Our failure in Afghanistan is everything wrong with America

Thomas Brown
7 min readAug 16, 2021

America has failed in Afghanistan. After twenty years, we have been defeated and the country has fallen to the Taliban in a largely bloodless final offensive. Americans deserve a reckoning. Unfortunately, this is impossible. The institutions necessary for taking account of our failure are broken and, in fact, responsible for this humiliation. The Afghan debacle is the result of cowardly leaders, corrupt institutions, and incapable press.

It should be made very clear, that there is plenty that the hundreds of thousands of service-members, contractors, State Department personnel, and other coalition partners who operated in Afghanistan should feel proud of. In twenty years the population of Afghanistan has doubled. Every year since Americans landed more Afghans could read than the year before. Girls could go to school and women could own businesses in Afghanistan between 2001–2021. Amidst the stories of crushing boredom, boundless terror, and true courage, veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) can offer tales to almost redeem a cynical soul.

Children laughing on the first day at a brand new school. Religious minorities crying with gratitude at being able to pray openly. Proud women graduating from university. Families clamoring for food relief. We had no business being in Afghanistan for twenty years and we made many mistakes. But perhaps remember that for every mistaken mission, appallingly planned “collateral damage,” and well-publicized tragedy committed by the US military (or intelligence agencies) there were soldiers, marines, and airmen doing their best to be the best America could offer.

This is what makes the tragedy so poignant. We accomplished so much and yet absolutely nothing.

America failed in Afghanistan in nearly every way possible. We never achieved our primary objective of capturing or killing those responsible there — we accomplished that ten years later in a different country entirely. We never built a functioning government in Afghanistan. All we did was prop up warlords and incompetent cronies more concerned with filling their pockets than governing. Which is why everything collapsed in a week.

The United States of America, the mightiest military machine the world has ever seen so far, told the people of Afghanistan that we were there now and that they had no choice in the matter. We had a responsibility to them which we ostensibly tried to fulfill. But our…