Failure in Afghanistan

The limits of presidential power
by
November 2021, no. 437

Failure in Afghanistan

The limits of presidential power
by
November 2021, no. 437
Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, boards a C-17 cargo plane at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Donahue was the final American service member to depart Afghanistan in 2021. (photograph by Master Sgt. Alex Burnett/Afghanistan Archive/Alamy)
Major General Chris Donahue, commander of the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, XVIII Airborne Corps, boards a C-17 cargo plane at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Maj. Gen. Donahue was the final American service member to depart Afghanistan in 2021. (photograph by Master Sgt. Alex Burnett/Afghanistan Archive/Alamy)

When the last C-17 cargo plane left the Hamid Karzai International Airport on 30 August with the remaining US soldiers and diplomats, America’s longest war officially came to a close. The swift return of the Taliban was a deeply distressing and tragic end to a war whose close, nevertheless, came partly as a relief. The inevitable question as to what lessons America – more particularly, its military and federal government – has learnt or should learn was followed by substantial criticism of President Joe Biden’s handling of the withdrawal and dire predictions for the future of American power and prestige abroad. The process of confronting uncomfortable realities and debating the meaning of such an event is both natural and necessary, yet the history of previous American conflicts overseas tells us that the period of actual reckoning will be brief and few lessons may be learnt.

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