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Afghanistan has become the poster child for America’s imperial overreach. After 18 years of warfare, it persists.
There are currently 15,000 American troops fighting in Afghanistan (far fewer than in recent years, when at the height of our deployments U.S. troops in the region topped 150,000). Yet the Pentagon is considering deploying more than 1,000 additional soldiers to the country in the next month. Should President Trump approve this plan, he would be perpetuating the mistakes of his two predecessors.
For too long, American leaders have associated larger American forces in Afghanistan with a greater chance of victory—without ever defining what victory is, and with a long track record of not achieving any semblance of success there.
In all fairness, American tactics under Trump have gotten much better (and we’ve yet to see the fruits of these changes, since the traditional fighting season won’t ramp up for another month in Afghanistan). But we’ve done little to improve the civil and military instability of the region—and that’s the nub of America’s problems in Afghanistan. No amount of military force will remedy these problems either.
The United States has spent nearly $1.07 trillion on the war in Afghanistan since 2001. Adjusted for inflation, we’ve spent more money rebuilding Afghanistan than we spent rebuilding Europe after World War II. The president’s decision to increase American troop levels in Afghanistan last August has likely added an additional $1 trillion to our $21 trillion national debt. Meanwhile, the cumulative interest costs on America’s Mideast wars could exceed $7.9 trillion.
Many democratic globalists in Washington, D.C. liken our mission in Afghanistan to our mission in South Korea. It’s a poor comparison. South Korea is a mostly self-reliant country that happens to have U.S. forces stationed on its territory (though that may be changing). After nearly two decades of American “assistance,” Afghanistan is almost as bad as it was before we invaded.
Think about it: the Taliban may only fully control 4 percent of Afghanistan, but they are “openly active” in 66 percent of the country. Meanwhile, neighboring Pakistan continues allowing al-Qaeda to operate in its Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA)—meaning that the threat will never be fully defeated by American arms.
So, what are we still doing in Afghanistan?
The Permanent Bipartisan Fusion Party in Washington, D.C. has many bad answers to this legitimate question.
First, they argue that America seeks to prevent the collapse of the Kabul government that we spent trillions of dollars building up. What few acknowledge is that foreign-installed governments historically have failed in Afghanistan. Remember, the Soviet-installed Najibullah government imploded the moment the Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan. Plus, Afghanistan is Taliban country. The Taliban is essentially a Pashtun liberation movement, and the Pashtuns are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. Even if the Taliban doesn’t retake full control, the current regime in Kabul wants to enter into a negotiated settlement with them. So, the Taliban isn’t going anywhere.
Second, Washington argues that American forces must remain in Afghanistan to fight terror networks. But, as we’ve proven throughout the Horn of Africa and in Southeast Asia, small counterterrorism teams are more effective than large, lumbering American armies in fighting al-Qaeda and other groups.
Lastly, Washington worries about the plight of Afghanistan’s girls: they will be reduced to the subservient status that they lived in before we invaded in 2001. That’s a perfectly humanitarian outlook. Yet Afghanistan continues ranking high on the list of the “most dangerous places in the world for women to live.” The lives of Afghan girls haven’t really improved, despite our massive investment there.
Face it, we’re wasting our time, money, and people fighting in Afghanistan. Our fears about the Taliban being resurgent or al-Qaeda reentering the country are legitimate, but why shouldn’t we leave them to China, Russia, and Iran? After all, those three countries are far more heavily invested in the future of Afghanistan than we are.
More important, none of those states want to see al-Qaeda return to Afghanistan. Russia, China, and Iran all have extensive ties with the Taliban and are closer to Afghanistan geographically—meaning an unstable Afghanistan is more of a direct threat to them than it is to us.
A superpower not only has the capacity to use force anywhere in the world, but it must also understand its limits (otherwise it ceases to be a superpower). Since the fall of the Soviet Union, American strategists have opted to use force everywhere without regard to those limitations on American power. In the process, we’ve broken our military and put ourselves in the position of maintaining an onerous debt.
America’s rivals—including China, Iran, and Russia—are rising and eager to knock us from our dominant perch in the world. An open-ended commitment to Afghanistan will ensure that China, Iran, or Russia succeeds in toppling America’s leading global status.
Let’s save our superpower by bringing our forces home from Afghanistan. There isn’t much more for them to do there, anyway.
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Photo credit: Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images