Leaving Afghanistan Is a Tragic and Historic Mistake
Despite their differences, Joe Biden and Donald Trump have found one thing they agree on — abandoning Afghanistan, and sacrificing 20 years of hard-fought gains, and the lives of all those who’ve worked to bring peace to this South Asian country.
Leaving Afghanistan will compromise American and world security, fuel a resurgence of the Taliban and terrorist groups, and leave generations of women, democrats, and reformers to a cruel and unjust fate.
President Biden has justified his decision by saying that America can’t be the world’s policeman, and that after 20 long years, it’s time for US troops to come home.
But he didn’t mention that there are barely any troops left in Afghanistan, or that the country presents a very special case that differentiates it from other places where the US cannot host troops.
Earlier this year, the amount of troops remaining in Afghanistan was between 2,500 and 3,500 — far less than the amount of US troops in Japan, South Korea, Germany, or even Italy.
But — you might argue — those other soldiers aren’t in danger.
But are US troops in Afghanistan?
In 2020, only four US soldiers died in combat deaths. Even if our troop presence was as low as 2,500 during that entire period, the mortality rate would be less than .20 of all US troops in Afghanistan.
Yes, every life is precious, and every death is a tragedy. But we also must look at what that .20 percent rate has secured America and the Afghan people over the past few years, and what will be sacrificed by pulling out.
The US deploys its troops overseas not only for force posture purposes, but also to strengthen our allies and serve as a bulwark against anti-democratic forces.
Just look at the history of US troops in Iraq.
Overconfident in that country’s stability — and determined to make a political statement — another new president, Barack Obama, proudly declared he would pull US troops from Iraq, against the warning of countless military advisors and experts.
Obama followed through on his promise — and that’s when things began to unravel.
Terrorist groups and insurgent forces were emboldened, and all of America’s gains in the country began slipping away. Innocent people were slaughtered, and the country descended into sectarian fighting.
To his credit, Obama realized his error and eventually reversed course — but not before so much needless bloodshed and death.
(President Obama also considered removing US troops from Afghanistan, but decided against the move; then-Vice President Biden reportedly was in favor).
President Biden now says that America must leave Afghanistan because we can’t be everywhere we want to be in the world. He said, for example, that the US can’t go into China and protect the Uighurs.
But Afghanistan is a very different situation.
First, America bears special responsibility there, given our military history in the country. Second, American forces are already in Afghanistan. Third, the American troop commitment is minuscule compared to the benefits that we accrue by being there.
America cannot — and should not — forget why we entered Afghanistan in the first place.
When the Taliban came to power in the 1990s, America looked away; “it’s not our problem,” we told ourselves.
But in a global and interconnected world, that cheap and immoral justification isn’t even true. Anti-democratic forces often harbor other anti-democratic groups — and the Taliban soon gave safe harbor to Al-Qaeda and other terrorists.
After attacks throughout the Middle East, and then finally on September 11, 2001 — we saw that what goes on halfway around the world is our problem.
Our minimal presence in Afghanistan has acted as a strong deterrent to the Taliban. Once we leave, that deterrent will be gone. Yes, heroic Afghans will fight; but without a backstop of US forces, they might not prevail.
If we withdraw now, we will see the consequences of our actions on or near our shores soon enough.
Most importantly, we cannot leave the brave Afghans who are fighting for their freedom to a cruel and unfair fate.
Take, for example, Zarifa Ghafari. At 29 years old, she is one of the first and only female mayors in Afghanistan. She has survived multiple assassination attempts, and her father was murdered last Fall — all for the same crime: demanding freedom and rights for women and girls.
Zarifa has not been deterred by her father’s death — quite the opposite; she has said she’s willing to give her life to build a better future for her country She even cites America as an inspiration — saying that America only became what it did because others were willing to sacrifice for it, and that’s what she will do for Afghanistan.
How can we abandon Zarifa Ghafari and all the others like her? Is stationing a few thousand troops in Afghanistan really not worth it?
Donald Trump’s presidency was marked by an abdication of American leadership on the world stage. President Biden has made huge improvements. But his decision on Afghanistan is a terrible mistake that will leave America and the world less safe.
Americans should demand he reconsider.
David Meyers is a former West Wing staffer, and Opinion Editor at The Algemeiner. This article was first published at NJ.com.