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Have we Learned from Afghanistan?

Updated: Apr 28

Hello fellow Veterans. I hope all is well and safe in your lives in the past month. So, everyone has watched the events unfold in the past month or so on the withdrawal from Afghanistan. There are many different opinions on what transpired; however, the most critical question remains: will we learn from this war? Many of you are from the Vietnam era? Did we learn anything from that war? These questions must be addressed as a nation, so we do not continue to make the same mistakes. Here are some different perspectives to consider.

What is happening

The end to war in Afghanistan has prompted an enormous amount of finger-pointing and second-guessing among U.S. political officials seeking to make sense of how a 20-year campaign could allow a stable Afghan government to be erased in a matter of weeks by the Taliban.

It will indeed be debated for a long time from the initial choice to invade to the end with a swift withdrawal. There are many questions on what this means for the people of Afghanistan, the U.S. direct interests in the region, and the many countries affected by the resumption of the Taliban’s power.

As the conflict comes to an end, many different people, including foreign policy experts, the lessons the U.S. should learn from its longest war and how those lessons should inform political actions in future crises.

Why there is debate

One of the biggest lessons the U.S. should take from its struggles in Afghanistan is its humility. Experts argue that the core mistake of the war is that the assumption of American values being imposed on a country caused complexities in Afghanistan. Too many people believe that the U.S. is an unequivocal force for good, blinding them to the harm of its presence. This war has shown that the U.S. should focus on its domestic problems and avoid interventionism and nation-building abroad.

Many worries that the U.S. will become too isolated in response to Afghanistan. Many people argue that America should be a force for good globally and remain committed to its global counterterrorism mission.


American leaders must be willing to accept the limits of power

One lesson from Afghanistan must be that the United States is uniquely maladroit, much less malevolent. Instead, the United States keeps insisting that it must do what it cannot do. Because Americans say they must do it, they persuade themselves that they can and will do it.

The failures of Afghanistan should not mean the U.S. sits idly by as people suffer

The response to evil abroad should not be to throw up our hands. Failure is not inevitable! The current events are infuriating because we are invested, and our attempts were worthwhile. The lessons from Kabul are not that we should never have tried, but that the pain is more significant when the effort means so much.

The U.S. must focus on challenges at home and avoid intervention outside its borders

We need a sensible, hard-headed, national-invested, interest-oriented foreign policy that secures the American way of life without falling prey to our delusions of grandeur. It is time for a late-stage empire to sober up a bit and refocus on building a functioning and secure nation here on the home front.

Humanitarian aid is an alternative to military intervention

If America engages with the world, let it be with diplomacy, humanitarian aid, free coronavirus vaccines, bed nets, AIDS drugs, and other cheap, simple measures, and work a lot better than fighter jets and soldiers and carriers battle groups.

U.S. pollical leaders must be willing to acknowledge their own mistakes

Politicians play the blame game to appeal to voters and protect their legacy; however, when the U.S. blames others, it does not recognize its own mistakes, only to repeat them. The U.S. condemns lives in denial, so it never truly takes responsibility for the consequences of its actions.

The U.S. needs to realize that military force is not the only answer to every problem

In almost every human realm, we recognize brute coercion as the antithesis of engagement among people; the resort to force marks the breakdown of sociable interaction in the household or on the street. This causes a social scream for the call to ‘do something,’ this outcry is unlikely to stop until the bombs drop.

The public must understand that foreign policy is rarely black and white

Americans like to deceive themselves. They want to believe there is good war and bad war. Similarly, they like winners and losers to be well defined. But the battlefield cannot be a well-defined as it is in the movies or on television.

The harms that U.S. intervention causes must be recognized

Foreign policy establishment obsesses over the damages caused by our absence or withdrawal. There is no similar liability for the harms we commit or what our presence creates. It is much easier to blame others than for our errors and mistakes.

We can only change U.S. foreign policy by changing the people who lead it

Current political teams insist that U.S. foreign policy should reflect the interests and concerns of the middle class. Instead, we should democratize U.S. foreign policy to make it more inclusive, instead of being dominated by the narrow and homogenous elite, which, time and again, has entangled the nation in military ventures in distant lands.

American foreign policy is too broken for any lessons to be learned

Nothing has been resolved, no lessons have been discovered, no meaningful assessment of the war on terror has been passed for over a century.

So, these are just some thoughts and perspectives of lessons from Afghanistan. What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Or, you may have a completely different perspective. No matter what perspective, you must accept that we must learn something as individuals, whether we learn anything as a nation. Those lessons must be shared with other veterans to get our thoughts, concerns, and stresses off our minds and chests. We must take care of one another. We are in this together. So, make sure you reach out to another Veteran and check on them to ensure they are doing well. This is your mission now! So, until next time, take care and please be safe.


Dr. John Heintzelman


Bebernes, M. (2021). The lessons of Afghanistan. Yahoo News 360. Retrieved from

Image provided by Midjourney (2023). Retrieved from

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