Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden have promised to end the war and bring American soldiers home - the first three have failed.
What more is there to be said of the War in Afghanistan?
Rhetorically, the present phase of this conflict is all about how to leave as quickly as possible. This task has proved to be a rather tricky endeavour for the four US Presidents who have taken the reins of the world’s most powerful state. Bush, Obama, Trump and now Biden have promised to end the war and bring American soldiers home - the first three have failed.
In the intervening years, the American political empire has edged ever closer to its demise. The American Moment has ended, and a new world, with different and revived superpowers, has emerged. While none, thus far, can truly rival America at present, the time in which they arguably can is fast approaching.
Afghanistan is a window into the failing of the American movement, and the Empire that was created with it. So, the question is this: Can Biden actually withdraw troops, end the war and leave behind a peaceful Afghanistan?
Biden’s words of continuing support for Afghanistan, whilst handing over the military affairs to the Afghan government, reminds me of Nixon’s Vietnamisation. In this policy the South Vietnamese army was given a much more active combat role, while US troops were withdrawn. While this policy was executed successfully, it failed to stop the North Vietnamese invasion of the South and the fall of Saigon.
an actual, concrete symbol of unity in Afghanistan, a country where travel to and from the major cities is so lacking, lies unfinished and deteriorating - is there a better metaphor for American involvement in Afghanistan?
In Afghanistan, the situation is different - in theory, this is the prime time to leave. The Biden administration is keen to pursue further peace talks between itself, the Afghan government and the Taliban, including the setting up of a transitional government comprised of both the parties in this conflict. The Afghan National Army have been trained by NATO for years, and while not perfect, they are now, at the very least, a feasible fighting force.
However, the process will be a tricky one in practice. The US accuses the Taliban of not committing to the reduction in fighting at the same as they invite further peace talks. Adding to this, most Afghans (and their government) simply do not trust the Taliban, as there is nothing stopping them from simply waiting until the US leave and then launching a new offensive, after all. Crucially, the ANA is a feasible force in theory, but still requires assistance from NATO forces for everything from supply lines, to paying their troops.
Furthermore, in my opinion, all of these efforts at passing the torch to Afghanistan fail to consider one of the main issues - keeping Afghanistan united. This isn’t a war where the enemy can be pushed out of the country; this is a civil war, where potential combatants for both sides could be living next door to each other. Much is being done to give Afghanistan the military tools to keep the country together, but what about ideological tools?
One seemingly small example from the Trump era brilliantly highlights what I am talking about. You may recall that, early in his administration, Trump stated that, “We are not nation-building again. We are killing terrorists.” As such, projects like the Afghan Ring Road were halted. The Ring Road was supposed to connect major cities in Afghanistan, with the most important section arguably being the road from the capital, Kabul, to the city of Kandahar, in the south. Yet, through negligence and this “terrorist-killing”, ultra-patriotic policy, the Ring Road is in ruins. What could have been an actual, concrete symbol of unity in Afghanistan, a country where travel to and from the major cities is so lacking, lies unfinished and deteriorating - is there a better metaphor for American involvement in Afghanistan?
Since 9/11, the US has been involved in the most important wars of its modern history, in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both cases, it seems, actual peace efforts based on nation-building and unity, have taken a backseat to the most ‘patriotic’ act of all - killing terrorists. This clearly failed in Iraq, where the so-called Islamic State took over Northern Iraq less than a year after US withdrawal.
I originally intended to write about how Biden’s foreign policy has, thus far, proved disappointing. Yet as I wrote this, and as I hope I have gotten across in this article; it is clear that any actions the Biden administration may want to take are constrained by the conduct of all three of his predecessors. Wars cannot be ended by fighting alone - peace-making, nation-building and cooperation are the only guarantors of peace.
Afghanistan is simply one edifice of this decline through restraint. Across the world, the American moment is ending, and what this will lead to, is anyone’s guess.
Alex is a Masters student from Portsmouth, finishing an MRes in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Glasgow. His main areas of interest are the Former Soviet Union, the politics behind COVID-19 Restrictions, and Authoritarianism, among other things. He has also previously worked with the HET.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.