A year ago this month, the world dramatically changed for the Afghan people: after the U.S. military began withdrawing in the summer of 2021, the central government in Kabul fell in August and the Taliban completed its takeover. While the evacuation at the end of the month was chaotic and painful to watch — 13 American service members, mostly in their 20s, perished in Aug. 26 in a terror attack outside the airport — the festering humanitarian crisis left behind has been a source of growing frustration among observers here, and even worse for those still living there.
Meanwhile, questions about the wisdom of the 20-year war and foreign occupation persist among Americans, particularly veterans who sacrificed life and limb for something they sense had no lasting impact on Afghanistan at all.
So we asked more than 20 scholars, journalists, veterans and advocates on both sides — Afghan and American — if they think the 2021 military withdrawal was the right thing to do, or not.
Andrew Bacevich, Obaidullah Baheer, Michael C. Desch, Torek Farhadi, Sara Haghdoosti, Nadizila Jamshidi, Ann Jones, Sahar Khan, Charles Kupchan, Joshua Landis, Anatol Lieven, Jessica Tuchman Mathews, Alexander McCoy, Aaron David Miller, Arta Moeini, Paul Pillar, Haroun Rahimi, Will Ruger, Masuda Sultan, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Adam Weinstein, Sarah Leah Whitson, Arash Yaqin
Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute, professor emeritus, Boston University
Was President Biden right to pull the plug on the U.S. war in Afghanistan? The honest answer is that only time will tell. Ten or fifty years from now, the wisdom or unwisdom of President Biden’s decision to complete the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan may well appear different than it does today. But given the facts available to Biden in 2021 — above all, the abysmal results achieved after 20 years of nation-building — prolonging the effort was unlikely to serve any useful purpose. Persisting in folly is not a strategy.
With defeat comes bitterness. Those who served in Afghanistan have every right to feel bitter about the outcome of their war. Yet only by acknowledging our defeat does it become possible to learn from this sad and costly episode.
The fact is that Afghanistan had become an unaffordable distraction — a massive “burn pit” that consumed time, attention, and resources to no purpose. Rarely in American history has the disparity between interests and effort been so great.
In the wake of our failure in Afghanistan, the need to recalibrate U.S. strategic priorities is manifest. Unfortunately, distracted by ongoing and prospective wars elsewhere, the Biden administration shows little capacity to undertake that essential task.
Read the full symposium in Responsible Statecraft.