is also cognitively damaged . I have to ask what the Dems were thinking and Jill Biden, to put him forward as the best candidate for the job.
        I’m not sure what messes the government are fixing but you’re surely not referring to the hordes of illegals crossing the border, I heard Joe Biden say that it’s because ‘he’s a nice guy.’ or reinstating the nuclear deal with Iran.
        Here is only a small list of Trump’s achievements:

        The Mission Act fulfils Trump’s 2016 promise to America’s veterans. He promised that “no veteran would die waiting for service.”
        * No new wars under Trump’s watch
        *Snowballing peace in the Middle East. (Yet it’s Trump’s predecessor who was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. 🤭.)
        * Trump made the economy boom for the poorest half of America. That hasn’t happened since the ‘60s.
        * Last year there were 493 documented riots across the United States: Black Lives Matter, Antifa. Harris and Biden encouraged it.

        I know you’ll disagree some more, but that’s what free speech is about. And so we’ll done you for allowing it.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Yes, I will disagree more. You’re defending a man who tried to overturn a lawful and certified by 50 state election, all so he could keep power. To me, it’s an indefensible act of treason, or, at the very least, sedition. On that, have a nice day, and thanks for participating.

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