On Sunday, August 15th, the President of Afghanistan fled Kabul as Taliban forces consolidated their control of the capital and of the rest of the country. They have behaved exactly as the Taliban could be expected to behave, staging mass executions of anyone suspected of loyalty to the legitimate government, forcing regional leaders to prepare unmarried women aged 15 to 45 for marriage to their fighters, and toppling the fragile institutions – the media, the gender-integrated schools, and the civilian government – that we have spent the last 20 years building.
It didn’t have to end this way. Before the withdrawal, America had not lost a soldier in combat since February 2020. The ongoing monetary cost of the war, compared to the trillions we spend on social spending, to our seven-hundred-billion-dollar defense budget, or even to the amount spent in the initial years of the war, was minuscule. America maintains military bases in over seventy nations abroad, and few of those had as strong a case for occupation than Afghanistan, a strategically located country that would otherwise provide a secure base for terrorism.
But even if you disagree with the above, now is not the time to deeply analyze the policy failures of the Trump and Biden administrations that snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory; nor is this the time to badger the “neoliberal establishment” about their repeated failure to bring stability to the developing world through military intervention. If you must do that, do it later. Now is the time to recognize that what are abstract foreign policy debates to Americans are real events to the rest of the world. 37,000,000 people have just had their nation collapse around their heads. They will watch as insurgents murder their brothers for loyalty to the legitimate government, as Taliban fighters will rape their sisters, and as their children grow up in a country full of terror, never knowing the freedom that we in America take for granted.
Whatever your politics, whatever your ideology, whatever your race or religion, what happened these past two weeks is a tragedy, and is but a taste of what is to come for the Afghan people. Even if you think the withdrawal was worthwhile, even if you think we should have never been there in the first place, you should still weep. Because when human beings suffer and are oppressed and die, it is worth crying over.
So weep for the Afghan journalists who have been silenced.
Weep for the women who will no longer be able to receive an education.
Weep for those brave government officials who stayed at their posts even as their country collapsed around them.
Weep for the 300,000 interpreters, drivers, and other personnel who were eligible for evacuation for their service to the US, but who were left behind because of the bureaucratic incompetence of those overseeing the evacuation.
Weep for those Afghans who, over the past 20 years, came to believe in liberty and democracy, who believed that their country could be free, but who have now been permanently disillusioned.
And finally, weep for yourselves, America, because every injustice you explicitly tolerate further sears your conscience.
Weep for Afghanistan, Americans, and pray that God will forgive us for what we have just done.
Categories: Foreign Affairs