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Sept. 22, 2021, 7:25 a.m. EDT

Learning the right lessons from the Afghanistan debacle

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Peter Morici

In Afghanistan, America took a  terrible   humiliation , but greater perils await if we take the wrong lessons from this debacle.

We went into Afghanistan to destroy al Qaeda and depose the Taliban. In the process,  we took on   nation building  and inevitably, this was defined as establishing a Western liberal democracy and improving the status of women.

Now read: Biden to U.N.: U.S. ‘will lead on all the greatest challenges of our time,’ but ‘not go it alone’

Parallels with Iraq

The objectives were similar in Iraq—where considerable progress has been accomplished.  Its constitution requires an independent judiciary and rule of law, civilian control of the military and that at least 25% of parliamentarians be women .

Since 2004, Iraq has had four successful transitions of power. The United States maintains a small  troop presence , though  its role has been redefined to a support mission  to give political cover to Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

Both countries are rife with sectarian conflict, but in Iraq, the American-led coalition wholly defeated Saddam Hussein.

In Afghanistan, the  Taliban   took   refuge  in  Pakistan . Our  military needed access to landlocked Afghanistan  through Pakistan and could not violate Islamabad by tracking down and fully squashing the Taliban on its territory.

The United States maintains far larger troop contingents in  GermanyJapan  and  South Korea . Given the threat of terrorism projecting from the Middle East and South Asia, basing 2,500 troops in both Iraq and  Afghanistan  would not have been burdensome.

Before the withdrawal, the annual cost of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan was down to  $20 billion . That’s far less  expensive  than the  over-the-horizon presence  to deal with  terrorists  that is now required.

Nation building was a tougher nut in Afghanistan.  

In 2001, it was a medieval, illiterate dystopia. Whereas, just before COVID and President Joe Biden’s blundering withdrawal, the  Afghan economy was growingover 9 million children were attending school  and 39% of those were girls.  Women at universities studied science, law and medicine .

Overall, Americans lament the  threat of Taliban 2.0 to the status of women  quite simply because the  American presence enabled so much progress .

U.S. presidents undermined Kabul

The government in Kabul was undermined by Presidents Barack  Obama ’s, Donald Trump ’s and Biden’s oft-stated intentions to leave. This begot corruption, which made Kabul ineffective among a population with strong tribal loyalties. That helped the  Taliban to maintain legitimacy and a  shadow government  in the countryside.

Biden  unfairly dishonored  the  Afghan military . It was structured by the U.S. military to require  air cover and modern logistical support   to function . When Biden withdrew those,  its collapse was inevitable .

The  Taliban’s hold on power is hardly guaranteed . A good deal of the fallen  government’s budget  was financed by  U.S. and other foreign aid and international organizations . The Taliban was not able to raise comparable sums in exile through the opium trade, extortion and bullying locals.

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