Opinion | Liddick: Time to end the Forever War
On your right
Maybe it’s finally time to go. Seventeen years, more than 2,400 dead and almost a trillion dollars later, we might consider the possibility that the best thing we could do in Afghanistan is leave.
In 2001, following the 9/11 attacks plotted by Osama bin Laden from a base his Afghan hosts provided, U.S. forces and Afghan allies from the so-called “Northern Alliance” rode into Kabul and were regarded as liberators. Small wonder since the Taliban, then in control, was busily pushing the boundaries of thuggishness beyond what was previously thought possible. From blowing up historically and culturally important statues of the Buddha to throwing acid in schoolgirls’ faces, they violated even the vestigial norms of behavior in their marginally civilized neighborhood.
Now there is widespread agreement among the various Sunni Afghan factions that we should go. Conspiracy theories abound, attributing all current miseries of this long-suffering country to malign American influence. “Green on blue” incidents, in which Afghan soldiers attack Americans or other Westerners, re on the increase. Corruption, always an endemic problem, has assured that most of the $900-plus billion we have spent in Afghanistan over the past 17 years has would up in the pockets of government officials, rather than those for whom it was intended. And the Taliban has retaken half of the country.
Afghanistan has always been a wild and dangerous land, mired in violence, vendetta and suspicion. For millennia it resisted the efforts of outsiders to bring it and its tribal and disputatious people closer to civilization. From Alexander the Great, who married a Sogdian princess, to subsequent Persians, Indians, Russians (twice!), British and now, America and its allies, it has presented an insoluble problem: a country which is not really a country, filled with people who hate each other only slightly less than they hate outsiders, and who are utterly impervious to any improvements on their traditional way of life. It has thwarted the plans of empires, often spectacularly, murderously and utterly. It handed the British one of their most horrific defeats — the great retreat from Kabul in the winter of 1841-42. It thwarted the plans of the prison-house of nations, the former USSR. It is at present sliding back into the atomized, ultra-violent, primitive state it seems to prefer. We should let it do so.
But first, a few caveats. If we remove from Afghanistan, we will not return to rescue the Hazaras. We will not return to rescue the Shi’ites. We will return to rescue no one; if the desire of the Afghan people is to be sunk in a blood-soaked cycle of murder, ethnic cleansing, retribution and vengeance until the end of all things, so be it. The horror and mayhem that results are problems for Afghans and their immediate neighbors alone. They, and particularly Pakistan, had a large hand in creating and nurturing the current ugliness; when it boils over, it will be theirs to clean up.
While we should probably retain some vestigial representation in Kabul, our policy vis-à-vis what Afghan state remains must be simple: we’ll watch while the Afghans themselves work out what sort of state will exist, by whatever means they choose to employ. If they attempt to drag us in, everyone should understand that we will conduct our foreign relations from 50,000 feet, and that when we are done there will be rubble. Lots of it.
To date we have spent $132 billion on Afghan reconstruction; $750 billion on military operations and $4 billion a year on Afghani security forces. Our own Inspector General for Afghanistan reconstruction summarized the results as follows: “After 17 years of U.S. and coalition largesse, Afghanistan remains one of the poorest, least educated, most corrupt countries in the world. It is also the most violent.”
Afghans often blame the U.S. and its partners for this chaos and destruction, while decrying their lack of basic services and freedoms. Perhaps by removing ourselves from the equation we can concentrate their attention more closely on both the origins and the possible solutions of their problems — solutions which do not involve reliance on others they neither like nor trust.
Such an approach would also offer us the advantage of spending less of both blood and treasure, while allowing us to adjust to a result which we do not own, in a part of the world of only marginal interest to us. In other words, it would adjust our expenditures to our interests; a winning concept.
So yes — we should leave. Now.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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