Strategic Horizons: U.S. Must Learn the Real ‘Lessons’ of Afghanistan

Strategic Horizons: U.S. Must Learn the Real ‘Lessons’ of Afghanistan

Last week's meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai felt like a last desperate attempt to salvage a crumbling marriage: With the relationship clearly dying, the two sides quibbled over the pace of U.S. disengagement and the extent of future American aid and assistance.

But as U.S. involvement in Afghanistan winds down, Americans should already be thinking about what they can learn from their longest war. U.S. national security strategy, as I explained in my book “Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy,” is shaped by the lessons drawn, rightly or wrongly, from previous conflicts, wars and crises. Hence the U.S. reaction to future security challenges will reflect what it concludes about the Afghanistan conflict. It is imperative to get this right.

While the intellectual battle lines are still in flux, there are three emerging schools of thought on the lessons of Afghanistan. One is the "defeat snatched from the jaws of victory" idea. Much of the political right, particularly its "neoconservative" and Fox News elements, believes that American strategy in Afghanistan was sound but the Obama administration caved to its supporters on the left and abandoned the cause before the job was finished. If there is a lesson for this group, it is that Democrats can't be trusted with U.S. security.

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