Small Wars Journal

Why Winning and Losing are Irrelevant in Syria and Afghanistan

Why Winning and Losing are Irrelevant in Syria and Afghanistan by Max Boot – Washington Post

President Trump is already pulling U.S. troops out of Syria and is likely to pull them out of Afghanistan, too, assuming that a tentative peace deal with the Taliban is finalized. Although Trump initially claimed that the United States had won in Syria, the real impetus for both moves is a widespread sense, shared by Trump supporters and critics alike, that not only aren’t we winning, but that also we can’t possibly win these “forever wars,” no matter how long we stay.


“There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy,” wrote strategist and travel writer Robert D. Kaplan in the New York Times. Veteran diplomats Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, meanwhile, wrote for NPR that “ISIS isn’t Germany or Japan, where the U.S. and its allies broke those regimes’ will to fight, destroyed all their war-making capacity, eradicated their fascist state ideologies and helped reshape a new environment for two democratic countries. For the U.S. to achieve that goal in Syria is mission impossible.”


I have enormous respect for these writers, but their observations, while true, are also irrelevant. James Dobbins, a former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and his colleagues at Rand are closer to the mark when they write: “Winning may not be an available option, but losing certainly is. A precipitous departure, no matter how rationalized, will mean choosing to lose. The result would be a blow to American credibility, the weakening of deterrence and the value of U.S. reassurance elsewhere, an increased terrorist threat emanating from the Afghan region, and the distinct possibility of a necessary return there under worse conditions.” The Rand report is about Afghanistan, but the same analysis applies to Syria…

Read on.



Mon, 02/11/2019 - 3:12am

I reviewed an opinion that said there were at minimum 5 sides in Afghanistan. Us, the Afghani who support US, them, the other Afghani who support them, and finally the Afghani who want us all out of their country. We all work with and against each other in alliances that shift minute by minute. 


We must come to understand "winning" and "losing" today I suggest -- in Afghanistan and/or elsewhere -- in a larger context; for example, in the context of "winning" and/or "losing" the Cold War.

In this regard, consider that -- based on the definition of the Cold War noted by Hans Morgenthau in 1967 below -- 

a.  Cir. 1988, and with the rise of Secretary Gorbachev, the Soviets lost their portion of the Cold War.  And

b.  Cir. 2016, and with the election of President Trump, the U.S. lost its portion of the Cold War also.

First, a definition of what the Cold War was really all about -- from Hans Morgenthau in 1967:

"The United States and the Soviet Union face each other not only as two great powers which in the traditional ways compete for advantage. They also face each other as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other. Thus the cold war has not only been a conflict between two world powers but also a contest between two secular religions. And like the religious wars of the seventeenth century, the war between communism and democracy does not respect national boundaries. It finds enemies and allies in all countries, opposing the one and supporting the other regardless of the niceties of international law. Here is the dynamic force which has led the two superpowers to intervene all over the globe, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes openly, sometimes with the accepted methods of diplomatic pressure and propaganda, sometimes with the frowned-upon instruments of covert subversion and open force."

Thus, to ask yourself this question:

If the U.S. today, much like the Soviets back around 1990, have determined that we will no longer "expand the reach of our political values and institutions" -- and will not longer "prevent the expansion of the political values and institutions of others,"

(And, thus, will, instead, embrace such things as "sovereignty," "self-determination" -- and political, economic, social and value "diversity" and the international law that relates to same -- something that we have not done since the dawn of the 20th Century?)

Then does this not suggest that -- as per the definition of the Cold War identified by Morgenthau above -- the U.S. -- after meeting the Aghans -- and much as with the case of the Soviets before us -- we, also now, have been soundly defeated?

This, specifically, as relates to our/their enduring commitment to:

a.  "Expand the reach of our political values and institutions" and to:

b.  "Prevent the expansion of the political values and institutions of others?"

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

If the abandonment by the Soviets'  of their "expansionist"/"containment" political objective -- identified at my "a" and "b" immediately above -- if this is to be understood in terms of defeat, failure, copitulation, and, indeed, in terms of losing their portion of the Cold War, 

Then the similar abandonment by the U.S. now -- of our similar "expansionist"/"containment" political objective -- this, likewise, must be understood in these exact same terms (to wit: in terms of a similar defeat, failure, copituation, and, indeed, in terms of our losing our portion of the Cold War).

(The Afghans, in both cases, being instrumental in this defeat -- of not one, but indeed two, 20/21st Century great powers?)