President Joe Biden’s address to mark the end of the United States military presence in Afghanistan certainly felt historic, but it may be that there was less to it than met the eye. One of the most important passages was this one: “This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”
Yet there have been only two of those in the past two decades: in Afghanistan, and in Iraq. It might be said that this era ended when the US-led forces realised that Saddam Hussein’s supposed weapons of mass destruction were a bluff, and Iraq descended into sectarian bloodshed. Since then, the US has refused to deploy ground forces in either Libya or Syria.
The deployment of troops in Afghanistan was maintained only because the policy had failed: the US and its allies had not succeeded in “remaking” the country, but they did not want to pull the troops out because that was likely to precipitate the collapse of the Afghan government and expose that failure.
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