But, trust me, the reasons we went in — after the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan, gave shelter to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda as it carried out the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC — have not been fully addressed in the last two decades. Moreover, even a planned, or staged withdrawal as the administration has promised, will hardly eliminate that original threat of terrorism — or the many other, often deadly, challenges that have emerged since America’s arrival.
Without question, between now and September, Biden and his top diplomats will be making their most valiant efforts to ensure a peace that can last beyond America’s departure. Indeed, there may even be some Taliban elements who will do their best to negotiate a deal that can be sold to the American people as a face-saving victory and still pave the way for a rapid withdrawal of US forces.
And what clearer focus for their venom than the “Great Satan,” the United States, which espouses religious freedom, gender equality and all forms of creative expression? It was that shared animosity that led the Taliban to give aid and comfort to the terrorist group al Qaeda, as it plotted to attack the United States two decades ago. And it was al Qaeda’s attack, more than any one element of the Taliban’s extremist and repressive rule, that finally propelled the United States to intervene.
But is the Taliban’s vision of future rule a real and proximate interest to Americans in the second decade of the 21st century? Unlike communism, it should be. The Taliban have little incentive not to seek out their enemies wherever they might be found and use whatever means — or allies — to do so. As such, America needs to maintain some presence in this desperately unsettled nation for a long time to come — as much as politicians on both sides of the aisle may not want to.
The report also went on to warn that without a viable peace agreement, coupled with a sustainable cease-fire, there will be little incentive to curb the operations of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan going forward. “These issues,” it cautions, “could become even more pronounced if US forces are no longer in country.”
The administration’s briefing officer on Tuesday responded that the United States can “deal with” al Qaeda, should it emerge in the future, “both directly and by holding the Taliban accountable through all the tools at our disposal.” These tools, it would seem, are likely to be precious few once the troops are gone. Yet such a scenario of resurgent terrorist networks supported by a hostile, Taliban-controlled government remains a distinct possibility should the US forge ahead with its planned September withdrawal this year.