Ever since the election of Barack Obama as president, the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy has shifted from the war in Iraq to Afghanistan, and this renewed focus has stirred up a hornet’s nest of debate and controversy. But while pundits from the left and right argue and bicker over the details of what should be done to “fix” our efforts in Afghanistan, most are ignoring the possibility suggested by writers like George Will: Maybe the best idea is to leave.
The notion of leaving Afghanistan sends chills up the spines of both liberals and conservatives nowadays. Liberals shiver due to the fact that their president has inherited this war and has committed to greater U.S. involvement, thus opening the door for him to lose credibility abroad if he does not follow through. Conservatives cringe because they still believe that U.S. military will prevail in the end, and that our war against the Taliban is a just war to establish and preserve a democratic government in the Middle East friendly to the U.S. Everyone experiences distaste at the notion because we’ve yet to accomplish our stated goal for invading Afghanistan in the first place: to capture or kill one of the most evil men in modern history, Osama Bin Laden.
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, our nation and our government did something that it rarely does: We put aside our differences and took swift and decisive action. However, by putting aside our differences we temporarily and voluntarily blinded ourselves to potential consequences. Further, we failed to lay out a coherent and well-planned strategy that the entire nation could support. Instead, we had only the united purpose of revenge. It is because of this lack of foresight that we now have a war that no one wants and which may very well be impossible to win.
From its very beginning, the war in Afghanistan has been egregiously mishandled. Whether or not a supposed focus on Iraq was the cause is up for debate, but what is clear is that the Bush Administration, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in particular, failed to take into consideration “the whole picture.”
First, the Bush Administration failed to consider just how long we would be in Afghanistan. According to Ahmed Rashid, an investigative journalist and expert in the region, the United States should have been expecting to commit to Afghanistan for at least 20 to 30 years, if not more. Granted, this calculation is based off of Rashid’s view that in order to completely destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda, complete reconstruction and modernization would need to be undertaken. Doubtless, this would have been costlier than the Bush’s Administration’s tactic of paying off brutal and corrupt warlords to kill the bad guys for us, but one can’t help but wonder whether it would have been a wiser move.
Second and perhaps even more importantly, the Bush Administration failed to realize how important Pakistan was to success in Afghanistan. Though a liberal Muslim, Pakistan’s president Pervez Musharaff, depended on his status as army chief to keep himself in power. The army, along with military intelligence units, holds sympathies for radical Islamists, as many of them fight for the liberation of Kashmir from Indian control. Pakistan’s borders have not only been porous to extremists but Pakistan has also refused to allow any U.S. military actions to take place inside Pakistani territory, even in Waziristan, where Bin Laden is likely hiding. As the saying goes, with friends like these, who needs enemies?
The choice we face seems fairly clear: If we still seek to achieve our ultimate goal, the capture of Bin Laden, Pakistan must either be persuaded or made to yield. Without their support, our hopes of ever capturing or killing Bin Laden are slim to none. And without that possibility, it serves no one — not the United States, not the Afghan people, not the world — to continue this increasingly violent and rapidly escalating conflict.