This week, Senators Rand Paul and Tom Udall introduced a joint resolution to end the war in Afghanistan. This legislation gives the Department of Defense 45 days to formulate a plan for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops within one year. This new plan would accelerate the Trump administration’s current timetable to withdraw after 5 years. President Trump campaigned on leaving Afghanistan and has reiterated this interest since taking office. This bill will give him the opportunity to make good on his campaign promise during his first term.
My colleague Christopher Preble argues in The National Interest:
The case for this resolution is simple and straightforward. The U.S. military has achieved its core objectives spelled out after 9/11. Bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda is crippled. The Department of Defense reported last June: “The Al Qaeda threat to the United States and its allies and partners has decreased and the few remaining al Qaeda core members are focused on their own survival.”
…The Paul-Udall resolution is consistent with the wishes of the American people, 61 percent of whom support withdrawal, whereas advocates for war-without-end openly defy public sentiment. The latter should explain why the American people’s views are irrelevant.
Many in Washington don’t want to leave until America “wins” the war, though it’s not clear at this point what victory would look like. They fear a complete U.S. withdrawal and a return to Taliban rule will make Afghanistan a sanctuary for terrorists to launch transnational attacks against America and its allies. But as I argue in the New York Daily News, the fear of a safe haven is misplaced:
Al-Qaeda’s presence Afghanistan in the lead up to 9/11 did not have real operational utility in perpetrating the attacks on New York and Washington. The attacks were also planned from Germany and Malaysia, and even the United States itself. In an age of instant global communications, a territorial haven in remote, land-locked Afghanistan isn’t much help to terrorist groups plotting to attack the west.
In any case, terrorism is not some kind of existential peril warranting perpetual war. It is a relatively minor and manageable threat. One estimate, employing standard risk analysis, found that in order to even begin to justify the $75 billion in annual anti-terrorism homeland security expenditures, there would have to have been about three 9/11 attacks every four years.
Afghanistan has cost about $2 trillion on top of that. Most people who attempt to commit terrorist attacks here in the United States are home-grown and there is no evidence – none – that battling insurgents there has deterred terrorist attacks here. Clearly, the resources we spend on the war exceed any plausible benefit to national security.
In any case, in negotiations with Zalmay Khalilzad, Trump’s special envoy to Afghanistan, the Taliban have agreed in principle to deny al Qaeda a presence in the country going forward. We should take that as a fair compromise and begin the business of getting out.
Critics are right to warn that things may get nasty following U.S. withdrawal, but, as with Iraq, that will be true no matter when we decide to leave. Another five years won’t erase that problem.
As I conclude in my op-ed: “Watching democracy roll back in Afghanistan will be difficult, but it should serve as a reminder that the nation-building mission we elected to adopt after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 was a lost bet from the beginning…Policymakers must learn the limits of U.S. power and refrain from adopting ambitious missions for peripheral interests. Refusing to fight unwinnable and unnecessary wars is the first step to not losing them.”
If adopted, this resolution could have implications beyond Afghanistan, as it calls for a repeal of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, which the executive branch continues to dubiously rely on as the legal permission to engage in hostilities in numerous countries around the world. As my other colleague Gene Healy and I argued in the New York Times last year, repealing (and not replacing) the AUMF is long overdue.