If you are looking for an explanation for the debacle in Afghanistan, the failure of our leaders to heed this advice from Theodore Roosevelt is the best place to start. It clearly does not apply to any of the brave soldiers who served in Afghanistan, Iraq or anywhere else during the War on Terror. They followed TR by leaving the comforts of home to join the armed services and assume the personal risks necessary to achieve victory. However, our political leaders then betrayed this service by pursuing personal political advantage rather than a clear, defined victory.
It began with President George W Bush. Instead of calling the nation to a declaration of war and the domestic sacrifices necessary to achieve victory, he chose prosperity at any price, proclaiming that American people could best support the war effort by “going shopping”. He was more concerned about winning reelection then achieving a clear victory. He then expanded the mission of the war to encompass a goal he campaigned against – nation-building in a country that had defied domination by two previous empires.
President Barack Obama continued this theme when he failed to declare victory after the death of Osama bin Laden and then chose peace at any price by failing to punish Pakistan for its hiding of bin Laden within sight of their own military academy.
Donald Trump talked a good game about withdrawal but failed to implement it because of a fear of the political consequences of a failure. He chose safety first rather than duty. Finally, President Biden’s decision to withdraw, while initially courageous, was tainted by the artificial political goal of completing it by the anniversary of 9/11 instead of waiting until the end of the fighting season in winter. This would have at least slowed the Taliban’s takeover and created more time to identify and rescue the Afghans who helped us.
So how can America rededicate itself to Roosevelt’s brand of courage? First, the reports of Taliban oppression and the attack by ISIS-K that killed 13 marines show Afghanistan remains a threat to the United States and the world. The Taliban won the military battle, but they have yet to reckon with our economic power. We have over $2 billion in gold and other reserves held for Afghanistan, which should not be released until they allow all American citizens and applicants previously approved under the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) to leave. To prevent future terrorists from infiltrating the United States, travel to Afghanistan should be illegal and anyone with a passport containing proof of entry there should be thoroughly vetted before entering the United States. This includes any who might be classified as refugees unless they were previously granted entry under the SIV program. Trade by American companies should be banned as well and, if the Taliban continue to allow terrorist groups to operate in the country, foreign companies doing business there should be banned from American markets.
On Saturday, the names of those who died on 9/11 will be remembered in New York and Washington. We must resist the siren song of foreign and defense policy wonks in Washington who want us to forget those names and treat the Taliban like any other government. We must also remember to demand of ourselves and our political leaders that America follow the advice of Roosevelt instead of the path of political expediency when we face similar challenges in the future. Otherwise, we will choose the path to the destruction of our country.