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Editor’s note: This essay is adapted from the author’s congressional testimony on October 5.
The catastrophe that is only beginning in Afghanistan, is the result of incompetence based in strategic narcissism, or the tendency for American leaders to define the world only in relation to the United States, and to assume that what they decide to do is decisive in securing a positive outcome.
But others, including adversaries and enemies, also enjoy authorship over the future. In Afghanistan, policies and strategies across two decades were based on what U.S. leaders preferred rather than what the situation demanded. Strategic narcissism led to self-delusion, and self-delusion provided a rationale for self-defeat.
A fundamental lesson of Afghanistan is that wars are interactive and that progress in war and diplomacy is never linear. That is why the war in Afghanistan and the broader war against jihadist terrorist organizations is not over; it is entering a new, more dangerous era. Containing the catastrophe in Afghanistan and learning from it will require U.S. leaders to confront the truth of our experience in Afghanistan and stop pretending.
Stop pretending that our surrender to the Taliban in February 2020 and subsequent concessions to that