On Aug. 30th, 2021, America formally ended its longest war. As many of the most powerful nations, from Alexander the Great, to the United Kingdom, to the former USSR, to the United States, found out the hard way, there are no easy solutions to the many challenges that Afghanistan faces. I hesitate to use cliches such as 'the graveyard of empires' that is often used to describe Afghanistan, but I do believe President Biden spoke the truth when he said that Afghanistan is not a nation united by a common culture or a shared set of values. Rather the region is a grouping of tribes, skilled at guerilla warfare, and in making deals to safeguard their self-interest.
Perhaps this may help us understand why the estimated 300,000 trained and well-equipped Afghan soldiers laid down their weapons and walked away without firing a single bullet. The lack of a national cause could also explain why their elected president fled without even trying to broker a transition of power with the Taliban. While it is true that many moderate Afghans want democracy and equality (gender, religion, etc.), it seems there are many, maybe even a majority, who are not yet ready to move forward. This then becomes their internal civil struggle, and America should not get involved, at least not directly, unless there is a clear and present threat to our security (as was post-911).
Biden is the only American president in the last 20 years who had the courage to face the facts and tell us the inconvenient truth – there are no viable military solutions to Afghanistan's internal problems. As he said our mission post-911 was clear (and I believe reasonable) – get Osama and other co-conspirators and degrade Al Qaeda. That was accomplished long ago. My view, which polls show is shared by a majority of Americans, is quite straightforward: if the elected leaders of Afghanistan and its paid Army are not willing to fight for their own nation, why should American soldiers? Let the Afghan people take charge of their future. America, and other nations, can and must help the forces of moderation in the region primarily through moral persuasion, humanitarian assistance, and economic support, while reserving the option to use deadly force (drone, air power, etc.) to bring the bad actors who pose a threat to the United States and our allies, to justice.
Was the post-911 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq worthwhile? The answer is not as simple as partisans on both sides of the political aisle would like you to believe. No question, it has been very costly for America and its allies in terms of blood and treasure. The Watson Institute, Brown University, estimates that 7,000 American soldiers and over 177,000 and coalition forces were killed in the post-911 wars in Afghanistan and Iran (https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/costs/human/military/killed).
Real concerns remain about the future spillover impact of the recent developments on the South Asian subcontinent, which has a host of hostile players, and especially on our closest democratic and secular ally, India. The United States would do well to further strengthen its already robust economic and military partnership with India to restrain the territorial ambitions of China and Russia. Thankfully, in India the U.S. has a strong partner, which has weathered cross border terrorism with remarkable resilience, and the Biden administration has many accomplished Indian American foreign policy experts who can help accelerate the bilateral relationship.
Despite the high costs there is no doubt that the U.S. and its allies have delt severe blows to global terrorism networks, which may be why there has not been a single terrorist attack on U.S. soil for 20 years. Perhaps most important, millions of young boys and girls in Afghanistan have grown up tasting the simple fruits of freedom such as education, entertainment, and economic empowerment – none of which would not have been possible without American intervention. They hold the key to the future of Afghanistan.
Then there is hope, however fragile, of a 'new and improved' Taliban, that may be willing to take on Al Qaeda, ISIS-K and other extreme groups, and willing to cooperate with other nations. The Biden administration deserves credit for decisive and quick action, even if imperfect, and for successful evacuation of over 120,000 people – mostly Afghani refugees – in under 2 weeks. Overall, President Biden did a good job with the very bad hand he was dealt with.
Right now, the least we can do to honor the memory of the American and allied soldiers killed is to focus on how we can help the brave Afghans who stood by our soldiers and their families arriving at various military bases all across the U.S. They surely have earned our support. Here is how the people of New Jersey can help:
During these divided days, it has become almost impossible for Americans to agree even on the most basic things, like life-saving vaccines and the health of our democracy. Can we at least get behind the effort to help the needy Afghan refugees and show the world that America is a compassionate nation that respects its immigrant roots and does our best to keep our promises.
(Dr. Suresh Kumar is co-founder of Indian Americans for Biden-Harris and currently serves as professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. The opinions expressed above as his own.)