Stepping Back from Afghanistan is the Right Call

Few of us students at Dickinson are likely to have memories of the start of the War in Afghanistan since we were all so young when it began. Some of the first-years were likely not even born when this operation started, and I haven’t heard much discussion of this news among peers.

Perhaps it is because of this distance that the recent news of withdrawal from the country seems the right choice to me. It’s not clear to me how the ongoing policing efforts coincide at all with the Authorization for Use of Military Force that started the operation—it sought only to bring those involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks to justice, which has been done, and Al-Qaeda has been diminished. Policing Afghanistan indefinitely doesn’t seem to align with any imminent national security interest, and certainly not one worth 40 billion dollars a year.

Standing by the people of Afghanistan should surely be a priority, but the current military efforts do not contribute to this mission in a serious way, and the 40 billion dollars that the government spends annually on the war could be better targeted in aid. And removing troops doesn’t limit the possibility of further engagement if a resurgent Taliban becomes a human rights threat.

Even advocating military involvement for human rights reasons, though, is an odd view of what position the U.S. government should take towards unstable states—in the last few years there have been varying degrees of civil unrest in Syria, Venezuela, and Burma, but there hasn’t been call for serious military entanglement in these areas. 

Redirecting defense aims seems like a natural move for the Biden administration as a way of resetting U.S. presence on the global stage. Some critics that I’ve read think that this might indicate to China and Russia that the U.S. is going to stand back from general international commitments, but for this to be true there would need to be some congruence between the security efforts in Afghanistan and the possible encounters the U.S. might have with those two powers. Recent encounters with the countries have been in cybersecurity incidents and in testing the acceptable sphere of influence (like annexing Crimea or fortifying the South China Sea) which is not similar to the conflict in Afghanistan. I find it implausible anyway that this would suggest to other countries that the U.S. is withdrawing from international commitments given President Biden’s public commitment to NATO and the return to the Paris climate accord from the president. 

So it’s for those reasons that I cheer on one of the most significant moves of the Biden administration thus far, and hope for more restrained defense efforts in the coming years.