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Opinion |  Leaving Afghanistan is a historic mistake


I once took a flight from Dubai to Kabul alongside a team of Afghan footballers – teenage girls in red uniforms, chatting and laughing like anywhere else in the world. I thought of these players again after President Biden announced plans for the full military withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan.

I hope they have the means to get out before the Taliban take over again, as soon as sooner or later is likely to happen.

The United States did not go to Afghanistan after September 11 to improve the status of women. We did it anyway. Millions of girls, to whom the Taliban had forbidden any form of education, went to school. Some of them – not enough, but impressive considering where they came from and the challenges they faced – became doctors, entrepreneurs, MPs. A few were able to watch their daughters play football under the protective shield of Pax Americana.

These women are now abandoned. The same goes for all the Afghans who have struggled to make the country a more humane, hospitable, ethnically and socially tolerant place – some taking immense personal risks to help US troops, diplomats and aid workers do so. their work. As George Packer writes in The Atlantic, there are some 17,000 Afghans waiting for the cogs of the American bureaucracy to turn before they can get their visas.

If Joe Biden wants to distinguish his immigration policy from that of his predecessor, he would have to sign an executive order granting each of these visa applications. Quickly. This would lift the death penalty that now hangs over their heads. It would be in the best American tradition to welcome political refugees from countries like Hungary, Cuba, Vietnam, the Soviet Union and northern Iraq. And that would send the useful signal that helping America when America asks for it isn’t the dumbest thing a person can do.

But those 17,000 people are still only a tiny fraction of those we are leaving behind. There is a rational argument to be made that the United States went to Afghanistan to serve our national interests, viewed coldly, and not the needs of an impoverished country of nearly 40 million people. Foreign policy is ultimately a matter of self-interest and not of the interests of others.

But what was the Americans’ interest in staying in Afghanistan beyond the fall of the Taliban? It was not, at the central level, to kill Osama bin Laden, who was only one of a succession of terrorist brains. It was to prove that bin Laden was wrong about America’s long-term commitments, especially abroad.

In August 1996, Bin Laden issued his famous fatwa declaring a war on the United States which he hoped would be long and bloody. He observed that in conflict after conflict Americans always cut each other off. “God dishonored you when you withdrew,” Bin Laden wrote, “and it clearly showed your weaknesses and helplessness.”

The September 11 attacks were a direct consequence of this observation. This is why Barack Obama was right when, during his first presidential campaign, he called Afghanistan “a war we must win”. Losing would not only demonstrate our weaknesses and helplessness. It would be a justification for the strategy of jihad. How secure will America be when this strategy succeeds not only in Kabul but also in Islamabad?

The retort is that we cannot indefinitely wage other people’s wars for them, especially when we have to shift our strategic focus to competitors like Russia and China. This is a factual lie plus a conceptual lie.

In January alone, 239 Afghan members of the pro-government security forces and 77 civilians were killed by the Taliban. In contrast, the United States has lost less than 20 servicemen per year in hostile engagements in Afghanistan since 2015. It is heartbreaking for those affected, but minimal compared to the number of soldiers who die in training accidents. routine in the world. Our main role in recent years has been to provide the Afghan forces with effective air power. It is not an exorbitant price to pay to avoid an outright victory for the Taliban.

As for Russia and China, should the Ukrainians – who now face 150,000 Russian troops massed at their border – find comfort in the imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan? What about the Taiwanese, facing growing belligerence from Beijing?

The theory of deterrence is based not only on the balance of power but also on reserves of credibility. Leaving Afghanistan changes virtually nothing in the first while seriously exhausting the second. We are extending our 50 year streak from Vietnam, to Somalia, to Iraq, of being at least as dangerous to our friends as we are to our enemies.

It is believed that asking Afghans to fend for themselves after 20 years of American sacrifice should not be viewed as unreasonable. But foreign policy is also about treating the world as it is, and not as we would like. In the desired world, Afghan leaders would not be incompetent, Afghan women would not be in increased danger, the Taliban would have severed ties with international terrorists, and what the United States has done in one corner of the world does would have none dealing with how it is viewed elsewhere.

In the world as it is, none of this is true, and we must find a way to advance our interests without betraying our values ​​and our friends. Last week’s disastrous decision on Afghanistan fails that test on all fronts.

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