Was Afghanistan Worth It?
My latest for The National Interest, “Was Afghanistan Worth It?” takes issue with the Marine commandant’s assessment of that question.
As his Marines prepare to leave Helmand Province, General James Amos, the commandant, says the mission has “paid off.” He cites several metrics:
“The number of violent events, from gunshots to roadside bombs, has dropped in almost every district since 2010.”
“Roads have been paved and markets secured, allowing commerce to grow in places like Marja, Nad Ali and Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital.”
“Civilian casualties are down by 20 percent.”
Was it worth the 360 dead and 4700 wounded Marines it cost to get to that point? That’s a metaphysical question, not one of public policy. Certainly, though the answer will be a resounding no if the gains “turn overnight” once NATO forces leave the country, as Amos acknowledges is possible.
More importantly, though, it makes little sense to measure success based on the situation on the ground in 2010. The war started, after all, in October 2001 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks, and success should be measured against the objectives set forth at the outset.
Indeed, all the metrics cited by Amos are much worse now than they were when the war began. The U.S. invasion set off the gunshots, roadside bombs, and civilian casualties. Eleven years ago, few Americans much cared about the conditions of the roads or the state of commerce in Marja and Lashkar Gah, places they never knew existed. And the expansion of an army that Afghanistan can’t independently afford would be universally hailed as a setback absent a continuing insurgent threat.
More at the link, where I look at the war aims outlined by President Bush way back in October 2001.