A destroyed Soviet-made armored military personnel carrier vehicle is seen in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Feb.15, 2012, the 23rd anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
"Don't Prolong the Inevitable"
Room for Debate Blog
Op-Ed, The New York Times
April 3, 2012
Author: Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Affairs; Faculty Chair, International Security Program
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
This commentary appeared as part of the online debate: "Should the U.S. Leave Afghanistan Now?"
Will fighting on in Afghanistan lead to a meaningful victory? No. Does it matter? Also no. Nearly 70 percent of Americans now think the war is a mistake. They are right.
The United States has been in Afghanistan for 11 years. Nearly 2,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed and 15,000 wounded trying to create a workable Afghan state, at a cost exceeding a half trillion dollars. Yet the U.S. has neither broken the back of the Taliban nor created effective Afghan institutions. The Karzai regime is still corrupt and incompetent and its security forces remain unreliable and infiltrated by insurgents.
Staying longer will not lead to victory, because the Taliban have sanctuaries and allies in Pakistan and will simply wait us out. Their ideology may be deeply objectionable, but they are an integral part of Afghan society while we are intruders from afar. It would be nice if we could protect Afghan civilians from further strife or future repression, but trying to do so will cost additional hundreds of billions of dollars, take a decade or more, and could still fail. The sad truth is: we do not know how to create stable governance in that unhappy country. Building an effective Afghan state is ultimately up to the Afghanis, not us.
Fortunately, Afghanistan is not a vital United States interest. President Obama had said that we must prevent Al Qaeda from establishing safe havens there, but Osama bin Laden is dead and Al Qaeda already has better safe havens elsewhere. Victory in Afghanistan will not eliminate Al Qaeda, and leaving won't make it more dangerous. If it makes no difference whether we win or lose, why fight on?
The United States should send soldiers in harm's way only when vital interests are at stake. The outcome in Afghanistan will have little impact on United States security and it makes no sense to squander more blood and treasure there. Our NATO allies have figured this out and are heading for the exits. We should join them.
For more information about this publication please contact the Belfer Center Communications Office at 617-495-9858.
Full text of this publication is available at:
For Academic Citation: