Was Afghanistan Worth It?

The downfall of Afghanistan is more than a remarkable event after 20 years of occupation. The US cut its support of the government, and within days, Taliban forces overwhelmed the whole country.

It’s now obvious that military power was the only thing holding the country together under the previous regime. As US ground forces exited and bombing strikes subsided, theocratic rebels took control of the country.

The US effort to nation build was once again a failure as it has been in so many places around the world in recent decades. Building a democracy with fair elections, a constitution, a court system and a unified army are extremely difficult tasks. This compares to the ragtag rebels who commit acts of terror and make it impossible for elected leaders to be elected and govern.

After 20 years, the Afghanistan project was a bust. Then again, no invaders of Afghanistan, in history, have ever been successful. The country’s rough terrain and religious driven male population has made the Taliban a tough competitor.

Why did the United States invade and occupy Afghanistan in the first place? The most important reason was the growth of terrorist organizations in the region, and 9/11, in which terrorists acted with impunity to undermine the US.

The US retaliated and our politicians decided to stay and nation build in a place where it is a mission impossible. US politicians believe that after you destroy a country with mighty force, you must rebuild it and make it a democracy. Afghans proved that they only respond to perpetual brute force.

After a few years, the country was controlled by puppets supported by the US. This resulted in some gains, but the Taliban never gave up. They resented US occupation and patiently waited in the wings for the US to leave.

The Taliban is driven by religion, a strong nationalistic vein and violent male domination. These characteristics have resulted in outrageous human rights violations against religious nonbelievers and women. The country is a despicable place, as it has been for ages.

What are the ramifications from the downfall of Afghanistan democracy? For one thing, it is a great victory for theocracies and authoritarian government in the region. Religious passion in repelling an enemy is a great asset going all the way back to the Crusades.

Another thing is the question of democratic experimentation. There are a few places in the world that have a stable enough society that can be democratic. Because of demographics, religion, social customs, geography and so much more it may be impossible for some countries to convert into a democracy.

I hate to say it, but the American blood and treasure expended on the Afghanistan experiment was for naught. Twenty years, a trillion dollars and thousands of casualties and injuries make the whole effort seem like a tragic misstep. Keep in mind the original military objective was to find and kill terrorists that attacked the US.

What of Biden’s decision to abandon the country? It was bad but remaining in Afghanistan would have also been a mistake. Maybe we should have left troops in in the country. But the same result was inevitable, it just would have been delayed.

The broader geopolitical implications are that theocratic and authoritarian regimes like Iran have been emboldened along with terrorists in countries that are not aligned with Iran, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. The region is ripe for more turmoil and government turnovers.

American diplomacy has taken a great hit. No matter what, people around the world will say that US walked away from Afghanistan when the going got tough.

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