By Max Minkin
Earlier this month, President Biden announced that the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan will be complete by 31 August — though, in truth, most troops had already left the country at that point, ending a two-decade-long mission.
The announcement was met with praise by many on the left as well as some anti-interventionist sections of the right, and numerous arguments have been made in favour of the decision.
The most common argument — one that Mr Biden often likes to make — is that the intervention has already cost the United States too many lives (namely 2,300) and too much money (almost $2 trillion). In a way, this point is quite difficult to argue with, as it really is impossible to deny that the costs of the war have been too high in return for so little.
However, is it not the case that the United States has certain responsibilities — namely, to help maintain order and stability in regions which cannot afford to do it on their own? After all, if America were always guided by material, self-interested considerations, it is unlikely that IS would ever have been defeated, for example.
On the other, anti-withdrawal side of the argument, many experienced politicians and military commanders expressed grave concerns about Mr Biden’s plans, with former president George W. Bush saying that the consequences “are going to be unbelievably bad” — and it is not at all hard to see why.
First and foremost, American troops have been stationed in Afghanistan for a reason. The current Afghan government is incredibly fragile, and its control of the country is threatened by a terrorist organisation known as the Taliban. The Taliban are radical Islamists, and values such as gender equality, religious freedom and democracy are simply unknown to them.
Since the beginning of the American withdrawal, they have made significant advances, and it is now feared that without major support they could overwhelm the US-backed government’s forces and take outright control of the country.
The consequences of a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan would be disastrous. Women would become second-class citizens, and anyone who disagrees with the Taliban’s interpretation of Sharia law would be persecuted. Any hope of a truly free Afghanistan would be dashed, years of progress reversed — two decades of military intervention quite simply wasted.
Now, those are just the domestic consequences that the people of Afghanistan would face, while the broader ramifications could be much more wide-ranging. A Taliban takeover would almost inevitably lead to a refugee crisis — like scenes of people queuing at the passport offices of Kabul already demonstrate — and it is highly questionable whether European nations can absorb such a crisis at the moment.
An inability to deal with it could quite conceivably fuel the popularity of hard-right, anti-immigrant parties across the Continent and in the UK — which is exactly what happened after the Syrian refugee crisis, with some countries still governed by borderline far-right parties.
In essence, the risks of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan now are simply too high. The Taliban are too strong, the Afghan government is too weak, and the potential consequences of a defeat of the latter by the former could be catastrophic. The wise decision would be to hold on tight and wait until the situation is more favourable — alas, there is little hope of Mr Biden choosing that course of action now.
Image: DVIDSHUB by Creative Commons.