Why Is It So Tough to Leave Afghanistan?

| Mar 19, 2021

The foreign policy establishment just can’t admit when it got things wrong.

By Mark Hannah, Senior Fellow

This article appeared in The New York Times on March 19, 2021.

As his two predecessors did, President Biden has pledged to end the war in Afghanistan. But also as his two predecessors did, he could end up tragically perpetuating it. Outnumbered by a national security establishment fixated on continuing this misadventure, the Biden team will need courage and clarity if it is to finally disentangle America from what has become a futile struggle.

It is fortunate to have an opportunity to do so. Last year, after a decade of negotiation, the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement calling for a complete withdrawal of American troops by May 1. The administration is now attempting to broker peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. That effort should not come at the expense of this commitment. But the administration is reportedly considering a six-month extension of the deployment of American troops. If the United States gets the Taliban to agree to such an extension, those troops become mere leverage in a complicated diplomatic drama. If it doesn’t and delays withdrawal anyway, the agreement that has prevented any U.S. combat casualties for the past year dissolves. Regardless, it will be “tough” to get American troops home by the deadline, as Mr. Biden told ABC News this week.

As vice president, Mr. Biden opposed the surge of troops in Afghanistan in 2010. Last year, he wisely recognized “it is past time to end the forever wars.” His secretary of state, Antony Blinken, asserted two years ago that it was “time to cut the cord” in Afghanistan. This month, Mr. Blinken insisted military action would be taken “only when the objectives and mission are clear and achievable” and “with the informed consent of the American people.” According to polling my colleagues and I have conducted, the American people support the details of the U.S.-Taliban agreement by six to one.

Why, then, is leaving Afghanistan so “tough”?

Read more of Mark’s article in The New York Times.

Written by Mark Hannah

Mark is a senior fellow with the Independent America project at the Institute for Global Affairs and host of the podcast, None Of The Above.

Read more from Mark

This post is part of Independent America, a research project led out by IGA senior fellow Mark Hannah, which seeks to explore how US foreign policy could better be tailored to new global realities and to the preferences of American voters.

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