Afghanistan Opinion: Better Late Than Never

Artwork by Conor Burns ’22

By Dimitrios Donas ‘23

On January 17, 1961, departing President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued his farewell address to the United States of America. In this address, Eisenhower became the first president to warn the nation of what he called the “military-industrial complex,” a union between the defense industry and the national government in which both parties have a vested interest in waging wars. This relationship has potential to undermine American democracy, as a government in this relationship may act to the benefit of special interest groups rather than the people. 

Eisenhower saw the potential for massive and unnecessary prolonged conflicts in the highly-militarized post-WWII world and, in his speech, he warned, “We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” 

No event embodies Eisenhower’s warning of “misplaced power” better than America’s presence in Afghanistan over the past twenty years.

Following the September, 2001 attacks by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, America’s focus turned to the Middle East to quell any threat of future terrorism. A number of Al-Qaeda’s leaders were thought to be located in Afghanistan, which was at the time under the control of the Taliban, another group of Islamic extremists. 

In late 2001, after President George W. Bush’s request for the Taliban to stop sheltering Al-Qaeda was denied, the U.S. swiftly invaded the country and toppled the Taliban government in an effort to dismantle Al-Qaeda. Upon the American military’s arrival, those being sheltered by the Taliban fled the country, but the U.S. decided to stay in Afghanistan and attempted to set up a democratic government. 

This military operation has lasted over twenty years and cost over $1 trillion have been allocated to the enterprise in Afghanistan. Though the democratic government had created better conditions for many Afghans, the military’s presence in the country had become a lost cause long before troops were pulled out. 

After twenty years and the deaths of over 2,000 U.S. soldiers and over 40,0000 Afghan civilians, little progress had been made in installing a self-sufficient democratic government strong enough to unify the country. A nationwide democracy requires national unity, but this was lacking, as evidenced by how quickly government forces surrendered to the Taliban when the country collapsed this past August. 

Despite the lack of progress, America maintained a military presence in the country. The military-industrial complex is at fault for this unnecessary endangering of American soldiers.

Recently, a major talking point has been the United States’ perceived mishandling of its withdrawal from Afghanistan. Despite the clear struggles in exiting the nation, it was the only option President Joseph Biden and his administration had. Former president Donald Trump had previously agreed to leave Afghanistan and end the twenty year crisis, although many conditions agreed to have not yet been met. It would be unwise to go back on this deal and continue with the conflict in Afghanistan. 

Some argue that the Taliban’s quick conquest of Afghanistan proves that America should have stayed put. This could not be further from the truth. The Taliban’s conquest proves that America’s efforts to install a self-sufficient democracy in the nation were futile, costing taxpayers’ dollars and thousands of lives. 

The Biden administration’s biggest mistake in the withdrawal of Afghanistan was overestimating the will of the Afghan people to self-govern, as the Taliban took over the country without any resistance—proving our efforts in the nation were fruitless.