The scenes out of Afghanistan this week were horrifying beyond words as we watched citizens of that war-town country panic and cling to U.S. military aircraft as the Taliban took control of the country.

It’s tragic to see so much blood spilled and $2 trillion invested in trying to build something that couldn’t endure a single day without the threat of our military supremacy behind it.

My friend who served two tours over there trying to train the people to be an army and police force warned me a few years ago that this would happen because that country is too deeply mired by corruption to present any real challenge to the Taliban, who, like the North Vietnamese before them, had the strength of will to persist.

We should have kept a modest fighting force in Afghanistan to preserve stability a while longer, the same way we’ve maintained bases in Germany and Japan for decades. Four presidents share fault for this failed experiment in Afghanistan. From our abandonment of the Kurds to not rescuing the Afghans who sided with us, we’ve demonstrated to our allies around the world that the United States is not necessarily a partner that will always have their back.

That’s disgraceful.

Afghanistan is a mountainous, landlocked country whose past invaders include the Greek Empire of Alexander the Great, the Mongol Empire led by Genghis Khan, the Sikh Empire, the British Empire and various Persian empires.

The Soviets spent a decade trying to install a secular government, which we responded to by arming the religiously motivated mujahideen to rise up against. This ploy succeeded in causing the weary Russians to a humiliating withdrawal in May 1989, but it also created a vacuum for power among Islamic warlords that ultimately lead us to where we are now. War is like a chess game; it is important for the player to anticipate the next moves when deciding what action to take.

With the 1998 US embassy bombings and Sept. 11 attacks, America was baited by Osama Bin Laden into this war because he anticipated that we could arrive at this sad outcome. We ultimately hunted him down and killed a whole lot of people, but at what cost?

To think, all of this bloodshed (212,000+ killed, including 47,960 civilians) and spending $300 million tax dollars per day, every day, for two decades because of 19 men (none of them Afghans or Iraqis) hijacking four airplanes armed only with box cutters.

This war was never going to end like the world wars of the 20th century. Oh, how I wish we had a nice, tidy finish with the Afghan people grateful for our help and these evil butchers gone with the infrastructure of radicalization dismantled.

Our brave soldiers deserve that triumphant finish riding through ticker-tape parades with all of us proudly waving flags.

Our men and women who served in this war deserve to hold their heads high. They were sent into the toughest battlefields in the world to rescue the Afghan people from the horrors of an Islamic theocracy while preventing the terrorists from attacking us here. We must treat these veterans better than the shameful way we greeted our returning troops from Vietnam. Many of them will need years of intense therapy to deal with the emotional and physical wounds. They are heroes and we are grateful for their service to the nation.

Perhaps the best way we can honor them is to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes of the last 20 years and send them into other civil wars with unrealistic expectations.

— Steven Stiefel is the Times-Journal’s publisher. His column appears in Saturday editions.

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