It’s Time to End this Endless War

January 26th, 2020 - by Bonnie Kristian / Defense Priorities

Ceasefire or Not, It’s Time to Get Out of America’s Longest War

Bonnie Kristian / Defense Priorities

 (January 22, 2020) — The Taliban in Afghanistan has proposed a 10-day ceasefire, reports said Thursday, signaling what would be a concession to Washington’s demand for a pause in hostilities ahead of a peace deal.

However, whether this ceasefire is implemented or not, the fact is that nothing should delay US exit from the longest war in our country’s history. All American troops should come home from Afghanistan immediately.

This is not to suggest a ceasefire or the deal which could follow are bad goals. Effective diplomacy at the end of a conflict is always welcome, and if US-Taliban talks can successfully reduce violence, protect civilians’ rights, and stabilize this transition, so they should.

But our chief aim here is not to negotiate; it is complete US withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan. To insist otherwise is to needlessly spill blood and treasure and delay ceding responsibility for Afghanistan’s future to the Afghan people. This war should have ended years ago, and it is indefensible to prolong it by any means, diplomacy included.

President Donald Trump campaigned in 2016 on reversing the foreign policy mistakes of the post-9/11 era, and since taking office he has continued to promise conclusions to the United States’ several “endless wars.” His appointment of Zalmay Khalilzad to lead US negotiations with the Taliban in the fall of 2018 seemed auspicious, but more than a year later—and three quarters of the way through Trump’s first term—the war in Afghanistan looks no closer to conclusion.

Last January, Khalilzad announced American and Taliban negotiators reached “a draft of the framework that has to be fleshed out before it becomes an agreement,” only for Trump to declare the deal dead in September. Talks have since resumed, but it is all too easy to imagine finding ourselves in exactly the same position this time next year.

Trump reportedly intends to withdraw about 4,000 US troops from Afghanistan this year, but that move would merely return US force levels in the country to precisely where they were at the start of this administration.

This is not what ending an endless war looks like. It is rather setting the stage for a new decade of floundering and failure, another decade of shuffling troops in and out, trading territories with the Taliban, losing tens of billions of dollars to waste and rank corruption, and adding chaos and suffering to a nation which already has more than its fair share.

There are two chief arguments commonly made for remaining in Afghanistan for years to come. One is that some sort of military victory may yet be achieved: The Taliban routed, terrorism eliminated, Afghanistan transformed into a modern, Western democracy—a beacon of freedom at the nexus of Asia and the Middle East. The experience of nearly two decades of conflict under three administrations has conclusively demonstrated this vision an illusion.

“For many months now, US commanders in Kabul and senior officials in Washington have described the war in Afghanistan as ‘stalemated,'” writes Ret. Col. Andrew Bacevich, a military historian, in the Los Angeles Times.

That assessment, he continues, is too sunny. “Having over the course of nearly 18 years expended some $900 billion to create a secure, stable and democratic Afghanistan, the United States has failed.”

No military victory is possible—not now, not another decade down the line, not with 10,000 troops, not with 100,000 troops. This conflict is “unwinnable,” as US veterans of Afghanistan reportedly told the president more than two years ago. Pretending otherwise is either cruel or naïve.

The other argument begins with acceptance of this failure yet suggests the recent history of US intervention obligates Washington to somehow “finish what it began,” to leave the right way and ensure Afghanistan does not become more dangerous or illiberal after we depart.

While at least in touch with reality, this stance neglects to apply its lessons. It rightly rejects Washington’s past meddling as ill-informed and counterproductive only to advise continuing that very intervention indefinitely.

Though it may sound more measured or humanitarian, the practical result of this approach is all but indistinguishable from a bullheaded fixation on unachievable victory. It likewise delays US withdrawal from Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. It likewise extends a military intervention which has long since proved an obstacle to peace.

Whether a ceasefire manifests or not is in a real sense irrelevant for US national security interests. Whatever happens, Washington’s next move should be leaving Afghanistan once and for all. With or without a ceasefire and deal, withdraw US troops and let Afghans determine their own fate.

Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities and contributing editor at The Week. Her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, Politico, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.