In Afghanistan and Iraq, United States forces are trying to fight a shadowy enemy that does not wear uniforms, while being told to protect corrupt governments. But here is the really disturbing parallel between the current conflicts and Vietnam: Washington is drawing out the troop presence in Afghanistan and Iraq long after any justification has expired, in order to postpone that moment when it must be admitted we did not succeed.

America won’t fail in Afghanistan or Iraq — but won’t succeed, either. Lives are being sacrificed so that American leaders can continue pretending otherwise.

A terrible price

Lack of success is different from failure. The United States military wins nearly every battle, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, most U.S. soldiers and aircrew have behaved in exemplary fashion. But the United States has not known success — we have not stopped Afghanistan and Iraq from being horrible places. Inconclusive outcomes, neither success nor failure, seem likely now. American leaders seem incapable of facing the prospect that a vast expense of blood and treasure has been directed toward an inconclusive outcome.

This is why we keep having public flare-ups on the Afghan and Iraq situations. In the most recent, former Afghanistan commander Stanley McChrystal was called to the White House and fired for speaking to a rock-and-roll magazine, while Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele is in a storm about dopey remarks he made on Afghanistan under a picnic tent. If anyone could imagine what a realistic successful conclusion of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars might be, American energies would be focused on seeking that. Instead the energy is diverted to name-calling and finger-pointing.

Allowing our soldiers to die

It is shameful to allow more of our soldiers to die so that our leaders can avoid admitting mistakes. To postpone the moment when the United States admits it did not succeed in Afghanistan and Iraq, the country’s leaders, Democrat and Republican alike, keep opting to drag out U.S. presence in these conflicts. Exactly as during the final years of Vietnam, the young are dying so that the old can postpone admitting mistakes.