When as a country will we collectively man up and describe the dual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for what they are: complete, utter, and total failures.
Starting with Iraq, let’s remember what the original rationale was for going to war against that country – weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had them and was hiding them. The headline from the September 28, 2002 edition of The Washington Post spells it out that “U.S. Goal is Wider Access to Iraq Sites“. The belief was, eight years ago, that Hussein was lying about his WMD programs and was able to hide his country’s biological, chemical, and nuclear laboratories from the inspectors of the United Nations.
President George W. Bush, in a speech on October 7, 2002, even cited the imminent threat posed by the nuclear arsenal of the Iraqi leader when Bush said:
America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
So, in March of 2003, in a preemptive strike against that peril, the missiles flew, the bombs fell, and the tanks rolled in.
It was all for nothing as the “clear evidence” of WMDs were as mythical as the belief that one can have tax cuts, increase spending due to two wars, and still balance the budget. The September 28, 2003, headline from the Post reads “House Probers Conclude Iraq Data Was Weak“. It only took a year for that “clear evidence” to become “weak” and crumble like the sands Americans were now dying on.
The war in Afghanistan has become a failure for a different reason. Unlike the conflict in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan was based on the true premise of revenge against the masterminds of the September 11 attacks (al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, etc.) and those that gave them safe haven (the Taliban). Beginning in October of 2001, the war in Afghanistan started out well with American and NATO forces, along with allies from the Northern Alliance routing the Taliban. However, the failure began when troops in Afghanistan were moved out of that country to support the build-up of troops that would begin the war with Iraq. Deprived of manpower, the effort in Afghanistan stalls until we come to the present day where Osama bin Laden has not been captured or killed, and the Taliban has become resurgent thus rendering the goal of revenge as unmet.
In other words, unmet goals equals a failure.
Until we as a country see these conflicts for the failures they have become, we will not be able to adequately learn from them.