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Leaving Afghanistan is net positive
Bipartisan mudslinging masks American consensus in support of withdrawal
The world, and many Americans, spent the last two decades blaming America for invading and occupying Afghanistan, and have now spent the past twenty hours bashing America for its withdrawal. But the usual America-bashing, virtue-signaling and bipartisan mudslinging apart, America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is a net positive.
America invaded Afghanistan with two goals in mind: To avenge the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and to make sure that Afghanistan will stop hosting America’s terrorist enemies.
Between 2001 and 2011, America succeeded in decimating the terrorist network that stood behind the 9/11 attacks, Al-Qaeda, and in hunting down and killing Al-Qaeda’s founder and leader Osama Bin Laden.
Ironically, most of the work done to finish Al-Qaeda happened outside Afghanistan, including killing Bin Laden in Pakistan and disrupting terrorism finance through the global banking system.
Still, invading Afghanistan was essential to flushing out Bin Laden and hunting down his lieutenants.
The second American goal of building Afghanistan as a modern state — so that it would stop hosting terrorists — was less successful. Afghanistan lacked the socioeconomic and political culture required for building a modern state. Outside a small elite circle, mainly in the capital Kabul, Afghanistan was composed of tribes whose lifestyle has changed little since Medieval times.
Realizing the impossibility of building a modern state, America managed to get the radical Taliban movement, which has just retaken the country, to promise that they would not let Afghanistan host terrorists like in the past. If Taliban live up to their promise, US national interests in Afghanistan will be served.
Withdrawing from Afghanistan will therefore be a strategic win for America. Whatever happens to Afghanistan now will be “bad news” in a faraway land.
If Moscow is scared that Taliban might help radicalize Muslims in Central Asia, and therefore cause civil wars and chaos on Russia’s borders, then that will be a Russian problem.
If China thinks that Taliban might radicalize the Uighur Muslim Chinese, who live in the east of the country, or that instability in Afghanistan might threaten the “Belt and Road” project, then it is up to China to deal with the Afghani problem.
In Iran, the Shia Islamist regime was at odds with Sunni Islamist Taliban before 2001, and might find itself locking horns with its neighbor to the east. Like with Russia and China, Afghanistan, post-American withdrawal, will be an Iranian problem.
Finally is the ethical argument about all the Afghani women who will suffer the return of the Taliban, or Afghanis who worked with Americans, or with the state and its bureaucracy, and might find themselves on the bad side of Taliban.
The ethical argument against America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan applies to a few dozen other countries in the world, including Iran, China, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Nigeria, Guatemala and Venezuela.
While America should remain engaged in global affairs to help mitigate crises and support weak populations, America cannot deploy its military everywhere. There is no military solution for the suffering of Afghani women, or any other women around the world who live under the rule of backward governments. The only tool America has, to deal with such a problem, is diplomacy — including aid and development work.
In 2001, American and global consensus formed around invading Afghanistan. Even Senator Bernie Sanders voted for the Afghanistan war. Today too, there is an unspoken American consensus in support of withdrawal from Afghanistan, which former President Donald Trump had ordered and which President Joe Biden executed.
However, it is unfortunate that bipartisan mudslinging has become a hobby in Washington, where both sides blame the other, even on issues both sides agree on.
True that the optics of US departure looked horrible, especially with those Afghanis who held onto US planes and fell from the sky. This will become the most played footage in the future, whenever the Afghanistan war is mentioned.
But optics are not strategy. Today, everyone remembers the humiliating footage from Saigon, but only a few know that Vietnam is now one of America’s top 10 trade partners, and that the two countries have become very close politically, as both face a rising Chinese bully.
Afghanistan might never become America’s friend. But as long as Afghanistan will not house America’s foes, there is no reason why Americans should keep expending blood and treasure to police a country that is 7,000 miles away from home.