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After Afghanistan

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Two paratroopers assigned to First Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, conduct security while a C-130 Hercules takes off during a non-combatant evacuation operation in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 25, 2021. (Department of Defense Courtesy Photo) We may be doomed to repeat history, but we can still learn from it.

As the sad American surrender of Afghanistan lurches to a conclusion, consensus is growing that the country will revert to its previous status as a loosely connected series of tribal fiefdoms, nominally under the control of the radical Islamist Taliban in Kabul. Essentially, Afghanistan will become the same lawless no-man’s-land it was in the 1990s and provide an attractive target for a wide range of jihadist organizations that may or may not be colluding among themselves but that are all united in a stark and savage hatred of the United States.

As the bombing of the Hamid Karzai International Airport last Thursday so harshly demonstrated, America remains target No. 1 for the terrorists, and they will attack us in Afghanistan while we are there. It would logically follow that they will try to pursue us beyond what pass for borders in that part of the world after we retreat. America’s departure from Afghanistan is thus not likely to have the intended effect of ending the so-called “endless war” but may rather drag the Biden administration or its successors back into combat operations to prevent or avenge an attack. But even if we are doomed to repeat history in Afghanistan, we can still learn from it so we don’t come to this same sorry impasse again.

First and foremost: No more nation-building. The rapid military success of 2001 gave way to a two-decades-long American effort to build civil-society institutions, encourage democracy, and build a sustainable economy in Afghanistan that obscured the very real counterterrorism mission that remained. All these efforts were noble and in the abstract desirable, but we have to acknowledge that this massive investment of American aid has abysmally failed, and we have to stop. The perennial arguments that we have a responsibility to assist disadvantaged

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