Image credit: New Zealand Defence Force
By Arta Moeini
This feature is part of a symposium organized by Responsible Statecraft, a publication of the Quincy Institute.
Withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan after two decades of war in that country remains the soundest policy decision by a U.S. president in years. America’s original objective in Afghanistan was tactical and morally defensible: capturing Osama bin Laden and dismantling Al-Qaeda. That mission was accomplished in 2011. The broadening of the mission to utopian targets such as democracy promotion, nation-building, and counter-insurgency was a recipe for strategic failure.
It was the pinnacle of hubris to try to socially engineer a foreign nation according to Western standards, and this was always going to backfire. The lament is that by prolonging our presence in Afghanistan and propping up a dysfunctional and corrupt Afghan government that was seen as a U.S. puppet by many locals outside of Kabul, we practically ensured the Taliban’s resurgence. At that point, the choice facing a U.S. commander-in-chief was to either stay another decade to fight the second coming of the Taliban in a vicious cycle that would put more American troops at risk for unclear aims or bring to an end, at long last, U.S. involvement in a country that is of quite minimal strategic importance to American security.
Both presidents Trump and Biden made the prudent choice to leave. By breaking with the policy consensus on Afghanistan, they saved America’s next generation from a costly and permanent foreign entanglement. U.S. retrenchment has also had a secondary benefit. With America gone, the Taliban is now a thorn in the side of America’s rivals in the region—including China, Russia, and Iran—as evidenced by the recent clashes on the Afghan-Iranian border.
Arta Moeini (@ArtaMoeini) is the Director of Research at the Institute for Peace & Diplomacy.