Why It's So Hard For America to End Its Wars
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
On Afghanistan, An Anguishing Choice about Withdrawing Troops
Five factors will influence the U.S. role and the prospects for peace after two decades of war.
By Robin Wright
There’s a prophetic scene at the end of “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the film that chronicles a flamboyant Texas congressman (played by Tom Hanks) and a rogue C.I.A. agent (Philip Seymour Hoffman) mobilizing what was then the largest U.S. covert intelligence operation in history. Operation Cyclone facilitated the training, arming, and empowering of the Afghan mujahideen—holy warriors—to fight the Soviet Union in the nineteen-eighties. America’s proxies prevailed, in the sense that the Soviets realized that their decade-long presence had become too costly—financially, politically, and militarily—and that they couldn’t achieve their goals. “What, are we going to sit there forever?” the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reportedly told the Politburo in 1986. “Or should we be ending this war? Otherwise, we’ll disgrace ourselves in every respect.” In 1989, after losing more than fourteen thousand troops and spending at least fifty billion dollars, the Soviets withdrew. They just wanted out of an unpopular war. Afghanistan soon collapsed into a civil war that pitted rival warlords against one another, until the Taliban seized power, in 1996, imposed strict Islamic law, and welcomed other jihadis such as Al Qaeda. After Al Qaeda’s attacks in 2001, U.S. forces helped their Afghan allies to topple the Taliban. A new U.S.-backed government was ensconced in Kabul.
Friday, February 5, 2021
The World Likes Biden But Doubts the U.S. Can Reclaim Global Leadership
Joe Biden’s “first love,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, mused this week, “is foreign policy.” His lifelong interest showed on Thursday when the President, just two weeks in office, addressed the world from the State Department, on his first foray to a federal agency. President Trump only ventured the five blocks to the State Department once, in 2018, sixteen months after taking office, and only for the ceremonial swearing-in of Mike Pompeo, his second Secretary of State. Biden’s speech marked the beginning of his long schlep to repair America’s place in the world after Trump. “America is back,” Biden vowed. “We are a country that does big things. American diplomacy makes it happen. And our Administration is ready to take up the mantle and lead once again.”
Friday, January 22, 2021
The Awe and Anguish of Being an American Today
The lofty language and political togetherness of Joe Biden’s Inauguration made for a day to believe, again, in America and the idea of sharing power, even among people who disagree about almost everything. Listening to the enchanting young poet Amanda Gorman, I got a little weepy as she told us, “While democracy can be periodically delayed, it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith, we trust.” Lady Gaga’s powerful rendition of our anthem—pounding home the line “Our flag was still there”—was as relevant to the treasonous challenge to Congress this month as it was when British warships bombarded Fort McHenry, in 1814. On the very site of an insurrection that, two weeks earlier, threatened our union and resulted in five deaths, Joe Biden, our new President, promised that “democracy has prevailed.” His optimistic energy was infectious.
The problem, after any Inauguration, is all those other days. We need to be honest with ourselves about the health of our democracy. America has made gradual progress, no doubt. We are evolving, albeit with millions still denying the election results. On Wednesday, a woman born to Black and South Asian parents took the oath of office for the Vice-Presidency from a Latina Supreme Court Justice, another woman. “We dream. We shoot for the moon,” Kamala Harris said on Wednesday night. “We are undaunted in our belief that we will overcome.” Others will surely feel the same way. Biden has appointed the most diverse staff in history—men and a record number of women; Blacks, whites, and a Native American; a gay man and a transgender woman—who finally represent the splendid diversity of our land.
Yet we are still vulnerable to the selfish and voracious demands by many for more rights than others who are legally their equals. And to the belief in an alternative truth untethered to reality. During this sacred transition, some twenty-five thousand troops were deployed in my beloved Washington, D.C., in concentric circles, in an area of only five square miles—four times as many personnel as in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria combined. On Inauguration Day, there was still spray paint on the Capitol’s marble columns—“A chilling reminder of what happened there just two weeks ago,” Senator Amy Klobuchar told NPR. Amid the calls to mend fences, the most striking images of the day were new fences, topped with prickly barbed wire, which prevented the public from participating in the celebration of their votes. Read on....
Monday, January 18, 2021
Biden Faces More Aggressive Rivals and a Fraying World Order
Friday, January 8, 2021
The World Shook as America Raged
Monday, January 4, 2021
Biden Faces a Minefield in New Diplomacy with Iran