As we hurtle apparently towards another Middle East war, this time with Iran, now would be a convenient time to de-clutter our inventory of conflicts. So why not just leave Afghanistan?
In the midst of all the controversy over whether, how, and where to negotiate with the Taliban concerning the U.S. withdrawal, let’s not lose sight of these questions: Why are we still there? Why not just get out?
Why do we need a worthless “peace” treaty full of promises the Taliban is never going to keep? We don’t need the Taliban’s permission. We have the power to turn our back on a war that is no longer in the U.S. national interest.
In theory, Afghanistan would be an excellent forward base of operations as it is strategically located in proximity to Iran, Russia, Pakistan, western China, and India. If we had a basing agreement and stable conditions similar to those in Germany or South Korea, it would be a great place from which to project American power.
In practice, however, it has been the opposite. Our continued presence in Afghanistan provides a convenient way for our enemies to harass and degrade U.S. forces. And that hasn’t changed since we invaded in the months after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
A Multi-Trillion Dollar Folly
Afghanistan is bleeding the United States. The post-9/11 wars, including Afghanistan and operations in adjacent Pakistan, have cost the United States $5.9 trillion. Our continued presence ties up resources and manpower and reduces our deterrence capability. Will Afghanistan become a Jeffersonian democracy if we spend another $5.9 trillion? Of course not.
Osama bin Laden, the man who orchestrated 9/11, was a Saudi, not an Afghan. Victims of 9/11 have sued Saudi Arabia. The lawsuit accuses the government of Saudi Arabia of directly aiding the attackers.
After nearly 10 years of searching Afghanistan for bin Laden, the reason we were in Afghanistan in the first place, we found him hiding in plain sight in Abbottabad. Abbottabad is not a city in Afghanistan. It’s a major city in the heart of Pakistan within the firm control of the Pakistani government. In fact, it’s clear that for all the billions of dollars we gave Pakistan to help us look for bin Laden, our “ally” was actually hiding him.
We can know this because after bin Laden was killed, the Pakistanis punished the doctor who helped us find bin Laden, not the local officials who allowed bin Laden to find sanctuary in their city. We continue to permit Pakistan to imprison this doctor, who risked his life to help us find the al-Qaeda chief. It’s a stain on our national honor.
Pakistan credibly has been accused of funding the Taliban in Afghanistan. While we shower the Pakistanis with money to help us fight the war on terror, some of that money may have been diverted to buy the bullets and explosives used to attack our own troops. It’s a corrupt and despicable state of affairs.
We should just leave Afghanistan. I’m not against negotiating with enemies. That’s how you make peace. The negotiations should take place in a setting that promotes the likelihood of success with due consideration to the concerns of victims and the military who have sacrificed.
But what is it we’re trying to get the Taliban to give us? Short of repatriating any prisoners they hold or recovering remains from fallen soldiers, the Taliban has nothing we want. Nor should we expect the Taliban to keep any of its promises. The best thing we can do to keep the Taliban down is to cut off funding to the Pakistanis.
Our Real Ally in South Asia
Instead, we should approach the regional superpower: India. The United States has sheltered Pakistan from long-overdue reprisals after allowing terrorists to launch cross-border attacks into India. We spent precious diplomatic capital when, in 2001, Pakistani-based terrorists attacked the Indian parliament. India would have been within its rights to launch a full-scale war against Pakistan in retaliation but didn’t in deference to the relationship the United States formed with Pakistan to facilitate our Afghanistan operations. India and the United States should be close allies and we should never intervene to save Pakistan from the consequences of permitting its territory be used as a base of terrorist operations.
Pakistan continues to be dotted with radical madrassas that train and radicalize fresh recruits for jihad across the world. If we remove our protection from Pakistan and the terrorists it hosts, India would have a freer hand to take countermeasures.
We are told that if we don’t stay in Afghanistan, it will be used as a base of operations for terrorists in the future. But what about Syria, or Libya, or Sudan, or Iraq, or Saudi Arabia itself? All of these countries and many more have supplied, hosted, or supported terrorists. Are we supposed to occupy the entire Islamic world?
So just leave. Don’t leave a presence behind. It just creates a shoehorn to re-escalate the conflict by attacking whatever forces remain. Instead, build up our relationship with India as a strategic partner. The Saudis and the Pakistanis have been terrible allies and we should look for better partners. It is time to declare victory in Afghanistan. There’s nothing left to win. It’s time to go home.