The fall of Afghanistan is terrible to watch. That's no reason for the U.S. to stay.

·2 min read
Afghan troops.
Afghan troops. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock

Even if you believe America's exit from Afghanistan is necessary, it's difficult to have good feelings about the end of our longest war. Shame seems more appropriate.

U.S. troops completed their evacuation from Bagram Air Base this week — not with a formal change-of-command ceremony, but by slipping away under cover of night, and without bothering to tell the base's new Afghan commander. "We (heard) some rumor that the Americans had left Bagram," said Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani, "and finally by seven o'clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram." President Biden may be eager to reassert American leadership on the world stage, but it's difficult to think that either our allies or enemies will look at what happened at Bagram and be much impressed.

The situation is only going to get worse. The Taliban is racking up a series of battlefield victories, some Afghan troops are fleeing into neighboring Tajikistan, and the American-backed government seems certain to collapse without the protection of U.S. forces. Taliban rule will once again be a moral disaster for Afghanistan — particularly for the country's women and girls.

All of this might seem like an argument for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan. It is not. Instead — as many observers have pointed out — events are highlighting the long-evident futility of the American war: If we had built anything sustainable during the last 20 years, the Afghan government would probably be more ready to stand on its own two feet. Another 20 years would be unlikely to produce better results. So it is time to leave.

U.S. efforts — like those of the British Empire and Soviet Union before it — were probably always doomed. "The very presence of Americans in Afghanistan trod on a sense of Afghan identity that incorporated national pride, a long history of fighting outsiders and a religious commitment to defend the homeland," Carter Malkasian, a former civilian advisor in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote Tuesday in Politico. Understanding that won't make it easier to watch what happens next, and America won't be able to escape its moral culpability. Leaving Afghanistan is probably correct. But it is also terrible.

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