Anyone who closely followed the U.S. war in Afghanistan since Oct. 7, 2001, knew it would end badly. The news that the U.S. has reached an agreementwith the Taliban for a peace framework is indeed a positive development, but it masks the fact that the war has largely been futile and destructive—and that the Taliban is the likely victor.
Over the past 18 years, the U.S. went from considering the Taliban an inconsequential enemy that would be easily defeated to negotiating with the dictatorial regime to now seemingly capitulating to its demands. This disastrous trajectory of events is well worth examining as the history of the United States’ longest war is written.
In the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush flatly refused the Taliban’s offer to try Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Instead, he launched a war on what was one of the poorest nations in the world, already devastated by decades of violence by U.S.-backed and -armed fundamentalist groups. In what might be viewed as “famous last words,” the Bush White House warned the Taliban, “We will defeat you.” Bush’s stated objectives in Afghanistan (aside from buying time to build a case for the more desired war in Iraq) included “to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a terrorist base of operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime.” Bush flip-flopped on his pledge to never engage in “nation-building” and adopted the lofty goal of rebuilding Afghanistan’s government. Writing about it in his memoir, he said, “Afghanistan was the ultimate nation building mission. We had liberated the country from a primitive dictatorship, and we had a moral obligation to leave behind something better. We also had a strategic interest in helping the Afghan people build a free society,” because “a democratic Afghanistan would be a hopeful alternative to the vision of the extremists.”