The Afghan War Isn’t a Stalemate: It’s a Defeat

new camera 007
My old chess clock.  Time has run out, America.

W.J. Astore

Stalemate: That’s the word of choice being used by U.S. generals to describe the Afghan War.  What, exactly, is a stalemate?  I played chess at an early age, caught up in the Bobby Fischer craze of the early 1970s, and I still play occasionally.  In chess, a stalemate is a special kind of draw, and an often frustrating one.  Put concisely, “Stalemate is a situation in the game of chess where the player whose turn it is to move is not in check but has no legal move.”

For example, I may be winning decisively, with only my opponent’s king left on the board.  But if I carelessly put my opponent’s (unchecked) king in such a position that his only move is into harm (or “check”), the position is stalemated.  My decisive material advantage makes no difference: the game is over, it’s a draw.  In effect, given my material advantage, it’s a win for him and a loss for me.

Is the Afghan War “stalemated”?  Not according to the U.S. military, since it believes the “stalemate” can be reversed, that the U.S. can still “win.”  Indeed, President Trump has already gone on record last week as saying his administration is winning in Afghanistan.  No stalemate here.

A stalemated chess match is simply a bad metaphor for the Afghan War.  It’s not that one side can’t make a legal move, therefore the game is over.  (Would that the war could end so easily and cleanly!)  The situation today in Afghanistan is that the Taliban continues to tighten its grip on the country, or, in chess terms, it’s enlarging its span of control over the board, even as U.S. and Coalition forces send more troops, expend more munitions, and issue more reports about how they can still win — as long as U.S. generals get exactly what they want.

So, if stalemate is the wrong word, what is the right one?  I have one: defeat.  U.S. and Coalition forces have been fighting the Afghan War for 16 years.  Surges have come and gone.  More than a trillion dollars has been spent.  Yet the enemy retains the initiative and largely dictates the terms of the conflict.  Whatever this is, it isn’t “victory”; it’s not “progress”; nor is it “stalemate.” It’s a lost position, a defeat, pure and simple.

There’s nothing wrong with defeat.  The very best chess grandmasters lose; and when they do, they almost always tip their king and resign before they’re checkmated (defeated utterly).  By doing so, they conserve their energy for the next opponent, even as they study the lost game so they can learn from their mistakes.

Isn’t it time the U.S. did the same in the Afghan War?  Admit a lost position, resign, and withdraw?  Then learn?

Trump, of course, says he’s all about winning.  He’ll continue to push pieces about the board, despite the lost position.  This is not reversing a stalemate (which, by the rules of chess, can’t be done).  It’s only delaying defeat – at a high cost indeed to all those “pieces” being shunted about and sacrificed on the chessboard that is Afghanistan.

14 thoughts on “The Afghan War Isn’t a Stalemate: It’s a Defeat

  1. Welcome to the Pentagram Theater of the Absurd. Our motto: “Bankrupting Your Government and Losing Wars since 1945.” And now, as the lights dim and the curtain falls, we present for your mindless manipulation and credulous consumption:

    A Perfidious Propaganda Prologue
    (with apologies to William Shakespeare’s Henry V*)

    Wanted: a hack for hire who would descend
    The darkest depths of Disbelief’s suspension.
    A flat screen for a stage, salesmen to act,
    And unemployed to buy the threadbare theme.
    Then should the Precious Peacock, him or her,
    Put on the bomber jacket while the troops,
    Like gladiators chained, prepare to fight
    And for the mob’s enjoyment, die. But wait!
    Unworthy though you are, Deplorables,
    We love you poorly educated types,
    And know you worship wealth and culture war.
    So fights we’ll stage for you who’ll gladly pay
    From your own purloined purses. Thanks to you,
    Brave Audience, the crooked rich have cut
    Their taxes, speaking glibly of “reform,”
    While what they mean: “avoidance,” none will say.
    So, Valiant Viewers, open your accounts,
    And then from your depleted credit borrow.
    Accept that from your ballot you must choose
    One or the other of two candidates
    Whose deeply flawed careers have marked them bought
    By global corporations spanning seas.
    Courageous Couch Potatoes, Passive Proles,
    Onto a thousand men project your dream:
    To serve as fodder for the canons’ feast.
    Gawk, when we show you presidents saluting,
    Pointing their proud noses at the adoring sky.
    For now, it’s “terror” that stampedes your thoughts,
    Hustling them here, then there, time after time;
    Generals touting “progress,” or, “not losing,”
    Each hour on Network News. Still they require
    More money, blood, and years. Speaking of which:
    When nothing matters anyway, why not?
    So sit and stare, and we’ll supply, the rot.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2017

    Note * For those who might not recall when theater productions — like those in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries — requested that the audience participate in the creation of meaning by using their own intelligence and imaginations instead of passively accepting whatever moronic drivel the current Commander-in-Brief and his/her “highly decorated” military Christmas trees choose to ladle out for their own profit and convenience, a reminder of better, more straightforward performances:

    From the prologue’s introduction to Shakespeare’s Henry V


    O, for a muse of fire that would ascend
    The brightest heaven of invention!
    A kingdom for a stage, princes to act,
    And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
    Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
    Assume the port of Mars, and at his heels,
    Leashed in like hounds, should famine, sword, and fire
    Crouch for employment. But pardon, gentles all,
    The flat unraisèd spirits that hath dared
    On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
    So great an object. Can this cockpit hold
    The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram
    Within this wooden O the very casques
    That did affright the air at Agincourt?
    O pardon, since a crookèd figure may
    Attest in little place a million,
    And let us, ciphers to this great account,
    On your imaginary forces work.
    Suppose within the girdle of these walls
    Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
    Whose high uprearèd and abutting fronts
    The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder.
    Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts.
    Into a thousand parts divide one man,
    And make imaginary puissance.
    Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them
    Printing their proud hoofs in the receiving earth,
    For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
    Carry them here and there, jumping o’er times,
    Turning the accomplishment of many years
    Into an hourglass; for the which supply,
    Admit me chorus to this history,
    Who, prologue-like, your humble patience pray
    Gently to hear, kindly to judge our play.


    1. You even worked in the latest tax “cuts,” Mike. Ah, a true reduction for the rich, and a cut to the quick for the poor. Courtesy of our reverse Robin Hoods, who rob the poor and give to the rich.

      Two of my dad’s sayings come to mind: the rich get richer, the poor poorer. And that the rich have neither sympathy nor use for the poor. Oh, and a bonus one: the harder he worked, the less he got paid, my dad said.


      1. Yes. As my widowed working-class mom told me back during my elementary school days in the 1950s: “A vote for a Republican is a vote against yourself.” Like Forrest Gump said: “Mama always had a way of explaining things to me so that I could understand them.”

        I understand that the so-called “Democrats” — meaning Nancy Pelosi in the House and Chuck Shumer in the Senate want to “negotiate” a “bi-partisan compromise” with the Republicans over their latest raid on the national treasury for the sole benefit of their already obscenely wealthy billionaire owners. Whenever I hear one of today’s excuses for a “Democrat” utter the filthy euphemism “compromise” I want to scream: “You mean surrender! Why can’t you sorry bastards use plain English like my mom and public school teachers taught me?” If the “Democrats” had any FDR left in them, they’d stop whining about “the Russians” and demand a minimum 80% tax rate on the top income brackets (‘negotiable’ down to 75%) along with a 100% “war profits” tax to decrease the budget deficit and end every damn “war” that the Pentagram keeps demanding that we let them “fight” somewhere that they always insist on fucking up like a soup sandwhich.

        Way past time for a Workers Anti-War Party. Screw the “Democrats.” Bill Clinton and Barack Obama turned them into nothing but the Republican Party junior varsity a long time ago. My mom would never advocate “compromise” with the Republicans. My mom would insist on their electoral elimination from government so that, like during the 1930s and 1940s Democrats could say to them: “When will you people stop trying to meddle in the polical and economic affairs of this country?”


        1. I just finished “Listen, Liberal” by Thomas Frank, Mike. He nails it. I know you’ve read it.

          Why vote for the Republican-lite party when you can have the real thing?


          1. Mike: you’ll like this about the “new” DNC:

            An excerpt: There were other signs that this was the same bloated corpse of a political racket that had stumbled through the 2016 election amid a steady stream of embarrassing revelations about its top-down, self-dealing managerial ethos. One corner of the bar had been cordoned off with velvet rope, behind which Perez, before he ascended the stage, schmoozed and took selfies with donors of a certain tier …

            Perez offered vague bromides about liberal issues, but his language had the plastic feel of PR-speak. He spoke of “constitutional policing,” not Black Lives Matter. He didn’t rail against the odiousness of Trump; he cited a “culture of corruption.” There was no mention of any foreign policy, nor of the forever wars that have been the collective background music to these young professionals’ lives.


  2. I’ve noticed that every time the U.S. loses a war, the Pentagon has a way of weasling out of it, e.g. “Korea was a police action,” “we pulled out of Vietnam,” that sort of nonsense. For the record, the only time I’ve had a stalemate in chess is when I’ve taken the last of my opponent’s pieces off the board with my king. THAT is a stalemate. Neither side has the advantage, and neither side can do anything. That’s Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) in a nutshell. But Americans’ collective interest in war has not existed since 1945. Certainly, the mentality of 7 December, 1941 was rekindled on 11 September, 2001, but it did not last. The enemy was (and still is) a scattered terrorist group, not a nation with defined borders. The objective was not clear, and the Pentagon treated the “enemy” with such contempt that they did not bother to deploy enough forces. It seems to me that the Pentagon does not take the “enemy” seriously, when they really should. Then again, if they didn’t prolong the war, their arms-dealing buddies wouldn’t make obscene amounts of money. I should know, I used to work for one. I doubt I would have been employed for those four years were not not for the damn wars.

    I would disagree with your assessment that the U.S. cannot win in Afghanistan. If the Pentagon treated Afghanistan like Japan in 1945, then victory would be possible. Otherwise, no. Afghanistan itself is not the enemy, which is part of the problem. The War on Terror is like the “war on crime,” or the “war on drugs.” It can never end, unless unethical and impractical measures are taken. This is Vietnam all over again. The only difference is the lack of conscription (that, and a rival superpower pulling the strings of the other side). The U.S. has a mercenary army, and the soldiers themselves seem to take little issue with the conflict. It’s just another job to them. Actual victory is still, theoretically, possible. However, the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex is highly unlikely to go in that direction. The only PRACTICAL option left is to pull out while they’re still ahead – I mean, before they fall too far behind.

    When it comes to war, the U.S. has an over-inflated ego: “we’ve never lost a war.” Of course, that really means that “the ones we lose don’t count, they’re not real wars.” Replace “U.S.” with “Donald Trump.” Need I say more?


    1. What does a “win” look like in Afghanistan? That’s the question. Sure, we can continue to prop up corrupt leaders in Kabul, even as the countryside remains largely under Taliban control. We can sustain our presence and talk about winning hearts and minds while bombing poppy fields with B-52s. Is that a “win”?

      Let the Afghan people — and Pakistan and other power brokers — sort out their own region. American interference just makes matters worse. We win when we withdraw.


    2. Adding to WJAstore’s comment of how you would define a victory, what do you mean by
      “If the Pentagon treated Afghanistan like Japan in 1945, then victory would be possible.”
      Meaning nuclear power? The follow-up to the MOAB, which did not achieve anything either for the obvious reason, that such methods kill people and destroy physical infrastructure, but not the outrage of the survivors and observers of the carnage. Nor for that matter the sheer inexhaustible supply of unemployed, futureless young men who would like to start a family, for which you need a minimum of cash, while honest employment is not something we have provided in the past 16 years. Tragically, joining the taliban in many cases is the only way to earn a living or even to stay alive, as fleeing the country hardly is an option anymore (refugees are sent back in droves) and the choice then tends to boil down to ‘join us or die’. So indeed, pull out as every additional delay only makes things worse for everyone involved (except of course for the armament profiteers).


      1. I’d like to emphasise that the only practical solution at this point IS to withdraw. I should have phrased that as follows: “the U.S. could have won in Afghanistan, i.e. kick the Taliban out, but now it’s too lat to do that.” U.S. forces have been there too long for anything other than turning the entire country into an uninhabitable wasteland to work at this point. The Pentagon treated the Taliban as if they were 20 guys in a cave back in 2002, and never bothered to change their tactics. Some people just don’t give up on lost causes.


  3. It is indeed a crazy world we live in. And true I also believe the war on Terror will never end. With Agent Orange at the Helm, I only pray we don’t get into another war with North Korea. His Generals must be bristling at the thought.Very tragic…Every day I dread the possible headlines!


  4. All excellent comments. My dad told me back in 1968 during the turmoil of politics that year, the Democrats were the Party of the Workers. At least IMHO it was Bill Clinton that destroyed that linkage between the Democratic Party and the Working Class with all his Neo-Liberal economics.
    From an article in the Progressive Populist.
    But what you won’t hear is this one: you just don’t cut taxes when you have troops fighting in two wars and more than 240,000 of them are stationed overseas, many of them in harm’s way. (There are also another 38,000 American soldiers assigned to secret missions around the world).

    According to the Pentagon, we currently have 36,000 troops in Germany; 40,000 in Japan; 23,500 in South Korea; 3,500 in Poland; 10,000 in Italy (!); 8,200 in Great Britain; 1,300 in Turkey; and 250 in Ukraine. In the Middle East, we have 7,600 in Iraq and an unknown number fighting in Syria; 11,000 in Doha, Qatar; 15,000 in “staging areas” in Kuwait; 7,000 in Bahrain; 5,000 in United Arab Emirates; 1,500 in Jordan; 200 in Oman; an unknown number in Yemen; and 12,000 in Afghanistan. In Africa, according to AFRICOM, the command for all US operations on the continent, we currently have 6,000 troops, including 4,000 in Djibouti, the tiny nation on the Horn of Africa that’s about the size of Vermont, and 2,000 scattered elsewhere, including about 1,000 in Niger, 400 in Somalia (where a recent terrorist attack killed more than 300 and injured another 200).

    Who knows where the rest of our soldiers are serving in Africa? Hell, we didn’t know we had anybody in Niger until a few weeks ago when four US Special Forces soldiers were killed in what is being called an ambush, apparently by ISIS fighters.

    Our military has taken on the role of a very high priced Police Force trying to patrol “bad” drug infested, crime ridden neighborhoods. You can send in a big raid of special forces, Army or Marines, but once they leave and they will, the area will revert back.

    Bin Laden got what he wanted, the USA is now more committed than ever to militarism, and it is bankrupting us monetarily and morally.


Comments are closed.