“The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.”
— Friedrich Hegel
President Joe Biden’s decision to remove the remaining American forces from Afghanistan is not about our past. It’s about our future. And it is the right decision.
We have other problems, other threats, both domestically and across the world. Terrorists operate in many places, in Africa and Asia, in Europe and — as was demonstrated on Jan. 6 — in our own cities and towns. Russia and China pose many obstacles to peace and freedom. And keeping one foot mired in the Graveyard of Empires is not helping us face them.
One lesson of 9/11 that we must remember is how easy it is for a small and, we might have thought, technologically limited enemy to turn the forces of our modern world against us. Then, it was jet airliners. Next, it could well be biological weapons or a cyber attack that could crash the internet and bring down our highly vulnerable power grid.
It may seem strange that two of Biden’s more persistent partisan critics — Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Chris Stewart — actually back the president’s decision, while Utah’s other senator, the more independent-minded Mitt Romney, opposes it.
Stewart had an annoying habit of backing whatever decision Donald Trump made on the issue, supporting a continued presence in Afghanistan when Trump did, backing a quicker exit when that was the Trump policy. But the argument for the withdrawal now is actually strengthened by the fact that Lee and Stewart are willing to pass up a chance to differ with Biden in order to support the move.
It has been almost 20 years since the United States led NATO forces and other allies in an invasion of the Afghanistan in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The mission was not only to hunt down the authors of that atrocity but also to evict the Taliban rulers of that country so that it would no longer serve as a base for Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.
The al-Qaida threat has long been eliminated. And when we found and killed bin Laden he wasn’t even in Afghanistan. He was holed up in nearby Pakistan, and had been for quite some time.
The effort was also bathed in the hope that we could change Afghanistan, make it into a modern, safe nation that abandoned its medieval attitudes towards religion and the rights of women. In all these years, movement toward those goals has been minuscule and without any hope that it might get appreciably better.
The United States does owe those among the Afghan people who have fought with us or otherwise aided our cause our protection, including priority consideration for immigration to our shores.
Since President Biden was Vice President Biden, he has been an often lonely voice in opposition to doubling down on military force in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Each of Biden’s two immediate predecessors had launched their campaigns and their administrations with statements about wanting to end the Forever War, only to be pushed by the Pentagon and others toward one more year, one more surge, one more billion dollars, if only to avoid being blamed for losing a war, or to justify all the blood and treasure that had already been squandered.
Biden is having none of it. He is ready to go, and he rightly sees this September, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, as the appropriate turning point.
This is not to argue that there are no threats out there. The 9/11, the Pearl Harbor, of the 21st century is less likely to be a full-on military confrontation than what the wonks have long called asymmetrical warfare. That’s a much weaker foe, or a more clever one, using cyber attacks on our infrastructure. Or spreading misinformation via social media and right-wing broadcasting to radicalize Americans to any of a number of causes, whether Islamic terror or white supremacy.
Utah’s elected officials, Republicans and Democrats, those who favor leaving Afghanistan and those who oppose it, must now turn their attention to more pressing matters. That includes the growing threat that comes from other Americans, steeped in gun culture, fearful of being “replaced” by immigrants or people of color.
Our federal law enforcement and intelligence apparatus warn us of those growing threats, while our elected officials seem powerless, if not totally disinterested.
The argument used to be that it was better to fight the terrorists there than to fight them here. The images of Jan. 6, the violence in our streets, should prove to us that the fight is here. And we must face it.