It was ‘mission accomplished’ by 2002, but then the U.S. embarked on a much bigger, and impossible, mission.
The 20-year American-led experiment to turn a rogue state into a Western-style democracy has come crashing to the ground. There will be plenty of recriminations, and likely plenty of blood and sorrow to follow. Many will be pointing fingers as they ask, “Who lost Afghanistan?” But the more important question is, why was there an Afghanistan for us to “own” and lose in the first place?
Those of us who want to learn from this experience should focus on the basic question of whether it is right to impose a new form of government on a foreign nation, and if so, under what circumstances? The U.S. was right to topple the Taliban in 2001. Was it right to try to build something else in Afghanistan in its place?
In the wake of the al-Qaida-orchestrated attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the righteous fury of the U.S. was rightly turned on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which had provided a safe haven and material support for the terrorist organization. The partnership must have felt relatively secure in the mountain fastness of its remote redoubt—“relatively” because al-Qaida took care to assassinate Ahmad Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance and the only effective resistance to Taliban rule inside the country, in the days before the 9/11 attacks.