Get Out of Afghanistan

Over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted out her condolences for the first known American to die from coronavirus. Recycling her two favorite yet still unconvincing words from impeachment—”sadly and prayerfully”—Pelosi mourned the loss of the still-unknown victim.

The Democratic leader has offered no such sympathy for Javier Gutierrez, Antonio Rodriguez, lan McLaughlin, or Miguel Villalon: All four are U.S. soldiers who were killed in fighting in Afghanistan this year. (Two additional service members died in a January plane crash.)

With few exceptions, America’s longest war is largely ignored by our political class while the costs and casualties mount. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) held a hearing last month on the Washington Post’s explosive and infuriating series on the war in Afghanistan: Only three of his colleagues bothered to attend. The sole Democrat in attendance was the committee’s ranking member, Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.).

“Doing nothing is no longer an option for any senator or member of Congress with a conscience,” Paul said, perhaps during a moment of wishful thinking. 

The long-time proponent of ending the Afghanistan war ticked off the stats: Nearly 2,400 dead U.S. servicemen and women with more than 20,000 wounded. Soldiers who have faced numerous deployments since the war began in 2001. And nearly $1 trillion in U.S. tax dollars—an average of $50 billion per year for almost 20 years, as Paul pointed out—spent in a backward nation that still ranks near the bottom of the list of the world’s most economically and politically free countries.

“What has that $1 trillion bought us? What do we have to show for it?” Paul asked. “Did a trillion dollars make Afghanistan more stable . . . [or] move us one step closer to victory?”

The answer, of course, is no. Barack Obama’s 2009 troop surge didn’t work; as his vice president now campaigns for president, it’s important to remember that three-quarters of the total troop fatalities in Afghanistan occurred during the Obama presidency. 

In 2014, then-Secretary of State John Kerry patted himself on the back for negotiating a power-sharing agreement and a “peaceful leadership transition” following the country’s fraught year-long election process. Kerry even marveled how “Washington could take a lesson from Kabul” about statesmanship. Kerry claimed the pact would lead to a stabilized Afghanistan that could protect itself. That didn’t happen.

Nearly $140 billion in U.S. aid allocated for rebuilding efforts has been squandered and plundered when those dollars could have been put to good use at home on a long list of domestic priorities. The State Department, Defense Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development refuse to document how, or even if, any reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan have been successful.

The Post’s “Afghanistan Papers” series exposed how our military, diplomatic, and political bosses had little clue about how to manage post-invasion Afghanistan. Our NATO allies have been half-hearted partners with some cashing in on U.S. taxpayer-largess. Corruption and crime are rampant; the nation’s opiate trade is flourishing.

The bipartisan Beltway aristocracy that collectively sneers at Donald Trump’s alleged incompetence in matters of foreign affairs and war are, in fact, the incompetent ones. Intelligence has been politicized, data has been manipulated, and the public repeatedly—and dangerously—has been misled by the very same “experts” who warn that President Trump is a dishonest, lawless partisan thug.

Afghanistan is not worth one more life, one more grievous injury, or one more tax dollar to maintain our military’s presence there.

The inspector general overseeing our nation-building efforts in Afghanistan told Congress earlier this year that bad news about the war is often hidden behind classification markings. John Sopko said top political leaders, including our presidents, have lied about the war’s progress. 

“There’s an odor of mendacity throughout the Afghanistan issue,” Sopko told the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January. “Mendacity and hubris.”

By all accounts, Afghanistan is still a country in chaos. Civilian deaths are at record levels and rival factions are growing increasingly hostile. Daniel L. Davis, writing in the National Interest, warns that the U.S. military is in danger of being caught in the middle of a multi-sided civil war.

The war in Afghanistan is a catastrophic failure by every measure. It should cast a permanent shadow of shame over those who continued to promote it despite clear evidence for years that it was a disaster with no hope of a positive outcome. 

Now, finally, there’s a chance the United States, thanks to the work of the Trump Administration, will end this travesty.

After months of negotiations, the United States entered into a peace deal with the Taliban. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed the plan on Saturday; U.S. troop levels will decrease from about 13,000 to 8,700 in the next few months with a full withdrawal 14 months from now.

During a White House briefing, President Trump honored the soldiers killed and wounded in Afghanistan over the past 19 years. “I want to thank all of the people of the United States for having spent so much . . . in terms of treasure and treasury,” Trump said on Saturday. “We’ve had tremendous success in Afghanistan and in the killing of terrorists. But it’s time, after all these years, to bring our people back home.”

Yet astonishingly, but not surprisingly, Washington’s endless war caucus is looking for reasons to remain in Afghanistan. 

John Bolton, Trump’s fired national security advisor who has yet to find a war he didn’t want others to fight or a regime he didn’t want to change, opposes the peace plan, calling it an “Obama-style deal.” Bolton tweeted that the arrangement poses a risk to Americans here at home.

Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), whose father was the vice president during the invasion and first seven years of the war, struck a similar tone. Cheney compared the U.S.-Taliban agreement with Obama’s Iran Nuclear pact and claimed it would “threaten the security of the United States.” Steven Hayes, former editor of the now-shuttered Weekly Standard, the mothership of neoconservative war boosterism, declared it a “very bad deal.”

Joe Biden, who has been involved in the Afghanistan disaster longer than any other U.S. politician, criticized the peace deal before admitting to CNN’s Jake Tapper that he hadn’t even bothered to read it.

But it doesn’t matter if the peace deal is good or bad, whether it halts the fighting or causes more strife. The American people want out

Afghanistan is not worth one more life, one more grievous injury, or one more tax dollar to maintain our military’s presence there. Those who insist we remain only do so out of vanity and self-interest; to concur with Trump at this point would concede that their planning and execution have been wrong all along.

Even the peace plan’s detractors cannot come up with a compelling reason to stay other than hollow warnings about national security threats to the homeland. That claim, according to Jordan Schachtel, a D.C-based foreign policy analyst and journalist, is bunk. 

“There is no threat to America from Afghanistan, a land of desolate poverty, which is occupied by subsistence farmers and families living in mud huts,” Schachtel told me by email. He thinks the peace deal is a “stall tactic” designed to fail and should have no bearing on whether the U.S. stays or leaves Afghanistan. “The best path forward does not include a deal. Just leave the country.”

Of course, there is a more sinister reason why the ruling class can’t support a clean exit from Afghanistan: It would represent a major victory for President Trump in an election year. A full withdrawal from the country after nearly 20 years of war would rank amid the top of Trump’s achievements.

That’s why, whether or not the parties adhere to the deal, President Trump, as commander-in-chief, should order our troops home. It’s long past time. At least this sad saga in American history can end with one political hero.

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