Too Long in Afghanistan

A Twitter thread about the U.S. and Afghanistan from David Rothkopf, a political scientist, etc.:

US policy in Afghanistan has been 20 yrs of bad decisions & bad execution in the face of an insoluble challenge. Our local allies were very flawed, our enemy was resolute & the last 3 US presidents have wanted out & knew what’s happening now would happen. But sure, it’s on Biden. 

The original sin and greatest blame goes to George W. Bush who got us involved in a protracted mission when the only right mission was to go in, get Al Qaeda & leave. That was compounded by the catastrophic decision to enter Iraq–an enormous distraction. 

Obama and T____ compounded the problem by failing to find a way to exit. Why didn’t they? Because their advisors knew that the center (the Afghan gov’t and forces) couldn’t hold and that ultimately collapse would follow the exit. Those advisors were right. 

Those who recommended staying indefinitely did so in the full knowledge that 20 years of massive expense and effort could not produce a stable central government or a secure Afghanistan. There is zero evidence any outside force ever could do that. None ever has. 

There are profound human rights issues–particularly women’s rights issues–that should be of great concern and a priority for the international community. But the answer is not a costly U.S. & allied military Band-Aid. 

The military is not the only tool in what Madeleine Albright would call our diplomatic toolbox. Moreover it is one that has proven wholly ineffective to produce lasting change in Afghanistan. We must shift to other tools–at the top of the list being multilateral diplomacy. 

Bringing together all the major powers with a stake in Afghanistan and institutions to communicate to the effective leaders of the country that if they respect the rights of women they will benefit and if they do not they will be severely penalized. 

Letting them know that they will be subject to military strikes if they harbor terrorists is also fair. The notion that the only path is continuing to do what hasn’t worked to date is ridiculous. And the costs & pitfalls of alternative paths aren’t worse than what hasn’t worked. 

Some suggest that Biden could have planned this better. First, Bush, Obama and T____ could have and should have planned and executed this better. Next, there is plenty to suggest that whenever the US decided to leave, what is happening would happen. 

The Taliban want to embarrass us and claim victory. They have known all along they would not get much resistance in most of the country from the central government. This was so predictable everyone predicted it–and no one, no one offered a viable alternative solution. 

Only one president has had the courage to do the right thing in Afghanistan. It is the same man who advised we do this in 2009 when he was Vice President. It takes courage because he knows that he will receive the critiques his opponents are heaping on him now. 

But doing the right thing even when it is likely to be politically controversial and even when it reveals uncomfortable realities is what strong leadership is about. 

Biden & his team have already committed to using other means to advance US interests in Afghanistan-as we should have done long, long ago. It’s fascinating that so many who opposed nation building, who do not believe the US should be the world’s sheriff are now criticizing Biden. 

America’s war in Afghanistan will rank alongside Vietnam as one of our great modern failures of strategy and execution. Many are to blame for that. Whatever arguments might be made that the US departure could have been better executed, one thing is absolutely clear. 

The bulk of the responsibility for that failure lies with past administrations and with the leadership in Kabul (and to some extent with Taliban enablers beyond the country’s borders). Biden is doing what is right and what must be done. It is time to turn the page.