US Army soldiers
US Army soldiersYossi Zeliger/Flash 90

"Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. The very thought of losing is hateful to Americans." -General George S. Patton

"It's our belief that one day mujahideen will have victory, and Islamic law will come not to just Afghanistan, but all over the world. We are not in a hurry. We believe it will come one day. Jihad will not end until the last day." -Taliban commander to CNN

Why can't America win wars?

You've gotta fight a war to win a war. And we don't fight wars. In my upcoming article on the disaster in Afghanistan, I warn that we've lost the ability to define what a war is and why we fight them.

If we can’t go to war for ourselves, not for democracy, human rights, or so that Afghan girls can go to school, then we will lose soldiers, lose wars, and lose our nation.

The average American spent the last decade wondering what the hell we were doing in Afghanistan.

It's a good question with all the usual bad answers. We were propping up a government that wouldn't exist without us. We were exporting our ideals. We were trying to win hearts and minds. We were trying to stabilize an inherently unstable part of the world. What we weren't doing was fighting and winning.

Wars, like stories, are simple things if you define a goal that can be achieved by military means.

Few of our goals could be achieved by military means and certainly not by the ones we were using.

The Taliban know what they're fighting for. Not only don't we know what we're fighting for, but we couldn't define victory except in terms of Afghanistan turning into San Francisco with coffee shops, courses on feminism, and LGBT parades. The Taliban are fighting a culture war by military means. Our elites tried to do the same thing in Afghanistan without being able to define an enemy or victory.

The same establishment that excels at fighting culture wars against Americans keeps discovering that its toolbox of activism, media bias, and victimhood fails miserably outside the western world.

You can't win a culture war if you don't understand a culture.

The Russian and Chinese Communists understood that they were out to suppress Islam. The Chinese Communists are still doing it. Compare their tactics of forcing Uighur men to shave their beards and drink alcohol to America funding feminism and democracy in Afghanistan. Undermining traditional culture worked in America, they assumed that it would work in Afghanistan. They assumed that they could co-opt Islam the way they have elements of Christianity and Judaism into their woke project.

Their repeat failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Europe should be a wake-up call to their bright future in Little Mogadishu and all the Islamic enclaves that they've created in America.

But it won't be.

Up until the very last moment, the State Department believed that it could co-opt the Taliban into the political system they had set up in Afghanistan. Elements of it still seem to believe that they can even as the Jihadists advanced into Kabul. Victory, such as it was, had come to be defined as the Taliban seeing reason and deciding to stop being Jihadists. Three administrations bought into this dumb fantasy.

Jihadists who believe that "Islamic law will come not to just Afghanistan, but all over the world" are not interested in playing Let's Make a Deal except as Taqiyya to keep the infidels off-balance.

The Taliban play to win. We don't.

That's the simple answer to why we haven't won wars in a long time and aren't about to start.

American soldiers are the best. They win battles all the time. When faced against an enemy that will stand and fight, our men roll over them. We aren't losing those kinds of battles: we keep losing wars in which the leaders can't define what a war is or what victory looks like in military terms.

Let's get back to Patton for a moment. "Sure, we all want to go home. We want to get this war over with. But you can't win a war lying down. The quickest way to get it over with is to get the bastards who started it" and "I don't want any messages saying 'I'm holding my position.' We're not holding a goddamned thing. We're advancing constantly."

What were we doing in Afghanistan for 15 years? Were we getting anything over it? Were we getting anyone? Were we winning a war so we could go home or were we holding our positions?

Wars can be won when you're out to defeat the enemy.

When you're not out to defeat the enemy, you never win the war and you never go home until you get tired of holding your position and waiting for the culture to change.

The inability to define war or victory isn't a military problem: it's a cultural problem.

We can't win wars because while Patton's "Americans play to win all the time. That's why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war" may still ring true in parts of the country, it's as alien to the elites who run the country as the Taliban are. It's a strange species of exotica for people who drink organic seltzer, hand out participation trophies, and spend all their time worrying about victimhood.

They view the military as a means to a non-military end. That's how we ended up in Afghanistan.

Stability, cultural transformation, and all the rest of it are non-military ends. If you want to use the military to achieve a non-military end, you have to engage in conquest and then use force to transform a region or a society. That's what the Taliban did and that's what they'll be doing again.

After successfully using the military for a military end, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, defeating our named enemies, our elites embarked on an impotent program of cultural change in which they couldn't tell themselves the truth about what they were doing or even explain why the military was there.

They assumed that they were liberating the innate forces of progress and civilization which would thrive if we just had some soldiers there to protect them. No wonder the non-European parts of the world were laughing at us. What the hell were we doing in Afghanistan? That's what we were doing in Afghanistan.

And so many places before it. We were trying to protect client states that couldn't stand on their own. We were practicing imperialism without the empire and it was always bound to fall apart on us.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”-Sun Tzu

Americans don't know the enemy. And increasingly our elites don't know ourselves.

They can't define what a war is or how to win it. And they sure as hell can't define the enemy, let alone know the enemy.

They've lost the cultural skills to understand what war is and what victory looks like.

And they're the ones calling the shots.

To see the writer present a more detailed analysis, click here.

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.