“I’m sad…and it breaks my heart.” This is how former US President George W. Bush commented, teary-eyed, on the US administration’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and the devastating effects of this decision on the Afghan society, especially the women and girls who will live once again under the brutal Taliban regime.
The former US President’s sadness is justified, and although he is only remembered by his critics for invading Iraq, there is no denying that the defeat of al-Qaeda and Taliban was not only a historic achievement for the Afghan people who suffered from the barbarity of Taliban and ruthless armed groups, but it also weakened terrorist organizations and their rhetoric around the world.
Defeating Taliban and al-Qaeda, pursuing their members, and killing their leaders undoubtedly helped protect countries from inevitable terrorist attacks and contributed to the survival of thousands of innocent people from murder or persecution. It is an invaluable humanitarian and moral achievement, when one sees these bloodthirsty groups torn apart and prosecuted, while thousands of women and men go about their lives without being subjected to horrific violations for listening to music or shaving their beards.
If President Bush had not taken that major step, we would now be living in a completely different world, where terrorist leaders would not be buried, nor lying in the deep ocean, nor on the run.
However, we are now embarking on a new journey as not only US troops, but everyone else as well, including NATO forces, withdraw from Afghanistan. In fact, the Biden administration is not the only one to have called for the withdrawal. The difference is that, this time, the circumstances were in its favor. President Obama had insisted on withdrawing and clashed with the military leaders that opposed this decision. More than once, he sent his vice president, Biden, to oversee the move. Throughout his term, President Trump also reiterated his promise to bring soldiers home alive, and indeed, he pulled out troops from the country at the end of his term.
The reasons for this withdrawal after 20 years are many, including the cost of war. However, the main motive is domestic: fulfilling the electoral promises made to people fed up with wars. For politicians who come under considerable political and popular pressure, the focus is to win the next elections, even if the state’s higher national interests are compromised. It is easy to promote the idea of bringing soldiers home to the angry masses, but it is hard to do the opposite, even if it is for noble goals. Who, in Washington, would ultimately care about the slaughter of a girl in Mazar-i-Sharif because she wore a colorful costume?
Some commentators believe Taliban today is not the same group it was two decades ago, but that does not seem accurate at all. The extremist group has not made any intellectual reviews of its ideological discourse, not to mention its recent atrocities, such as beheading an interpreter and throwing him on the side of the road, or arresting the Afghan comedian Nizar Mohammed and filming him getting beaten and humiliated before being killed.
President Bush’s tears are justified.
This article was originally published and translated from pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.