Opinion | It was not hubris that drove America into Afghanistan. It was fear.

From the beginning, efforts in Afghanistan faced severe constraints, many self-imposed. Afghanistan was a classic case, repeated many times throughout American history, of a United States with one foot out the door from the moment of intervention. This started with the Bush administration. The common theme for Afghanistan and Iraq was the belief of Rumsfeld and his subordinates that both interventions could be sustained without much commitment from US forces. Perhaps this belief could be attributed to hubris, but it was really just an attempt to keep the American footprint to a minimum. Gen. Dan K. McNeill, commander of the coalition forces in Afghanistan in 2002-2003, told government interviewers that his Pentagon chief was mainly concerned with keeping the lid on the number of deployed U.S. troops. Rumsfeld in particular would be rehearsed by any mention of additional forces. Some argued for more troops, but as Richard Haass, one of them, later recounted: “There was a deep sense of lack of opportunity in Afghanistan.” Instead, as in Iraq, the Pentagon worked to build an Afghan army capable of taking over. U.S. officials tended to both screw up the numbers and exaggerate the capacity of the Afghan army. Why? To demonstrate that there was no need for more American troops or a more expanded engagement. When the British commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan told Rumsfeld in 2006 that “we do not have enough troops and resources,” Rumsfeld replied, “General, I do not agree. Come on.”

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