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Afghanistan only the latest US war to be driven by deceit and delusion

On Aug. 16, 2021, thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed the Kabul airport tarmac. AP Photo/Shekib Rahmani

Afghanistan only the latest US war to be driven by deceit and delusion

On Aug. 16, 2021, thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed the Kabul airport tarmac. AP Photo/Shekib Rahmani

Afghanistan only the latest US war to be driven by deceit and delusion

On Aug. 16, 2021, thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed the Kabul airport tarmac. AP Photo/Shekib Rahmani

Afghanistan only the latest US war to be driven by deceit and delusion

On Aug. 16, 2021, thousands of Afghans trapped by the sudden Taliban takeover rushed the Kabul airport tarmac. AP Photo/Shekib Rahmani

What happens in Afghanistan?

In Afghanistan, American hubris – the United States’ capacity for self-delusion and official lying – has struck once again, as it has repeatedly for the last 60 years.

This weakness-masquerading-as-strength has repeatedly led the country into failed foreign interventions. The pattern first became clear to me when I learned on Nov. 11, 1963, that the U.S. embassy and intelligence agencies had been directly involved in planning a coup to depose the president of South Vietnam and his brother, leading to their executions.

I was a Fulbright Fellow, starting a long career in national security policymaking and teaching, studying in Europe. On that day, I was in a bus on a tour of the battlefields of Ypres, Belgium, led by a French history professor.

As I watched the grave markers sweep by, I was reading a report in Le Monde exposing this U.S. effort to overthrow another government and I thought, “This is a bad idea; my country should not be doing this.” And the war, in which the U.S. was directly involved for 20 years, marched on.

The American people were told we had no hand in that coup. We did not know that was a lie until The New York Times and Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers in 1971. By then, 58,000 Americans and possibly as many as 3.5 million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians had died – and the goal of preventing the unification of Vietnam had died as well.

For 15 years, the American foreign policy establishment struggled to overcome what it called the “Vietnam Syndrome” – the rational reluctance of the American people to invade and try to remake another country.

American hubris reemerged, this time as “the global war on terror.” Afghanistan is now the poster child for the sense that the U.S. can remake the world.

A crowd of people surrounds a swimming pool while a helicopter flies overhead

In 1975, helicopters evacuated Americans and Vietnamese people from the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Nik Wheeler/Corbis via Getty Images

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