I’m pretty sure I don’t have any smart ideas about what’s happening in Afghanistan. I think I know what I’m talking about when it comes to domestic issues like criminal justice, economics, and civil liberties, and I can find trustworthy sources of information about technical subjects such as climate change and epidemiology. But when it comes to foreign policy and Afghanistan, all I have is a lot of ignorance and a vague understanding that things are very, very bad.
Afghanistan has obviously been a disaster, but I’m not sure how we got here or what we could have done differently. Should we have stayed out of Afghanistan? Even after the attack on 9/11 by the Afghanistan-based Al-Qaeda terrorist network? Just let them kill thousands of Americans without paying a price? I don’t think that was ever a possibility.
Once we got there, when do we leave? Could we have just spent a few months chasing and killing Al-Qaeda members and then left? Perhaps with a stern “Don’t make us come back”? That also seems unlikely.
And then we got caught up in “nation building,” trying to help Afghanistan become a self-sustaining modern nation state. It wasn’t an inherently evil idea, but our attempts were not met with success. Maybe we should have stopped sooner, but was there any point at which we could have left Afghanistan without it ending in a Taliban takeover?
So maybe we shouldn’t have withdrawn our troops. We have military units stationed all over the world — 50,000 troops in Japan, 25,000 in Korea, 35,000 in Germany — many of them for far longer than we’ve been in Afghanistan. So why is only Afghanistan a “forever war”? Maybe there’s no such thing as a brief war. Maybe we should just admit that invading other countries means deploying troops for many decades.
Then again, that may be easy for me to say because I’m not one of the people who’d get deployed to Afghanistan. So maybe the best plan after all is to get out and turn Afghanistan over to the Afghans. Let them protect themselves from the Taliban. Except that, for reasons that aren’t clear yet, despite years of effort and billions of dollars, the Afghan military and government collapsed almost immediately.
Like I said, I don’t have any smart ideas here. There doesn’t seem to be any way to win the occupation of Afghanistan.
I guess one thing I’m reasonably sure of is that we could have done a lot more to help refugees leave the country before we gave it up to the Taliban. After all, the basic outline of the solution is pretty simple — get refugees on planes, fly them out.
The rest is paperwork. We’ve had months to figure it out.
But the Taliban and bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They’re not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. […] It’s not only that the Afghan people had nothing to do with this atrocity. They were the first victims of the perpetrators.
And now, apparently, they’ll also be the next victims.