The images coming out of Afghanistan are heartbreaking, but the rapid takeover by the Taliban is not a reason to reverse course and indefinitely put more troops back into the country. On the contrary, it’s confirmation that President Biden made the tough but right decision to end this forever war.
I went to Afghanistan four times, and during each visit, I met with an impressive American general who had just recently arrived in the country. Each walked me through a presentation detailing how the previous general hadn’t made significant progress in training Afghan forces and how he would finally get it right. This cycle – of failure, correction, and continued failure – played out year after year.
The failure was not the fault of the generals or our soldiers. They were simply given a task that had a fatal design flaw. To decide to fight or die for a country, you must believe in the idea of your nation. The idea of America – democracy, liberty, economic mobility –has motivated millions to fight for our collective security. But in Afghanistan, loyalty is to family, ethnic group, tribe, and God – not country. We thought we could build a modern participatory democracy and American-style military out of whole cloth. We were wrong.
Another one or five or 10 years of U.S. troop presence would not change this reality. But former President Trump (who bragged this summer that he forced Biden’s hand on a withdrawal) and the Washington establishment are now arguing that we should have stayed. They want to ask American taxpayers to continue to spend trillions of dollars to protect a corrupt government and prop up Afghan forces.
And let’s not forget: it was the Trump administration that made a deal with the Taliban to withdraw. If President Biden had reneged on this agreement, Taliban attacks on our troops would have restarted, which would have forced the U.S. to send thousands of more service members into a conflict with no end in sight. Understandably, most of my constituents oppose this kind of endless occupation.
What my constituents do want is to prevent another attack on American soil. That’s why we went to Afghanistan in the first place – and why so many U.S. service members were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. But right now, with al-Qaida in Afghanistan almost completely destroyed, that isn’t necessary.
I’m not saying we should totally disengage. We have an obligation to help as many of our Afghan partners as possible seek safety and resettlement. And we must maintain counterterrorism capabilities to guard against any future threats from al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
President Biden did the right thing by ending the longest war in our nation’s history, and the events of the last week simply confirm the soundness of his decision.
Sen. Chris Murphy is Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism.