In Afghanistan, the US Again Gets to Choose How It Stops Fighting
For one thing, the war is not actually ending, even if the US participation in it is dwindling.
As headlines proclaim the “” of “,” President Joe Biden’s withdrawal of the remaining US military personnel from Afghanistan is being covered by some in the news media as though it means the end of the conflict – or even means peace – in Afghanistan. It most certainly does not.
For one thing, the war is not actually ending, even if the . Afghan government forces, – at least for the moment – will .
Disengagement from an armed conflict is common US practice in recent decades – since the 1970s, the country’s military has simply left Vietnam, Iraq and now Afghanistan.
But for much of the country’s history, Americans won their wars decisively, with the complete surrender of enemy forces and the home front’s perception of total victory.
A History Of Triumph
The American Revolution, of course, was the country’s first successful war, creating the nation.
The War of 1812, sometimes called the , failed in both its goals, of ending the British practice of and conquering Canada.
But then-Major General Andrew Jackson’s overwhelming allowed Americans to think they had won that war.
In the 1840s, the US defeated Mexico and . In the 1860s, the United States the secessionist Confederate States of America. In 1898 the Americans of Cuba and the Philippines.
tipped the balance in favor of Allied victory, but the postwar acrimony over America’s refusal to enter the League of Nations, followed by the Great Depression and the rise of fascism, eventually as well as any involvement in Europe’s problems.
That disillusionment led to the strident campaigns to prevent the US from intervening in World War II, with the slogan “.”
When the US did enter the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt demanded the “” of both Germany and Japan.
The gave the war its profound justification, while the Japanese surrender on the battleship Missouri in 1945 became a symbol of .
It was perhaps captured best by the words of the American general who accepted that surrender, Douglas MacArthur: “.”
After World War II, the United States kept substantial military presences in both Germany and Japan, and encouraged the and the .
The US stayed in those defeated nations not with the express purpose of rebuilding them, but rather as part of the post-war effort to of its former ally, the Soviet Union.
Nuclear weapons on both sides made unthinkable, but more limited conflicts were possible. Over the five decades of the Cold War, the US fought at arm’s length against the Soviets in Korea and Vietnam, with outcomes shaped as much by domestic political pressures as by .
A Humbling Loss
In Vietnam, by contrast, the US ended its involvement with a treaty, the , and pulled out all U.S. troops.
Richard Nixon had vowed early in his presidency that he would not be “,” and used the treaty to proclaim that he had achieved “.”
But all the peace agreement had really done was create what historians have called a “,” a two-year period in which South Vietnam could continue to exist as an independent country before North Vietnam rearmed and invaded.
Nixon and his chief foreign policy adviser, Henry Kissinger, were to end the war and get American prisoners of war released. They hoped South Vietnam’s inevitable collapse two years later .
But the speed of the North Vietnamese victory in 1975, symbolized by from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon, revealed the embarrassment of American defeat.
The of millions of Vietnamese made “peace with honor” an empty slogan, hollowed further by the by the Khmer Rouge, who overthrew the U.S.-supported government as troops withdrew from Southeast Asia.
The Choice To Withdraw
President George HW Bush thought the decisive American victory in the Persian Gulf War in February 1991 “,” meaning that Americans were overcoming their reluctance to use military force in defense of their interests.
However, Bush’s 90% popularity at the end of that war faded quickly, as Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein remained in power and the US economic recession took the spotlight. One bumper sticker in the 1992 presidential campaign said, “”
In 2003 President George W Bush sought to avoid his father’s mistake. He sent troops and ousted Saddam, but this decision embroiled the United States in a war whose popularity rapidly declined.
Barack Obama campaigned in 2008 in part on contrasting the bad “” in Iraq with the good “war of necessity” in Afghanistan, and then in 2011 while .
However, the in Iraq required Obama to send American forces back into that country, and the Afghanistan surge approaching a decisive result.
Now, Biden has decided to end America’s war in Afghanistan. Public opinion polls indicate for this, and , despite the advice of the military and predictions of civil war.
The fact that would seem to indicate there is little domestic political risk.
Nevertheless, history offers another possibility. A rapid takeover of the country by the Taliban, with the and domestic opponents of the regime, may well produce a backlash among millions of Americans who follow foreign policy only episodically and when dramatic events occur.
Just as the brutality of Islamic State executions led US forces back into Iraq, a Taliban takeover could make the Biden withdrawal of the relatively small American force seem an .
As much as it might seem that Americans today want to stop their “,” the humiliation, repression and carnage involved in a Taliban triumph may well cast a over the entire Biden presidency.
(Thomas Alan Schwartz is a professor of History at Vanderbilt University. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
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