It gets lost in the many creative purposes successive American administrations invented to justify remaining in Afghanistan, but the primary goal of the original aerial assault in 2001 was clear and primitive: revenge. Not always a dish best served cold. That military operation was an attempt to satisfy public thirst for payback, and also for agency. 9/11 made the country feel powerless. Given today’s glorification of victimhood, it’s worth remembering that when Americans were granted victimhood en masse, they didn’t care for it.
If in the eating revenge is often thin gruel, so also is the experience of being proved right. I opposed the extended occupations of both Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m no foreign policy expert, but so far my rule of thumb for foreign interventions — ‘Once a hell-hole, always a hell-hole’ — has held up. In scheduling a scandalously shambolic withdrawal to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, Joe Biden has managed not to reverse the humiliation of 9/11, but to repeat it. Our would-be vengeance has merely punished the US a second time. We hear from all quarters now that the reputation of the US has been terminally trashed, and that from here on in the inclination of future administrations to bully into the affairs of other countries will be greatly diminished.
That should make me happy. Since the second world war, most US foreign military interventions have been pointless or worse. Ironically, the one act of poking the American nose into other people’s business that I regard as roundly productive is the one that got so much stick at the time: Bush Senior’s first Gulf War. He was given all manner of grief for not going all the way and invading Iraq — which I never coveted for the 51st state.