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The forever war in Afghanistan, which America has prosecuted for 20 years, is finally dragging to an ignoble end. But Americans need to understand why this war was, in fact, a “forever” war.

Our Afghan allies were citified folks who had a relatively cosmopolitan world view; they (especially women) knew something of the modern world and found it attractive. Our Afghan foes were tribesmen whose world view was likely little different than their great-great-great-grandparents’ had been. Both sets of folks are Muslims, a religion which apparently, according to the Taliban, encourages the killing of infidels.

In neighboring Pakistan, the United States had, for years, been prosecuting a drone war against terrorists. Any time a meeting of folks occurred, it might suddenly be subjected to terror from the skies. If, from our view, most of those killed were kill-the-infidel terrorists, then we had reason to do what we did. Be that as it may, every adult and child killed by drones was a member of a family and clan. U.S. policy toward Pakistan is a delicate matter, because that unstable country has nuclear weapons that we definitely hope to keep out of terrorists’ hands.

The Taliban were originally Muslim scholars, although the organization seems to have mutated from scholarship into politics and guerrilla warfare. There are other, similar organizations with various tribal loyalties. So making a deal — as President Donald Trump did — with the Taliban didn’t (and couldn’t) guarantee an easy American exit.

So, therefore, here’s what would have had to happen as a predicate to an American victory in Afghanistan: Our allies would have had to convince their medieval, Taliban countrymen that the American invaders would turn their country into a peaceful place in which Islamic principles would be honored. Of course, such a case could be made by pointing out how well we did just that in Iraq (note: the Iraqi war killed tens of thousands Iraqis and not everyone thinks Iraq is now a shining example of righteous living).

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Does anyone remember a ceremonial changing of the guard, with the NATO and American flags lowered and the Afghanistan flag raised? A writer at that time (December 2014) said: “Obama’s commanders emphasized that the Afghan army and police could take full responsibility for their country’s security from that point forward.”

Was this a lie? Maybe. But perhaps one little letter makes the difference: Could is not would. What President Barack Obama said was essentially, “OK, we have helped with the military effort, but now we shift to a nonmilitary support role.” But, of course, that did not happen. The U.S. and NATO, having made that declaration, remained involved in the fighting.

Both Presidents Trump and Biden said we were going to leave soon. So, how many people took this seriously?

Finally, we did it, and the world of people in deep denial has been aghast ever since.

This whole very sad situation is reminiscent of a middle-class family with an addicted young-adult child. Over and over the “child” — actually an adult — hears, “If you remain addicted we will cut you off.” As this young person grows from a teenager into their 20s, the message doesn’t change and they remain addicted. Then one terrible day, it finally happens.

John Palmer lives in Huntington.

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