The Long Goodbye

We started this site in May 2002, in the shadow of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The war against Islamic terrorism was one of our key themes, and has remained so for nearly 18 years. But over that time, Islamic terrorism has declined. Other issues have come to the fore. We and many others have largely moved on.

Still, it seems rather stunning that we have not yet commented on President Trump’s announcement of a “peace” deal with the Taliban. The agreement is intended to pave the way for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, after almost 18 years, which makes it America’s longest war. The Taliban no doubt will violate the deal. The question is whether the U.S. will nevertheless be able to prevent Afghanistan from being a launching pad for terrorist attacks as it was before 9/11, when it housed al Qaeda. Much has changed since 2001, and I am pretty optimistic that we will be able to do so.

The fundamental problem with Afghanistan is that the country is hopeless. It was not always so: you probably have seen photos of a modernizing Kabul in the 1960s, for example. But Islamic fundamentalism drove Afghanistan into a dark age. Some years ago my wife and I had dinner with a former Congressman and a high-ranking military officer who had recently returned from a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan. A few days earlier, he and a similarly high-ranking military colleague had reported to President George W. Bush via a secure video link from Kabul. As they were waiting for the connection to be made, the other officer turned to the man with whom we had dinner and said, “Are we going to tell him the truth?” The truth being that Afghanistan was unsalvageable.

If you want to know about the war in Afghanistan, the best thing you can do is read The Outpost by Jake Tapper. If you think you know Jake from his work on Democratic Party news sites, you are only partly right. The Outpost is a deeply researched and supremely patriotic labor of love by a man who took the trouble to get to know the survivors of the battle that his book documents. I give it the highest recommendation.

Way back in 2011, I wrote on this site that it was time to get out of Afghanistan. Enough was enough, I thought, because the Afghans showed little sign of progress. We took a poll of our readers, and a remarkable 74% thought it was time to exit that benighted country. That was nine years ago.

The case for getting out of Afghanistan is easy, and maybe it is right. I hesitate, mostly because of the only man I know who is still fighting there. My wife and I taught him in Sunday School when he was a boy. He always wanted to be a soldier. He hunted and knew firearms; he was a downhill ski racer, a skill that came in handy in the Afghan mountains. He served numerous deployments in Afghanistan with various special forces units. Around two years ago, he led a group of Afghan soldiers in clearing a house where Taliban terrorists were believed to be present.

Something went wrong. He never knew whether it was an incompetent Afghan soldier or a turncoat who was responsible, but an IED suddenly appeared and detonated. My friend had just enough time to turn his back. Several others were killed. His body–fortunately the back, not the front–was laced with hundreds of pieces of shrapnel. He lived, but a piece of metal pierced his heart. He was transported to the U.S. base in Germany for surgery, which was followed by a long period of rehabilitation. Somewhat amazingly, he recovered full physical capacity and has returned to Afghanistan as part of a Delta Force team. He was relieved because, with a team of Americans, he didn’t have to worry about the treachery or incompetence that got him wounded.

Our friend believes in the Afghan war. He thinks there are dangerous terrorists there, and we need to kill them and keep them under some kind of control. As you can imagine, I take this input seriously. My every instinct is to support the astonishingly brave young men and women who keep us safe around the world. But after 18 years, I think the time has come to bring my friend and his colleagues home.

Let’s be clear: they didn’t fail, they succeeded. Their efforts undoubtedly have prevented more than one repetition of the September 11 attacks, or something similar. But time marches on. I think there is evidence that the world’s Islamic leaders have acted to rein in the extremists. Be that as it may, it is time for America’s longest war to wind down. President Trump pledged to end our country’s “endless wars,” which I was not on board with at the time. But, as we move through 2020, the time has finally come. It is time to say goodbye–a very long goodbye, after 18 years–to Afghanistan.