Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.) Senior Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University September 11, 2021
It’s 9/11. Hello, darkness, my old friend. America has done it once again. We have waged a failed war in yet another foreign land and dishonorably abandoned those we went there to help.
Or did we go there for some other reason? Did Afghans ask for our help? Or did we provide it without consulting them? It’s human nature to see only what you want to see and to hear only what you want to hear. It’s going to take us a while to determine what went wrong if we ever do. There is an African proverb that declares: “to get lost is to learn the way.” Let us hope we now do so.
Neither DOD nor U.S. foreign policy has ever undergone an audit. In the twelve minutes allotted to me, I am not going to attempt one. Still, you learn more from failure than from success, and after-action reports are essential to both strategic and tactical effectiveness. The soldiers and airmen of Rhode Island’s National Guard, like others, served honorably and sacrificed much for our country in Afghanistan. As members of the R.I.N.G. you are fully justified in spending some time teasing out the factors that shaped America’s twenty-year misadventure in “the graveyard of empires” and its outcome. So, before I get to what must be done, let me briefly outline a few possible contributing causes to where we are.