America's 20-year engagement did not achieve all its aims, but it was well worth the effort—for both countries.
Sorry, for those of us who opposed the war of occupation from the beginning as an imperial misadventure completely divorced from an understanding of history of Afghanistan and the region, it was a disaster. In many ways, lies about what would and could be achieved, and the way the war proved the be a spring board into Iraq, another disaster of our own making, was a self inflicted wound that forever has damaged the psyche of the country and poisoned the body politic. So many Conservatives that I know reference the failed wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq as reasons they felt lied to by their establishment politicians, and one of the reasons they were wiling to bet on a criminal like Trump to bust up the old guard. I'm no agnostic about pulling out of Afghanistan. I'm happy we have finally read the writing on the wall and are staunching the bleeding. We can aide liberal NGOs and politicians in Afghanistan to do the hard work of attempting to uphold what has been established, but if the majority of the country falls, it is because ideologically their citizens do not want it nor were they ready for it. Democracy has to be called and fought for from within unless a country is an existential threat to others. We could have conducted surgical strikes on Afghanistan and pursued Bin Laden's terrorist organization throughout the world without a 20 year war of occupation. I will always hope for the best for the people of all nations, but I also think we need to have the humility to not ignore history and culture by attempting to impose our will upon over sovereign nations with our military might.
1 to 2 trillion dollars is chump change? Just imagine what those funds could have done in a nation-building effort at home! The failure to mention the rise on home-grown terrorists, however fledgling and clumsy, who cited the occupation as one of the many causes of their radicalization, is a huge oversight. Arrogant rationalizations of The Blob like this are cringe-worthy on a number of levels. For one, let us not forget, that popular discontent about the Forever Wars was utilized by the insidious Trump campaign in their initial hostile take over of the Republican establishment. I am really starting to lose patience with the foreign policy Blog hot-takes on this site. Where is the diversity of opinion that was promised?
In twenty years, (think about how long that is), we failed to create anything that's won more loyalty from Afghans than the Taliban (think about how low that's setting the bar). That's pretty bad.
I find this article (partially) persuasive. The main thing is that in 2001, Al Qaeda was in the ascendency and an inspiration to many in the Islamic world. Terrorism and violent jihad are yesterday's news in much of these countries now. Going into Afghanistan and destroying the Al Qaeda sanctuary was an important part of that.
I find this article odd. First of all, the goals of this intervention changed over those twenty years, from a surgical route of Bin Laden and company to nation building to ‘not leaving’ b/c the US would look weak. Despite the Brookings Index, the central lesson here, as in Vietnam and Iraq, is that wars of intervention don’t work. That’s the central question that Iraq and Afghanistan put before the American people after neo-conservative strategies ended up in ruin. Political change results from a country’s internal political struggle not foreign intervention and a false, imposed ‘democracy’. The first stated US goal, to destroy Bin Laden’s hornet’s nest, was won within one to three years in. Bin Laden himself was killed in 2o11. At the very least, the last ten years can’t be justified by the stats in an American think-tank report. To me, that intellectualizes the whole thing and misses the point of assessing American interventionism with clear eyes. Who knows? Had the US left Afghanistan to the Afghans 18 years ago, after Bin Laden’s gang was dispersed and the Taliban weakened, Afghanistan might have united and be far ahead of the Brookings assessment. Face it: Afghanistan is still divided, close to chaos, with the Taliban ascendent. Agnosticism really has no role here.
Good job Mr. Rauch, and Persuasion editors. This is exactly what I like about Persuasion: well reasoned, often heterodox opinions on important issues. Keep it up.
I could be wrong, but I think we might have had more success if not for the subsequent Iraq War. The war in Afghanistan had broad support from the international community and didn't unleash as much chaos. A narrowly targeted mission to get Bin Laden and decapitate the Taliban would've sent the message that harboring known terrorists is a regime ender.
Bush & Cheney tried to play that card with Iraq on very weak/bogus evidence. Instead it unleashed a Sunni v. Shia civil war which gave hope to jihadists throughout the region.
No it wasn't worth one dollar or one life. Rauch is normally a wise and brilliant observer, but he's simply wrong about this. Terrorism is spawned by FBI and CIA, not by spontaneous religious activity.
Jonathan, I truly hope you are right. When President Biden announced earlier this year that he expected to be out of Afghanistan by September, I could not believe my ears.
I say this as someone who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 wanting him to get us out of Iraq. But I am not above learning a lesson: in this case, the difference between wanting to undo a past decision and wishing it had never been done at all.
The rise of ISIS should have, at the very least, taught us the folly of announcing a date by which to leave. But your comment about the "puzzling" nature of our rapid pullout given our relatively low fatality numbers is spot on - at this point, virtually all of the risk was being borne by our Afghan partners, much like in northern Syria when Trump decided to abruptly abandon a strategically important position that was costing us very little. It's hard not to suspect that this had much to do with the political optics of an approaching anniversary that happens to be divisible by ten.
What has been most surprising to me, however, is the broad, bipartisan consensus that this is the right move. It seems that, given the political investment made by Trump in negotiating a virtual surrender to the Taliban, the right has little appetite to oppose this. As for the left, nominally my side of the cultural divide, people who call themselves "progressives", who had nothing but tears for Palestinians when they were being targeted in retaliation by Israeli rockets, have nothing to say in defense of the many Afghans who will likely be oppressed and murdered by this regressive, repressive regime. Because, y'know, American imperialism and Islamophobia and such.
All while the "foreign policy blob" acknowledges the inevitably disastrous consequences, many of them supporting the move anyway because of the supposed political difficulty of maintaining this small but effective military presence. Personally, I can think of plenty of ways to sell this to the American public. Like pointing out that this isn't a "forever war" but an effort to defend what we have gained from a war that we've already won - just as we have done for years in Germany and Japan, for example. What about the damage this will do to our reputation abroad and our ability to work with other nations on similar military efforts? And if all that doesn't work, pointing out the dangers of destabilizing a region so close to nuclear Pakistan is sure to resonate with many.
But absolutely the most disturbing part of all of this has been the lack of urgency in extracting those Afghans who aided us in our efforts. For months people in Congress have urged us to evacuate these people to Guam while we continued to process them (Guam has been unequivocally willing to accommodate this effort.). Yet our only response until very recently was to try and speed up the special visa process - all while the Taliban was making military gains that were already putting some of these people out of reach. This process should have been completed long ago, before we even contemplated withdrawing a single American military installation. Instead we have been racing against ourselves, only to profess shock at how quickly the country has succumbed after watching the enemy advance as we retreat.
I can hear Lindsey Graham crowing already. Curse the sky, he'll be right.
Jonathan, a surprising argument coming from a fallibilist. after 20 years to leave like our Russian predecessors (and occupiers) with little achieved although debatable as you suggest leaves little that I conjecture will have long term consequences. The return to a tribal government which is almost inevitable will be a return of the coercive control of religious authoritarianism together with the accompanying terrorism. Democracy must be sought, desired and earned from within a people not brought in from outsiders. We see a return to authoritarianism throughout the world the question is how much the people in these countries welcome or resist it.
Excerpt from new Washington Post book, Afghanistan Papers:
"But the public heard no such straight talk. In a visit to Afghanistan shortly after the ambassador sent his cable , Bush did not mention the rising violence or the resurgent Taliban. Instead, he touted improvements such as the establishment of democracy, a free press and schools for girls." About 2oo6 when ambassador predicted a huge surge in insurgent activity.
Jonathan Rauch peddles conventional wisdom with gusto.; will post a longer comment when I find time.