Afghanistan: 20 years, four presidents, at least three strategies, an unspeakable cost in human life and an unbearable financial expense; and we are currently still at square one.
The war that should never be fought is the one that is devoid of a clear goal. The war in Afghanistan has been such a war, at least since the Taliban were defeated, practically two months after the start of the conflict.
Twenty years, four presidents, at least three strategies, an unspeakable cost in human life and an unbearable financial expense; and we are currently still at square one. Violent terrorism continues, particularly against women. The Taliban are on the verge of winning the civil war against Kabul’s legally constituted government. If the Taliban win back control over the territory, the danger of the return of al-Qaida still remains.
The victor in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan participated in neither. China has watched with satisfaction while the great power of our time and its future rival pointlessly wore itself out in two aimless conflicts. Donald Trump’s four years have been the height of such an erratic path, which led, necessarily, to a drastic decision like the one Joe Biden has just made.
The current president wanted to end this war 10 years ago, but was not in the majority in Barack Obama’s White House. Now, he does not wish to live conditioned by a 20-year-old misguided strategy, at a time when the United States needs a new strategy to address new dangers, climate change, Iran’s nuclear rearmament, the threat of Russia or the rise of China.
Trump’s legacy could not be more poisonous. First, he wanted all the troops to be home by last Christmas. Then, he signed a treaty with the Taliban to withdraw the troops by May 1 of the following year. He wanted to treat himself with a military victory, even if false, for the campaign. And in case of electoral defeat, he wanted to leave his successor holding the bag, which is what happened.
Biden also wishes to change the narrative. If there is some victory to be claimed, it already took place in December 2001, with the fall of the Taliban regime, punished for their collaboration with Osama bin Laden in the attacks on Washington D.C. and New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Contrary to the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan was a necessary and defensive war in retaliation for an attack, perfectly protected by international law, including a declaration by the Security Council and the solidarity of NATO, drawing out Article 5 that allows allies to go defend the attacked member.
Subsequent wars to defeat Islamist ideology in Afghanistan and protect human rights, particularly those of women, or to build a well-governed state according to the best democratic standards, were out of the hands of those who thought they could win them. This is how 20 years have been lost. The last thing the U.S. currently wants is an image of defeat, like that of the helicopter taking off from the roof of the Saigon embassy in 1975, on the last day of the Vietnam War.