The best summation of America’s 18-year-long investment in Afghanistan was visible just this weekend when Zalmay Khalizlzad tweeted that an agreement on an “honorable and sustainable” peace was nearly in hand.
Contrast that rosy view with what happened on the ground in Afghanistan at nearly the same time when the Taliban launched a major attack on a capital of a province in that nation.
A peace deal seems near, for sure, and many Americans are tired of the war in Afghanistan and simply wish for it to go away. That attitude has always haunted the heart of American foreign policy — a sense of isolationism seemingly hard-wired into the national consciousness versus our role as a major power.
There is no doubt the war in Afghanistan has dragged on, seemingly with no end in sight, for nearly 20 years and a peace deal that would free America from this modern deep hole of resources would be welcome.
But we must guard our enthusiasm with ending an unpleasant foreign policy responsibility with the real prospect that a peace deal will do many things but deliver peace. Sure, American troop levels will be dropped — or totally withdrawn — and that will end the ritual of hearing about GIs being killed.
President Donald Trump has been insistent he wants to get all U.S. troops out and ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to scale back U.S. troop levels by the 2020 election.
We do not disagree that America should get out of Afghanistan. But not in a hurried, pell-mell way. We did that once a few years ago in Iraq and within a few years the entire country was nearly overrun by fanatics. So, instead of peace, we were forced to send more troops into the area to quell the resurgence of ISIS.
The same thing could very well happen in Afghanistan, and counting on the Taliban to abide by a peace treaty without the threat of the American armed forces is folly. Too often in the past — and the historical examples are legion — the U.S. skipped out of foreign policy entanglements and walked away, leaving behind dictators, hostile governments and third-rate thugs to harm those we left behind. Our track record is abysmal in this situation and we have history to show our mistakes and to conduct ourselves in a different manner in the future.
Peace is always preferable to war, but we must be very precise about how we leave Afghanistan. We’ve given too much blood to simply dust off our hands and walk away.