By Ryan Grim (reposted with permission)

Did you know that shortly after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban tried to surrender? For centuries in Afghanistan, when a rival force had come to power, the defeated one would surrender and be integrated into the new power structure -- obviously with much less power, or none at all. That's how you do with neighbors you have to continue to live with. This isn't a football game, where the teams go to different cities when it's over. That may be hard for us to remember, because we haven't fought a protracted war on our own soil since the Civil War.

So when the Taliban came to surrender, the U.S. said no way. Only full annihilation was enough for the Bush administration. They wanted more terrorists in body bags. The problem was that the Taliban had stopped fighting, having either fled to Pakistan or put down their weapons and gone back to civilian life. And Al Qaeda was down to a handful of members.

So how do you kill terrorists if there aren't any?

Simple: Afghans that the U.S. worked with understood the predicament the military was in, and so they fabricated bad guys. Score-settling ran amok as all you had to do to get your neighbor killed or sent to Afghanistan was tell the U.S. they were Taliban. Doors would be kicked in, no questions asked. The men left standing built massive fortunes and shipped their wealth to Dubai. "We are not nation-building again," Trump said tonight. Well, we never were. (Unless building highrises with looted cash in Dubai counts.)

After a few years of this, after their surrender efforts were repeatedly rebuffed, the old Taliban started picking up guns again. When they were driven from power, the population was happy to see them go. The U.S. managed to make them popular again.

Liberals spent the 2008 presidential campaign complaining the U.S. had "ignored" Afghanistan -- when in reality the parts of the country without a troop presence were the only parts at peace, facing no insurgency against the Afghan government, such as it was. Then Obama came in and launched a surge in troop levels while announcing a withdrawal at the same time.

And now Trump says he has a new and better strategy. He says the U.S. needs to get Pakistan more involved -- except of course Pakistan's intelligence service has been propping up the Taliban for decades. Really want them more involved?

The defining book on this war -- one of the top one or two books I've ever read, really -- is called No Good Men Among The Living, by Anand Gopal. It reads like a novel, but is a nonfiction portrait of three Afghans as they live through the war -- a civilian woman, a warlord and a Taliban fighter. I don't recommend books much, but this one's just incredible and I can't recommend it strongly enough. (You can buy it here; I've never met Gopal and have nothing to do with the book.) I'd say Trump should read it, but it's longer than a page, which his advisers say is the max he'll look at. And the only thing he seems interested in is the fact that Afghanistan has a bunch of minerals he thinks the U.S. is owed.

Anyhow, sorry, that was a bit more of a rant than I usually like to send, but this stupidity is just crazy-making. The idea of more American kids going over there to put their lives at risk to just make the situation worse, through no fault of their own, is heartbreaking.

I mean, think about it: we are now losing a war to an enemy that already surrendered. That's not easy to do.

Meanwhile, my colleague Jeremy Scahill at The Intercept makes a good point about the underlying endurance of the assassination complex, no matter what Trump does with troop levels in Afghanistan.

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