It's Time to Get Out of Afghanistan

The time is up. The United States should withdraw from Afghanistan. More than 11 years after our invasion, and with our original rationale for war (the dismantlement of Al-Qaeda to the point of their irrelevance) basically accomplished, there is no honor in remaining in the graveyard of empires, as my PolicyMic colleague Laura Hughes incorrectly argues. What there is, with some 90,000 boots still left on the ground and an unclear definition of what “victory” exactly means, is pride. Pride has taken down great nations, untying the military ventures of would-be conquerors for centuries: Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British colonial empire and most recently, the Soviets.

Hughes points out that disengaging from Afghanistan prior to the year 2014 would damage “one key thing:” American honor. But she assumes that there is still some honor that remains. There is none. Bombs have rained down on wedding parties in drone strikes, U.S. soldiers have urinated on corpses of dead Afghan fighters, copies of Qurans have been incinerated by ignorant and careless battalions. And, sadly, a U.S. solider recently “went rogue” and killed 16 Afghan civilians in a maniacal shooting spree.

Long-looming resentment between the American administration and the Afghan people (and Hamid Karzai) have spilled out into an ugly series of political missteps and recalculations that have left the American military still seeking to define its mission.

With $120 billion a year ($10 billion per month) and countless casualties adding up quickly, how does the United States justify staying any longer? Hoping that Afghans will stabilize and begin to take control of their own political and military systems is a pipe dream — it has not happened yet and the country is now so fractured that there is no indication this will happen anytime soon.

Let us not forget that the magical date — 2014 — was a date that Karzai came up with in the first place and now, in light of these misadventures, he is calling on U.S. troops to pull back. The Taliban, too, have weighed in, abandoning their nascent peace talks with the Afghan government.

The unwinnable quagmire is a result of the United States insisting that victory is still possible all the while readjusting that very definition of victory as political realities on the ground change and warrant a redefinition of the terms. How can we realistically rebuild the Afghan army by 2014? We cannot. How can we bring about a better relationship between the Taliban and the Afghan government in just two short years? We cannot.

At this point, the American government must realize that an idealistic vision of a democratic, peace-loving, non-violent Afghanistan is not possible as long as U.S. soldiers are seen as foreign, unwelcome invaders who continue to misbehave in ways that conflate a political war with a cultural one. There is no honor in overstaying a welcome. Karzai and the Afghan people have made it clear that our time is up. Who are we to beg for another hour? 

Photo Credit: U.S. Army

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Nathan Lean

Nathan Lean is the Research Director at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. His three books include, most recently, The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (Pluto 2012). Nathan's writing has been featured in the New York Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, CNN, Salon, The New Republic, and others. His newest book, The Changing Middle East, will be released by Rowman and Littlefield in 2015.

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