Robert Tracinski, author of So Who Is John Galt Anyway? A Reader’s Guide to Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, makes a compelling case for staying in Afghanistan.
He correctly notes that leaving Afghanistan was not a good idea badly executed, but that withdrawing from Afghanistan was a bad idea, to begin with, and will only embolden America’s adversaries.
Advocates of staying in Afghanistan are usually accused of acting on the “sunk cost fallacy,” of throwing good money after bad on a failing venture. But in fact maintaining the status quo, with pre-withdrawal troop levels or even elevated troop levels, would have required a commitment of a few thousand troops, mostly acting in support of our Afghan allies, and a few tens of billions of dollars a year—a rounding error in our recent multi-trillion-dollar appropriations bills. In exchange, we would have gotten what we came to Afghanistan for in the first place: assurance that it never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.
By contrast, what happens when we leave? Afghanistan is certain to become a base for terror again, and it will now be a hundred times harder to go back in again when we need to. After all, we can no longer make any credible assurances about our ability to protect people or our willingness to follow up on our commitments. They are entitled to conclude that if they help us again, we will sell them out again and then add insult to injury by implying, as President Biden did in his Monday speech, that they are cowards who aren’t willing to fight—even after they’ve been doing the bulk of the fighting and dying for years.
As one Afghan negotiator put it, “The slogan now of every single terrorist group with the jihadist mind is ‘now that we have defeated the United States and its 42 allies in Afghanistan, we can go after them anywhere.’”
No jihadist success story can compare with the triumph of the Taliban, which faced the full might of the U.S. military only to have us slink away ignominiously. Remember that the Taliban now control more of Afghanistan than they did on September 10, 2001. How many fanatics worldwide will be inspired by this proof of the success of their cause?
Moreover, the repercussions of our abandonment of Afghanistan will be felt far beyond the Middle East. Already, Chinese propagandists are crowing that they expect an equally swift victory, with an equally ineffectual American response, when they invade Taiwan. Notice that they say “when,” not “if.” And what must the Russians be thinking right now about NATO security guarantees for the Baltic states?
This is an emboldening of our adversaries on a scale we haven’t seen since the 1970s. It is comparable to the period from 1975 to 1980—from the fall of Saigon through the Iran Hostage Crisis. It is a period of weakness that is provocative to all of our enemies. [“Real Afghanistan Withdrawal Has Never Been Tried,“August 18, 2021.]
Read the entire essay at The Bulwark.