Compared to the Iraq war, a conflict predicated on a false premise, Afghanistan has met the criteria for a just war. The Taliban were al-Qaida's life-support system, providing a more-than-justifiable cause for U.S. intervention in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The principle of proportionality was also preserved, as Special Forces rapidly upended the Taliban. The victory, and the attendant sense of relief around the world and among the Afghan people, seemed almost too good to be true.
Then came a colossal distraction.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq quickly shifted the focus of the American military, just as it diverted resources for building a civil society. The Taliban, hunkered down with our purported ally, Pakistan, began to regroup and once again insert itself militarily. President Obama's troop surge was an effective, short-term balm. The overarching goal of establishing a democratic, Taliban-free government, however, fell away. (And more than 2,000 American servicemen and women have been killed.)
History buffs underscore the irony, that the former Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan from 1979 until 1989, just a couple years short of America's record (2001 until the final, scheduled withdrawal in 2014.) It's the fallacy of moral equivalence, however, to say that a Soviet war of aggression mirrored the just cause that propelled American forces in 2001. The United States had the right to go to war and began it the right way. Now, we need to ensure that it ends the right way as well.
In Snohomish and Island counties, home to a sizeable military community, the future of this war not only resonates, it burns. Are additional American lives worth the price? For lawmakers and candidates running for federal office, the impulse is to echo the late U.S. Sen. George Aiken. "Declare victory and get out," Aiken said regarding Vietnam. If only it were that easy.
Members of Washington's Congressional delegation have let constituents know that they want this long war to end. They might also answer the question of "Jus post bellum," or justice after the war. The fair transfer of power must be done in a manner that doesn't presuppose history ends the moment the United States leaves. (This was the same consequences-be-damned thinking that led the United States to arm the Mujahedeen in the 1980s, repelling the Soviets but planting the Taliban seed.)
The United States owes future generations an exit strategy that is farsighted and permanent, mindful of the lessons of history.
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