Our Opinion: Fallout of Sept. 11 is still much with us
The war in Afghanistan began Oct. 7, 2001, less than one month after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on New York City and elsewhere in the United States, the anniversary of which we marked yesterday.
America's longest war is still claiming casualties. Last Thursday, a Taliban bomb killed an American soldier and 11 others in Kabul. On Tuesday, the war claimed National Security Adviser John Bolton, who was fired by President Donald Trump in the wake of the president's aborted plans to invite the Taliban to peace talks at Camp David. Those talks were canceled Monday because of the death of the soldier.
The president and Mr. Bolton are arguing over whether the adviser was fired or resigned, but it is a distinction without a difference. Mr. Bolton is an unreconstructed cold warrior, and the president, although he has contradicted himself a few times since, ran for office as an opponent of the foreign misadventures favored by his Republican predecessors. Mr. Bolton was inevitably going to oppose the Taliban peace talks but that plan was typically off the cuff and not likely to succeed.
Everything that happens involving Afghanistan today must be seen in the context of its 18-year history. It began as a "good" war, designed to bring those who brought down the World Trade Center in New York City — al-Qaida and its leader, Osama bin Laden — to justice. However, the war was only a few months old when the administration of George W. Bush cynically pivoted to Iraq, falsely asserting that Saddam Hussein had some connection to 9/11 and was hoarding weapons of mass destruction, all in a bid to take over Iraq and its oil fields and somehow introduce democracy to the Middle East. Toppling and eradicating Saddam was easy enough, but the country predictably defied nation-building and devolved into chaos, at a great cost in American blood and treasure.
It was mission accomplished in Afghanistan when bin Laden was assassinated and al-Qaida largely scattered to Yemen, but the U.S. and its Western allies remained to engage in more attempts at nation-building in a feudal land that had defied centuries of such efforts, including from the Soviet Union, which abandoned Afghanistan in frustration not long before the U.S. moved in. President Barack Obama failed to wrap up the war in his eight years in office and now the problem belongs to President Trump.
It can argued that the U.S. cannot abandon that nation, particularly its women and girls, to the mercy of the murderous religious fanatics that run roughshod there. This argument, if extended, would require the U.S. to dislodge misogynistic cutthroats in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan, and the nation cannot afford that extended battle in terms of money and personnel.
If Camp David peace talks with the Taliban are to take place, they will have to include the legitimate, internationally recognized government of Afghanistan. The Taliban refused to meet with that government and Mr. Trump inexcusably agreed to that condition. The Taliban will have to agree to a total cease-fire so there will be no American soldiers killed or collateral damage caused during the course of the talks. If they won't agree to those conditions, and it is unlikely they will, the unsatisfactory status quo will continue.
It is easy, for good or ill, to start wars. Ending them in any kind of satisfactory way is infuriatingly difficult.
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