New Delhi: When you begin to lie about a war, you have as good as admitted that you are losing it. The United States has lost the Afghan war. There is no shame in accepting reality. However, the Donald Trump administration is desperate for the truth not to come out. The Pentagon has stopped revealing the military death toll in the Afghan campaign and hides behind a fig leaf of NATO commitments. On the other hand, where the truth is less easy to conceal, the United States is dissembling. It is playing down the Taliban strength and hold of Afghan territory, and its lies have been exposed by a BBC survey on the ground. Nations never learn that no benefits accrue from lying about or concealing the truth. The United States outrageously lied about Vietnam to its people but still lost the war.

Wars must have political objectives to succeed and those political objectives should be rational and achievable. The United States had no political objectives in Vietnam other than to roll back the spread of communism. It was grossly insufficient to win the war. North Vietnam, on the other hand, was fighting to overthrow the puppet, corrupt, pro-US South Vietnam government and to oust US occupation forces. North Vietnam caught the mood, sentiment and popular imagination of a bulk of Vietnamese who had enough of colonial rule. The United States had to bow to history.

When Richard Nixon extricated the United States from Vietnam, he did so with consummate strategic planning and execution. He attacked the Ho Chi Minh Trail, Viet Cong bases in Cambodia, and North Vietnamese supply lines linking the South Vietnamese underground with Cambodian ports. These could have been done earlier but not without expanding the war with unknown consequences and further inflaming world opinion against the US. For the limited purpose of extrication, a negative strategic aim as it were, Nixon’s strategy worked. But the war as a whole was unwinnable. Wars of occupation are fundamentally unwinnable.

Afghanistan shares with Vietnam an implacable loathing of foreign occupiers. The United States rallied Afghanistan with the aid of allies such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the 1980s to fight Soviet occupational forces. It established twentieth century precedence for a superpower to be humbled by jihad. Jihad then sought its next enemy, the United States, and it has held America to ransom for seventeen years and shows no signs of flagging. It is the United States, however, which is showing war weariness for all the tough talk of Trump and the US military has no strategic plan to transform the situation. Indeed, no strategic plan will work where the United States insists on leadership. It has proved politically and militarily inept at winning war and peace.

The United States disastrous penchant for fighting wars with no other object than to win them is a disembowelled product of exceptionalism. It was exposed during World War II and horrified statesmen and grand strategists like Winston Churchill and George F. Kennan. It advertised a contradiction in US Great Power projection. While it possessed the military wherewithal to transform distant landscapes, it lacked the political maturity, depth and understanding to set things right again. The United States expelled the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan easily enough in the immediate post-9/11 period. But it did not create viable political structures and failed to unite Afghanistan’s neighbours to secure the country’s fledgling democracy. Distractions of Iraq slid Afghanistan further into chaos and violence into which neighbouring states insinuated their own divisive agendas. The United States might like to own the Afghan campaign today but there are other states which have carved out definite roles for themselves. The United States lives in denial of a virtually partitioned Afghanistan thereof and it is not winning the war.

As a first counter to this trend, the United States must seek the cooperation of Russia and China to put a check on multiple, contrary military narratives that dominate Afghanistan. In second and third steps, European and Asian middle powers ought to be invited for consultations and participation. On its own, the United States cannot win the Afghan war. It is not an ideological war like Vietnam where you can cut and run. The United States chief concern is to forestall the recurrence of 9/11-like attacks. The world united in condemning 9/11. There is no reason to believe that US concerns will be scorned seventeen years later. If Donald Trump is not careful, Afghanistan will drain his presidency. His aim ought to be to extricate America from Afghanistan while securing continental United States. Political objectives and diplomacy must guide military actions in partnership with Major and middle powers of the world.