Daniel Larison: Drawing Lessons From Afghanistan

Hawkish credibility claims are annoying because they are both sweeping and extremely vague.

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Bret Stephens is in full fearmongering mode:

Now, in the aftermath of Saigon redux, every enemy will draw the lesson that the United States is a feckless power, with no lasting appetite for defending the Pax Americana that is still the basis for world order. And every ally – Taiwan, Ukraine, the Baltic States, Israel, Japan – will draw the lesson that it is on its own in the face of its enemies. The Biden Doctrine means the burial of the Truman Doctrine.

Since everyone wants to make the comparison with Saigon and the fall of South Vietnam, it is instructive to look at what did and didn’t happen after 1975. Every other U.S. ally did not draw the lesson that it is on its own. Formal US allies did not change their allegiances, nor did they assume that the US wouldn’t fulfill its commitments to them. Just a few years after the fall of Saigon, the US terminated its defense treaty with Taiwan, and once again nothing of the sort happened. It’s as if other governments don’t judge US reliability as the hawks claim they do. Hawks are unable to see the world as these other states do, and so they project their reactions onto these governments to lend their complaints more weight. The trouble is that the allies and clients mostly don’t see things the way they do, and don’t draw sweeping conclusions about US reliability everywhere from its decision to end involvement in one conflict. When you see hawks holding forth about the dangers of losing credibility, understand that they are promoting a propaganda message and not offering serious analysis.

Hawkish credibility claims are annoying because they are both sweeping and extremely vague. According to them, the entire alliance system is now in jeopardy because the US ended its part in an unwinnable war. But they never spell out what that means in practice. Stephens says that allies and clients will “draw the lesson” that they are on their own, but what is the practical significance of that? What are these states going to do in the future that they aren’t doing now? If the hawks are right about this (they’re not), how would they prove it? If the other states were losing confidence in US guarantees, we should expect to see fairly significant and sudden changes in the military spending and shifting alignments of many countries. If these states now fear that they are “on their own” (they don’t), they ought to be taking more responsibility for their own security. If past experience is any guide, that isn’t going to happen. Warning about lost credibility is a cheap and easy way to attack a president’s decision when you can’t really defend your own policy preferences.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

3 thoughts on “Daniel Larison: Drawing Lessons From Afghanistan”

  1. Don’t worry, the World’s most active Meddler and Warmonger, the USA will never change her beloved “activities” such as starting and fighting WARS in every corner of this Planet !

  2. Most US allies of any consequence are probably relieved that the USA has stopped pretending it is winning in Afghanistan, and will now stop making demands on them to support its losing war, materially, diplomatically, in terms of propaganda, etc. And I think much the same relief greeted the USA’s decision to finally pull the plug in Vietnam in 1975. The reality is that the USA tends to stick out losing efforts for too long, as opposed to not long enough. And its allies are well aware of that.

    The way the war mongers see it, it is never a mistake, a bad idea, a thing with any downsides, at all, to continue endless, disastrously bad, clearly lost, wars. Just a few more billion dollars, a few more thousand troops, a few more years, a few more of everything…what’s the big deal, after we spent so much already? Keep the merry go round going, and no one can ever say, “Hey, the USA lost a war!” But lost wars don’t turn into winners merely because you refuse to admit that you lost. The Taliban didn’t lose its grip on the countryside just because the US military kept putting out phony maps purporting to show otherwise, the State Dept kept issuing fake reports about progress, and the US bought-and-paid for “human rights,” “pro democracy,” “pro peace,” and “humanitarian” groups continued to hype the girls in school, the hospitals, and so on. Much like what happened in Vietnam before it. The joke then was that in DC, at Foggy Bottom, the Pentagon, and the White House, there was wild optimism, while at US military headquarters in Saigon, there was guarded optimism, but out in the field there was total (and totally realistic) pessimism!

    And the war mongers don’t seem to understand that countries can lose wars, but still go on to do great things, even by their own standards of power and dominance and empire. Great Britain lost the American War for Independence, and the European war that went along with it, in 1783. But that didn’t stop it from defeating France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, and going on to be the leading nation, with the largest empire, in the world, for a hundred years. Great Britain created an enormous alliance system in those wars, and I doubt very many states were concerned that Britain was “unreliable” or “lacked credibility” as an ally because it had turned its back on the Loyalists in the Thirteen Colonies, “cut and ran,” “retreated,” “spat on the graves” of all the brave troops lost at Bunker Hill, Saratoga, etc. Much the same with the War of 1812. And with the British defeat in Afghanistan in 1842. Take your loss or your draw or your strategic redeployment (a la Reagan with Beirut), or whatever it makes you feel good to call it, and move on.

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