Saturday, August 28, 2021

After Leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban, Where Do We Go from Here?

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The wreckage the U.S. is leaving in Afghanistan should be a reminder of the dangers of promoting American exceptionalism with military power.  We should have learned that painful lesson of legitimacy in Vietnam, but we have a short memory.  America had no exit strategy in Vietnam or Afghanistan, making those withdrawals a fiasco and jeopardizing U.S. foreign policy.

Where do we go from here?  After evacuating over 100,000 Americans and Afghan asylum seekers in the largest airlift in history, America must now reshape its national security strategy.  Radical Islamist terrorism continues to be the greatest threat to America and its allies, but massive interventions with U.S. combat forces have proven to be an unsuitable deterrent.

During the Cold War, with the exception of Vietnam, the U.S. had a containment strategy to deter communism in low intensity conflict (LIC) with the training and advisory missions of Special Operations Forces (SOF).  After 9/11, U.S. strategy shifted from containment to intervention, but SOF continued their training and advisory missions around the world.

America must now shift its strategic priorities from large deployments of conventional combat forces in military interventions to smaller and more specialized military forces that work closely with U.S. and foreign civilian and military personnel.  SOF provide that capability, along with a separate and better known capability for attack and raid capabilities.

Most Americans are familiar with the attacks and raids of Delta Force and Seals, but not with low-profile SOF advisory and training missions that enable local forces to counter terrorist threats around the world.  SOF advisors and trainers are quiet professionals who are language qualified and culturally oriented to enable them to achieve mission success through their indigenous counterparts.

Unlike the quick and dirty missions of direct action SOF forces, SOF trainers and advisors must remain in the area of operations for extended periods to develop the trust and confidence of their indigenous counterparts.  The direct and indirect missions of SOF are quite different; and while they require different skill sets, they complement each other.

SOF trainers and advisors serve on the country teams of U.S. embassies as well as under military commanders in potentially hostile cultural environments.  They are a unique military capability that can bridge the formidable gap between diplomacy and military operations, and should be considered diplomat-warriors.  


The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are over.  The U.S. should reorient the priorities of its military strategies from intervention to containment.  If it does, then it’s back to the future for SOF advisory and training missions. That would avoid the pitfalls of large deployments of U.S. combat forces that compromised the legitimacy of U.S. military interventions in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  But have Americans learned that lesson of legitimacy?     



Phil Klay described the initial exuberance of Americans to strike back at the Taliban after 9/11.  As a Marine who served in Afghanistan, he experienced the frustration of soldiers who were told that they were champions of the rights of mankind, and then left by three presidents to flounder in a hopeless war.  The U.S. military has long known the importance of exit strategies from such entanglements, but in Afghanistan our national leader forgot the painful lessons learned in Vietnam.  See

Brian Klaas has asserted that America should support democracy--but we have to be smarter about it. See

On Back to the Future: Human Rights and Legitimacy in the Training and Advisory Mission, see Special Warfare (May 2013), posted in Resources at and

On A containment strategy and military legitimacy (August 27, 2016}, see

On The Legitimacy of Engagement and Containment National Security Strategies (September 2, 2017), see


On The Diplomat-Warrior: A Military Capability for Reconciliation and Peace (September 3, 2016), see

On Religion, Law and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy (November 11, 2014 and April 4,2016), see and PDF, Google Docs) 

On the relationship between Human Rights, Freedom and National Security (April 4, 2017), see

Saturday, August 21, 2021

What the Afghanistan Fiasco Teaches Us about Religion, Legitimacy and Politics

      By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The Afghanistan fiasco was another painful lesson in legitimacy that America should have learned after Viet Nam, but obviously did not.  Military power and idealistic illusions of democracy cannot overcome deeply ingrained cultural and religious values.  It should remind us that promoting American exceptionalism in a culturally hostile environment is destined to fail.  

Military legitimacy is a derivative of political legitimacy, and the military interventions in Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan all shared a failure of legitimacy.  Political legitimacy requires public support, and despite overwhelming U.S. military superiority the American interventions in those nations failed.  Cultural norms prevailed, and libertarian democracy was stillborn.

Oppressive forms of Islam incompatible with libertarian democracy shaped the cultural norms in Afganistan.  Those norms, coupled with the pervasive presence of infidel American combat forces, prevented the public support needed for democracy and human rights in Afghanistan.  It should have reminded America that it cannot remake the world in its own image.


Political corruption in the Afghan government, like that in Vietnam, denied it the legitimacy it needed to govern and created a foreign policy fiasco.  It was also a domestic failure of legitimacy, since American officials made public misrepresentations that U.S. policies in Afghanistan were succeeding rather than failing--much as they had done in Vietnam.  

Dishonesty in politics should never be tolerated--especially when it relates to the use of military force.  The deplorable dishonesty of U.S. public officials prolonged the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  The invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 was justified, but remaining there for 20 years to build a U.S. style democracy was not. That was a gross strategic error.   

Military interventions may be needed in the future to protect vital U.S. security interests.  If and when the U.S. invades a nation and prevents its government from functioning, it has an obligation under international law to provide essential public services until they can be resumed; but that does not justify remaining to shape a successor political regime in an ongoing civil war.

The U.S. military has a civil affairs capability that can provide essential public services until resumed by a local government, as it did in Europe after World War II.  In Afghanistan, U.S combat forces could have left before 2005 if they did not have the mission to build a libertarian democracy in a hostile cultural environment.  It was a misplaced mission of nation-building.

Promoting democracy and human rights are laudable foreign policy objectives, but they require public support in hostile cultural environments, and they never justify a military intervention.  America’s experiment in democracy began with overwhelming public support, but it soon gave way to division and a terrible Civil War.  Once again, divisive cultural and religious values threaten the fabric of American democracy, and the jury remains out on its future.


The Editors at Commonweal observed that over 20 years America’s mission in Afghanistan “morphed and expanded. First it was about uprooting Al Qaeda and capturing or killing the mastermind behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden; then it was also about removing the ruling Taliban that had harbored the terrorists; and finally it was about establishing a liberal democracy in Afghanistan and training the Afghan military to fight like ours. Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan became the longest foreign war in U.S. history.  But our politicians whistled through the graveyard and let the war grind on. Only a few months ago, Biden insisted that the Afghan security forces, which have received twenty years of training and $88.3 billion in aid and materiel from the United States, would be able to defend themselves against the Taliban. As the analyst Andrew Watkins told Foreign Affairs, ‘“Many of the country’s drivers of conflict could never plausibly be resolved as long as American troops were present. Afghanistan’s war will not be over just because U.S. forces leave, but it was never going to end as long as they stayed.’” See

Fareed Zakaria summed up the Afghanistan fiasco, saying We lost the war in Afghanistan long ago.  See

The USA Today Editorial Board described Biden’s Afghanistan horror as a well intentioned miscalculation with disastrous, predictable results.  See

On how misrepresentations by American officials undermined the legitimacy of the Afghanistan war, see  See also, Biden said U.S. officials lied about Afghanistan. It’s not clear whether they’ll be held to account, at

Karen Tumulty holds the Biden administration accountable for the chaos in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan: “The execution of the U.S. troop withdrawal is something for which Biden alone will be held responsible.  Figuring out the why behind his administration’s missteps is crucial to instilling confidence in its judgment going forward. Otherwise, why should Americans, or the United States’ international allies, accept the president’s assurances that he has “over-the-horizon capability that will allow us to keep our eyes firmly fixed on any direct threats to the United States in the region, and act quickly and decisively if needed”?  ...What is at question now and going forward is not Biden’s experience, but his judgment. ”  See


On America’s strategic blunder to promote democracy and human rights with massive military deployments in hostile cultural environments in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and a viable strategic alternative with Special Operations Forces, See Back to the Future: Human Rights and Legitimacy in the Training and Advisory Mission, Special Warfare, (March 2013), posted in Resources at Religion, Legitimacy and Politics at and at

On The Diplomat-Warrior: A Military Capability for Reconciliation and Peace (9/3/2016), see

On the relationship between Human Rights, Freedom and National Security (4/1/2017), see

On The Legitimacy of Engagement and Containment National Security Strategies (9/2/2017), see

Generally, on military legitimacy see Barnes, Military Legitimacy: Might and Right in the New Millennium.  (Frank Cass, 1996)  A revised transcript is posted in Resources at Religion, Legitimacy and Politics at and at  The original is available at Amazon in hardback or paperback. 


For related commentary on military legitimacy posted at Religion, Legitimacy and Politics, see 

(12/29/14): Religion, Violence and Military Legitimacy

(11/1/15): A Containment Strategy to Defeat Islamist Terrorism

(11/8/15): Tough Love and the Duty to Protect Life and Liberty

(11/15/15): American Exceptionalism: The Power of Persuasion or Coercion?

(8/27/16): A Containment Strategy and Military Legitimacy (see also #49, 11/1/15 above)

(11/5/16): Religion, Liberty and Justice at Home and Abroad

(3/25/17): National Security and Military Legitimacy: When Might must Be Right

(5/6/17): Loyalty and Duty in Politics, the Military and Religion

(4/14/18): Musings of a Maverick on Military Legitimacy

(4/21/18): The Legitimacy of an Authoritarian Military in a Libertarian Democracy

(6/1/19): Musings on Military Legitimacy and Murder in Wartime 

(10/19/19): Musings on the Meltdown of Military Legitimacy in the Middle East

(11/30/19): Musings on Trump’s Corruption of Military and Political Legitimacy

(1/18/20):: Musings on Military Legitimacy, and Why Military Might Must be Right

(4/4/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of America’s Values

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Musings on Conflicting Concepts of God's Truth in Christianity

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

The degradation of America’s democracy is as much a moral failure of the church as it is of our politics.  The myriad variations of Christianity reflect the conflicting concepts of God’s truth in politics.  Christianity has always been America’s dominant religion, but the church lost its moral compass on the issue of slavery before the Civil War and again in the election of 2016.

What is God’s truth?  The early church subordinated the universal teachings of Jesus to exclusivist doctrines of belief in The Apostle’s Creed, and it has remained unchanged for almost 2,000 years.  Over the years Christian morality evolved to conform to popular standards of morality that enabled Christianity to become the world’s most popular and powerful religion.

Jesus made it clear that his teachings would never be popular: “Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)  Churches that give popularity precedence over discipleship miss that point.    

The universal teachings of Jesus are summarized in the greatest commandment to love God and our neighbors, including those of other races and religions, as we love ourselves.  It was taken from the Hebrew Bible, taught by Jesus and accepted as a common word of faith by Islamic scholars.  It’s at the heart of God’s truth for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

Jesus was a Jew who never promoted any religion, not even his own.  His universalist moral teachings emphasized reconciliation, which is needed in today’s world of increasing religious and cultural diversity.  Reconciliation doesn’t require uniformity in religious beliefs, only a shared belief in God’s will that we love people of all races and religions as we love ourselves.  

Christianity is now in decline, but most pastors continue to promote exclusivist church doctrines of belief over the universal and reconciling moral teachings of Jesus.  Thomas Jefferson was an early proponent of Christian universalism and considered the moral teachings of Jesus as “the most sublime moral code ever designed by man.”  That’s God’s truth.

A culture of democracy has made popularity the measure of success for both Christianity and politics, and both use social media to promote their popularity.  God’s will is to reconcile and redeem, while Satan’s will is to divide and conquer.  With the help of social media, Satan is now winning the popularity contest by doing a convincing imitation of God in the church and politics.

How will Christianity resolve its conflicting concepts of God’s truth?  Will it gain a new spiritual birth by promoting the reconciling teachings of Jesus, or will it continue to promote exclusivist church doctrines that divide and conquer?  Jesus can’t win a popularity contest with Satan, so Christianity is unlikely to sacrifice its waning popularity to promote God’s truth.


On Thomas Jefferson’s emphasis on the moral teachings of Jesus as a sublime moral code, see

Jefferson’s Jesus and Moral Standards in Religion and Politics (3/17/18) at

See also Musings on the Relevance of Jefferson’s Jesus in the 21st Century (5/11/19) at

Martin Thielen is a retired pastor of a United Methodist megachurch in Tennessee.  His universalist theology and criticism of the institutional church is similar to that of Thomas Jefferson.  In his article on 

The Self-Destructive American Church, “Thielen says he has talked to a lot of people who harbor doubts about traditional faith, including a personal, supernatural, providential, and interventionist God. An even larger number of them express doubts about institutional religion. For example, one reader in his mid-forties recently explained why he quit the ministry. He said, ‘A lot of people think I’ve lost my faith. But that’s not the case. I don’t have a God problem. I have a church problem.’”  He’s not alone. Throughout most of the twentieth century, over 70 percent of Americans held membership in a local church or synagogue. By 2020 that number plummeted to 47 percent. Sixty-five million American adults alive in the United States today have already dropped out of active religious attendance, and that number grows by about 2.7 million every year. It’s not difficult to project where this trajectory is headed.

One of the primary reasons the church finds itself in free fall is bad behavior among Christians. People look at our arrogance, ignorance, judgmentalism, intolerance, pettiness, self-righteousness, exclusivity, and hypocrisy and think, If this is Christianity, I don’t want anything to do with it. In short, much of our decline, perhaps most of it, is self-inflicted. American church history includes support for the genocide of native Americans, unyielding defense of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, child abuse at (church-run) indigenous residential schools, resistance to the civil rights movement, the toxic rise of religious right fundamentalism, the pedophile priest scandal, and hostile fractures in the mainline church over human sexuality. This sorry behavior has caused massive numbers of people, especially young ones, to lose faith and/or leave church. Over the past several months, we’ve seen numerous examples of the church—Catholic, evangelical, and mainline—behaving badly. ...My own religious tribe, the United Methodist Church, is currently gearing up for schism over the issue of LBGTQ+ rights. This schism is and will be ugly, creating an ecclesiastical civil war in most every UMC conference and congregation in America and beyond. 

Ironically, in one of his last actions before he died, jesus prayed that his followers would be united in love. It must break his heart to see the Un-United Methodist Church engage in hostile denominational conflict, prepare for schism, and demonize one another in the process. The sad reality is that every major segment of the American church—Catholic, evangelical, and mainline—by its toxicity has earned its bad reputation and current demise.”

...Given the overwhelming failures of the American church, Christianity in its present form will likely need to die before resurrection can occur. The death of organized religion as we’ve known it is quietly inspiring the birth of alternative, authentic, and fresh expressions of the church. Although these nontraditional churches represent only a tiny fraction of American Christianity at this time, they hold hope for the future. May their tribe increase; and quickly. Before it’s too late.” See

As a counterpoint to Thiesen’s criticism of traditional Christianity, Rachel Bratton has cited the Western Journal report that Fake Chrisrtiianity Has Supplanted the Biblical Worldview.  Bratton says,  “American Christianity has fallen thanks to cultural corrosion and a lack of Biblical literacy.  A new counterfeit religion that George Barna has described as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has given Americans a theology that’s a watered down, feel good, fake Christianity that looks nothing like historical Christianity.”    The exclusivist beliefs and ambiguous morality of most White Christians today may well conform to the Apostles’ Creed, but they ignore the altruistic and universal teachings of Jesus. All Christians should conform their beliefs with the teachings of Jesus in the gospel accounts.  The rest of the Bible is dictum. See

For related commentary on God’s truth in religion, morality and politics, see:

#40 (8/30/15) What Is Truth?

#76 (5/7/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation

#87 (7/23/16): Reconciliation and Reality

#104 (11/19/16): Religion and a Politics of Reconciliation Based on Shared Values

#105: (11/26/16): Irreconcilable Differences and the Demise of Democracy

#134 (6/17/17): Religious Exclusivity: Does It Matter?

#136 (7/1/17): Religion, Moral Authority and Conflicting Concepts of Legitimacy

#140 (7/29/17): Speaking God’s Truth to Man’s Power

#141 (8/5/17): Does Religion Seek to Reconcile and Redeem or to Divide and Conquer?

#142 (8/12/17): The Universalist Teachings of Jesus as a Remedy for Religious Exclusivism

#155 (11/11/17): A Politics of Reconciliation that Should Begin in the Church

#161 (12/23/17): If Democracy Survives the Trump Era, Can the Church Survive Democracy?

#166 (1/27/18): Musings on Conflicting Concepts of Christian Morality in Politics

#167 (2/3/18): Musings on the Search for Truth through Interfaith Dialogue

#175 (3/31/18): Altruism: The Missing Ingredient in American Christianity and Democracy

#179 (4/28/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Virtues and Vices of Christian Morality

#181 (5/12/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Christianity and Making America Great Again

#183 (5/26/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Mysticism and Morality in Religion and Politics

#190 (7/14/18): Musings on Why Christians Should Put Moral Standards Over Mystical Beliefs

#192 (7/28/18): Musings on the Polarization of Christian Morality and Politics

#194 (8/11/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Changing Morality in Religion and Politics

#196 (8/25/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on Moral Priorities in Religion and Politics

#201 (9/29/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of Christian Universalism

#202 (10/6/18): Musings on Moral Universalism in Religion and Politics

#206 (11/3/18): Musings of a Maverick Methodist: Has God Blessed Us or Damned Us?

#208 (11/17/18): Christianity and Clashing Identities in Politics and Religion

#211 (12/8/18): Trump and the Apostles’ Creed: Is It a Prayer or a Profession of Faith?

#212 (12/15/18): Musings on the Great Commission and Religious and Political Tribalism

#218 (1/26/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Evolution of the Gospel(s)

#220 (2/9/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Hypocrisy of American Christianity

#221 (2/16/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on America the Blessed and Beautiful--or is it?

#223 (3/2/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on a Post-Christian America

#224 (3/9/19): Musings on the Degradation of Democracy in a Post-Christian America

#225 (3/16/19): Musings on the Evolution of Christian Exclusivism to Universalism

#230 (4/20/19): Musings on the Resurrection of Altruistic Morality in Dying Democracies

#235 (5/25/19): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Divinity and Moral Teachings of Jesus

#237 (6/8/19): The Moral Failure of the Church to Promote Altruism in Politics

#239 (6/22/19): The Universal Family of God: Where Inclusivity Trumps Exclusivity

#240 (6/29/19): Musings on a Politics of Reconciliation: An Impossible Dream?

#243 (7/20/19): Musings on Diversity in Democracy: Who Are Our Neighbors?

#245 (8/3/19): Musings on the Dismal Future of  the Church and Democracy in America

#250 (9/7/19): Musings on the Self-Destruction of Christianity and American Democracy

#254 (10/5/19): Musings on the Moral Relevance of Jesus to Democracy

#261 (11/23/19): Musings on Jesus and Christ as Conflicting Concepts in Christianity

#280 (4/4/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Resurrection of America’s Values

#290 (6/13/20): Was Jesus the Prophet of the Gospels or the Christ of the Church?

#309 (10/24/20): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Need for a Politics of Reconciliation

#313 (11/21/20): Democracy Has Survived Donald Trump, but Can the Church Survive Democracy?

#323 (1/30/21): Musings on Unity or Reconciliation in Politics and Religion--There’s a Difference

#330 (3/20/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Radical Moral Teachings of Jesus

#334 (4/17/21): Musings of a Maverick Methodist on the Future of the Church

#335 (4/24/21): How a Fading Church Could Help Reconcile America’s Polarized Politics

#338 (5/15/21): Musings on the Moral Failure of American Christianity and Democracy

#347 (7/17/21): Christianity and Politics: Separated by Irreconcilable Differences

#348 (7/24/21): Musings on the Mixed Messages of God in Religion and Politics