Afghanistan: Disappointing, Not Surprising
I don’t write much on foreign policy. Despite all its intricacies, my views on foreign policy are pretty simplistic. Ultimately, they boil down to four basic understandings. First, I think that people from all countries have a God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Second, I think that the world is a safer place when the powers of good keep the powers of evil in check. Third, I think that countries should avoid getting into situations they aren’t fully prepared to resolve. Fourth, I think that countries should aggressively defend themselves.
The relationships between these principles inform most of my seemingly radical foreign policy positions. In the case of Afghanistan, I believe that the Afghan people have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, although these rights are threatened and usurped by Taliban terrorists. Beyond this, I think that Afghanistan, its neighbors, the United States, and the world would be safer without the Taliban in power. However, the third and fourth principles are what cause so many problems in Afghanistan, and in contemporary U. S. foreign policy in general.
The United States entered into combat operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The United States has a sovereign right and moral duty to defend itself against such attacks. However, the American public, despite rhetoric to the contrary, lacked the necessary commitment to eliminate the Taliban. Any plans for withdrawal while the enemy remains alive are tantamount to planning for defeat. Thus, the United States government entered a combat situation which it was not prepared to resolve.
Some may wonder how it is possible that the American people were not committed to eliminate the Taliban after the deaths of 3,000 civilians on September 11, 2001. That’s unclear, but for whatever reason it seems that Americans can only stomach a short war with no collateral damage and no long-term occupation. It’s a great plan if you’re fighting an enemy like the ones Hollywood depicts, which show up in an open field and surrender once you point the gun at them. However, modern warfare happens in population centers with enemies that hide and use human shields. It is physically impossible to eliminate such a threat without collateral damage. If you cannot eliminate a threat, then you must occupy the necessary territory to outlast it. But American politicians don’t have the stomach for this either.
Achieving victory necessarily requires either collateral damage or a long-term commitment. Often, it demands both. Consider our most recent combat actions. In 1945, our European victory required the D-Day invasion and an occupation of Germany that continues to this day. Our Pacific victory required two nuclear bombs and an occupation of Japan that continues to this day. Victory requires occupation because evil people will always seek to control those who are vulnerable. Even if we outlast our enemies, there may be others who arise to take their place. For instance, if we left Germany today, the Russians would likely control all of eastern Europe by the end of the year. If we left Japan or South Korea, China would immediately take over.
We have the most capable military in the world, but they are only as effective as the rules of engagement allow them to be. If our country cannot stomach the atrocities of war or long-term occupation, then we will continue to see what we saw in Saigon and now Kabul. It’s certainly disappointing, but by no means surprising.