The Wisdom of Leaving Afghanistan

No sooner did news leak that U.S. President Joe Biden planned to withdraw the remaining 3,500 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan by Sept. 11 than the Washington Post’s editorial board swung into action, penning an April 13 opinion piece condemning the president’s decision. Biden, it huffed, was taking “the easy way out.”

The Washington Post’s reaction matters only insofar as it signals the tide of criticism Biden will face. Those objections amount to a cobbling together of familiar Washington bromides, nourished by the abiding conviction that the United States’ 20-year campaign in a country which it still seems to know little about can be ended on acceptable terms. Exhibit A in this regard: the Afghanistan Study Group Final Report, which devotes nearly 60 pages to regurgitating the standard brief for staying the course.

And what precisely are those acceptable terms, and how will they be realized? Much of the foreign-policy establishment believes continued U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, which includes military deployments, can usher in a stable, democratic polity and society—one in which the rights of Afghan women and ethnic minorities (notably the Hazaras, Tajiks, and Uzbeks) are respected. Anyone who cherishes democracy should be delighted at the prospect of Afghans living in such a country.

What’s up for debate, however, isn’t whether Afghans have a right to democracy in principle. Of course they do. What those opposed to exiting Afghanistan have never explained convincingly is how the United States can possibly exert the degree of influence (or pressure) required to fashion the Afghanistan they envision when it hasn’t been able to do so after 20 years of trying.

Read the full article in Foreign Policy.