Defeat in Afghanistan? The View from 2050


Voices from many quarters are saying dire things about the American-led campaign in Afghanistan. The prospect of defeat, whatever that may mean in practice, is real. But we are so close to the events, it is hard to know what is and is not critical. And the facts which trickle out allow people who are not insiders to only have a sketchy, pointillist impression of the state of play. There is a lot of noise around a weak signal.

ChicagoBoyz will be convening a group of contributors to look back on the American campaign in Afghanistan from a forty year distance, from 2050.

40 years is the period from Fort Sumter to the Death of Victoria, from the Death of Victoria to Pearl Harbor, from Pearl Harbor to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. It is a big chunk of history. It is enough time to gain perspective.

This exercise in informed and educated imagination is meant to help us gain intellectual distance from the drumbeat of day to day events, to understand the current situation in Afghanistan more clearly, to think-through the potential outcomes, and to consider the stakes which are in play in the longer run of history for America, for its military, for the region, and for the rest of the world.

The Roundtable contributors will publish their posts and responses during the third and fourth weeks of August, 2010.

The ChicagoBoyz blog is a place where we can think about the unthinkable.

Stand by for further details, including a list of our contributors.

17 thoughts on “Defeat in Afghanistan? The View from 2050”

  1. Is the idea to meet in 2010, imagine what to world will look like in the future, in 2050, and then to “look back on the American campaign in Afghanistan from a forty year distance”? That’s kind of a big loopy set of “imagine” and “potential” and “uncertain”, I think.

  2. Tatyana, we won’t know how loopy it is until everyone posts and we read it all. I think we will get some very good posts out of it. Stay tuned.

  3. George Freidman, founder of, has a concept of 20 year cycles in history. For example, 1920 to 1940. His book, “The Next 100 Years,” is interesting although he gets a bit far afield in a couple of topics.

  4. All the Boyz,

    A retrospective post published ahead of time; an interesting thesis. The problem is, what are the various contributors asked to base their posts upon?

    Are they to write from a perspective of viewing the failure and defeat of the Allied Forces by a resolute and reinforced Taliban, who fought alongside their Pakistani brothers?

    Will they be surveying the emergence of a new capitalist system, modified only by Islamic needs for banking without any usury or interest?

    Will they be looking at the emergence of a multi-faceted State, which consists of many of the former Soviet client states, under an Islamic theocracy?

    will their words be based on what we know now, or what they hope it will be?

  5. Mike, this roundtable will allow each posting writer very broad discretion to execute the “mission order.”

    What scenarios each writer chooses is within their discretion.

    I want minimal pre-filtering.

    We will see what everyone comes up with.

  6. The war in Afghanistan has the peculiar feature that it’s hard to think of any plausible outcome that would be widely recognised as unambiguous victory, but there are lots of plausible outcomes that would be widely viewed as defeat.

  7. How much of outside events are we looking at here? Worldwide and the course of events for the world? Or is it just focused narrowly on what “happened” in Afghanistan?

    Basically, something like George Friedman’s book, which covers global geopolitics or just like a future history of the Afghans?


  8. Scott, how narrow or broad a focus to use is going to be for each contributor to decide.

    We are going to have a superb group of contributors. They will have maximum scope for free play in thinking and writing about these issues.

  9. Reminds me of the group of blind guys and the Elephant. Not only do you have no idea what is going on it looks like your military is in the same position.

    Afghanistan tends to do well against Empires. Do not pretend America is not one.

    Oh yeah … one more thing. To use your own vernacular: You are the bad guys. You are not on the right side. Supporting warlords against patriots is kinda strange given your own history.

  10. You are the bad guys. You are not on the right side. Supporting warlords against patriots…

    Thanks for letting us know where you stand.

    [Lex, please feel free to delete.]

  11. Jon, thank you for that comment. It came at a right minute: I just read this comment (in a thread to a photo of burnt Iraqi soldier during Gulf War I):

    “War is pain, suffering, torment and tears and blood and so on and so on. Distancing from it makes it easy as it is easy to watch a Hollywood movie about it.
    I don’t care if he is a civilian or military. He is a human being burned alive.”

    Humanists. The worst that could happen to humanity.

  12. I will leave PenGun’s comment up, though I could disagree with most of it. When he acts like a troll, I’ll delete him. When he is civil, like here, I will let him have his say. There is certainly a widespread view, in many parts of the world, and to some extent in the USA, that the USA is on the wrong side in Afghanistan. David Kilcullen says most guerillas are “accidental” and are only shooting at your guys because your guys are in their country, a related sort of point. John Boyd said if you find you are losing a guerilla war, maybe you should switch sides, a pragmatic perspective. Karzai is apparently trying to switch sides, which is pragmatism while looking down the barrel of a gun. And of course guerilla wars usually end with the guerillas’ political arm reaching a negotiated agreement with the prior government. That may happen in Afghanistan, somehow or other. How this will all look from the long view of history is not clear yet. That is the point of the RT.

  13. PenGun is projecting his own politics and wishes here as many Taliban commanders are ex-warlords who didn’t get a good job from Karzai. The Taliban are hardly patriotic as they are a creation and client of the ISI and are carriers of a reified brand of Deobandi Islam at odds with traditional village Islam and sufism. Where tribal networks remain strong or in non-Pushtun districts, the Taliban is weak. Where these traditional ties have weakened the Taliban are strong.

    Afghan patriots tend to be Pushtun nationalists from the northeastern tribes who loathe Pakistan and dislike the Taliban as Pakistani stooges. If these folks are anti-American and anti-Karzai too, they tend to gravitate to Haqqani and Hekmatyar’s parties rather than the Taliban.

    I guess in PenGun’s vernacular they can’t be warlords as they are fighting Americans – sort of like how Communist irregulars are “guerrillas” but right wing counterrevolutionary irregulars are “death squads” even though they use the same tactics.

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