Is America’s Longest Forever War Really Coming To An End?Roundup
tags: foreign policy, war on terror, Afghanistan, Joe Biden
Adam Weinstein is a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and was deployed to Afghanistan as a US marine in 2012.
Stephen Wertheim is the director of grand strategy at the Quincy Institute and the author of Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of US Global Supremacy
Last Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced he would withdraw all US ground troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the two-decade anniversary of the attacks that brought on the war. Then he visited the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery. A reporter asked him whether his decision was hard to make. “No, it wasn’t,” Biden replied. “To me, it was absolutely clear.”
Biden’s clarity shone through in the reasons he gave for terminating the mission in Afghanistan. Criticizing the grandiose and ill-defined objectives pursued by his successors, Biden refused to order US soldiers to engage any longer in a mission they could not achieve. He acknowledged that war among Afghans would likely continue, but he resolved to remove Americans from combat.
The president’s determination will nonetheless be tested in the months ahead. Biden already declined to complete the withdrawal by the 1 May deadline he inherited from the previous administration. That deadline had the virtue of preceding Afghanistan’s violent summer season. Now the Taliban is poised to take the offensive and could target Americans on the way out. Whether that happens or not, one thing is certain: those who got the United States into its quintessential forever war will do their utmost to block the exit.
A predictable chorus previewed its lines of attack as soon as Biden made his announcement.
Republican leaders blasted the move for endangering US national security. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, maintained that US troops were needed to “keep radical Islamic terrorism in check”, though he did not explain why threats in Afghanistan were more pressing than threats elsewhere. His colleague, Lindsey Graham, raised the now 20-year-old specter of another 9/11 attack plotted from Afghanistan.
Others appealed to sentiment, casting Biden’s decision as a betrayal of America’s partners and values. In the Washington Post, pundit Max Boot appealed to supporters of the Vietnam war by imagining Kabul falling to the Taliban much as Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese. Lieutenant General HR McMaster, who served as national security adviser for Donald Trump, blasted the withdrawal on terms that might have come from a colonial office a century ago. “We are abandoning courageous Afghans,” he tweeted, “on a modern day frontier between barbarism and civilization”.
Such arguments have sufficed since the war began. Their bombast was abetted by wonky analysis that delved into the minutiae of the war without questioning whether the overall objectives could be rigorously defined or realistically achieved. But for the first time, an American president has pinpointed and rejected the liability that these arguments have in common: they envision perpetual war, since terrorists and the Taliban cannot be altogether extinguished from Afghanistan, nor can the US military remake the country according to McMasterian notions of “civilization”. After 2,448 service members killed, and $2tn spent, the choice was truly war forever, Biden decided, or get out now.
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