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You can’t send soldiers to build a nation

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The fall of Kabul is a lesson, says Max Hastings in Bloomberg. In all wars since Vietnam, the US has imposed a “heavy, self-harming footprint”. Cluttering the place up with air bases, razor wire, blast walls and low-flying helicopters, and wearing sunglasses and helmets that make soldiers look like “Darth Vader’s stormtroopers”, cripples the western cause even before anybody starts shooting. Our troops set themselves apart as “aliens”, while local people see our enemies as “folks like themselves”. We never seriously addressed the root causes of radicalism in Afghanistan: poor education, lack of opportunity and a sense of exclusion. And we lost the moral high ground through our behaviour in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

“Every age has its follies,” said the Italian strategy guru Antonio Giustozzi. “The folly of our age has been an irresistible desire to change the world without first studying and understanding it.” The centralised Kabul government established by Washington was wrong for a country loosely run by shifting networks of tribal and family interests. We sent soldiers, whose special skill is killing people, to build a nation. Next time, why not send plumbers or web designers? Yet despite all these mistakes and failures, the US remains indispensable. We can lament America’s confusion of foreign policy and military strategy since 9/11 without being foolish enough to cry: “Yanks go home!”