Afghanistan - as the post-9/11 era demonstrates - has been a graveyard for generals. Four top US generals have, in effect, met their Waterloo in Afghanistan: General David McKiernan, General Stanley McChrystal, General David Petraeus, and General John Allen. The US has not won in Afghanistan, nor have any of these generals claimed victory as such.

According to McChrystal, the Soviets killed 1.2 million Afghans out of a population at the time of 24 million, and they still lost. He stressed that “one should not get into war unless you know what winning is”, and also said that the biggest threat to the West is not terrorism but lack of education.

During an interaction at a Washington forum with General McChrystal – former head of US forces in Afghanistan – I raised the issue whether it would be more prudent for the US to strive to attack the problems of Palestine and Kashmir, rather than being mired in futile conflicts that are offshoots of these unresolved disputes.

The political trend, however, remains to go after symptoms on the periphery, instead of tackling head-on the causal roots of the ailment. This exponentially increases denial and deception in seeking cosmetic patch-ups. Personal and policy biases colour and distort analysis, leading to fragile optimism. Succumbing to a collective mentality occurs when one talks only to the people one agrees with. Sometimes, prejudice is so pervasive that it is not even noticed.

American history itself shows how better-trained British forces led by General Cornwallis – later to battle Tipu Sultan in India – were defeated by American colonials in the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, paving the path for American independence.

A remarkable self-critique has come from Israel in the shape of an Oscar-nominated documentary called “The Gatekeepers”, which chronicles the reflections of six former heads of Shin Bet, the Israel secret service agency, on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in occupied territories. The Christian Science Monitor of February 23 observed that the film’s “overriding message…….is that the status quo in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unsustainable.”

It is a sobering self-scrutiny of Israeli practices of torture, targeted assassinations, custodial deaths, bombing of civilian dwellings, illegal settlements, military subjugation, and rejection of dialogue. These former chiefs of Israel’s internal secret service frankly admit Israeli practices as “cruel and brutal” and find them “similar” to Nazi practices in occupied Europe. These guys conclude that Israel’s own future is “dark and bleak.”

The documentary, which premiered in Washington on February 22, depicts the biggest casualty of occupation as the self-degradation of the soul of the occupier. It is a lesson for the pro-Israeli community to ponder. It is a lesson that India has yet to heed in Occupied Kashmir.

During an interview with veteran newsman Dan Rather, US General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, predicted that “the next global conflagration” would likely be centred in the Middle East, as it is there where fear, honour, and interests can collide.

The US has shown that is has the resources to project global power. But it has yet to demonstrate the leadership to project power responsibly.

The writer is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar. Email: mowahid@aol.com