U.S.-Afghan relations initially bring to mind the longest standing war the United States has ever been involved in. Since 2003 American efforts to counter the terrorist insurgency in Afghanistan have proved controversial, costing the American military lives, resources, and willpower. Meanwhile, new extremist groups continue to arise in the constant battle to destroy terrorist sanctuaries there. Discussing how U.S. foreign policy should develop over the next few years, Brookings Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon moderated a panel on October 3 comprised of U.S. officials who have been highly involved with Afghanistan over the last decade. They argued that the United States has the capability to steer Afghanistan towards a more stable direction, and their consensus now suggests how vital it is for America to forge a long-lasting commitment to do so.
Panelists included General David Petraeus, appointed by President Bush to lead the American military “surge” efforts in Iraq in 2007 and later appointed by President Obama to be Director of the CIA, Ambassador James Dobbins, and Ambassador Ronald Neumann. All agreed that a policy commitment to Afghanistan ought to include substantial funds and military aid that provide for not only counterterrorist operations but also a more comprehensive approach to fight extremist groups infecting the region. Previously, the U.S. focused primarily on counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, but those efforts proved subpar because they failed to successfully thwart terrorist actors there. Their proposed “enduring” U.S. policy conglomeration would keep us in the region then well into the 2020s.
Though they did not give many specific policy details for a comprehensive and long-lasting approach, these advisors did suggest the next president keep 8,400 American troops in Afghanistan, a decision President Obama made in July. Additionally, the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund will continue to assist U.S. military efforts there. OCO funds are used for wartime operations, separate from the regular budget that funds the military at large. Operations in Afghanistan and the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces are projected to receive the largest portion of OCO funds, at $49.2 billion, in 2017.
Constant policy review from the U.S. government will not aid Afghanistan in any way, Ambassador Neumann persistently argued. The negative effects, in retrospect, of constant U.S.-Afghan policy review injected insecurity in the country. Changing course regularly potentially sends the message that the U.S. is unwilling to help Afghanistan find security or stability. Ambassador Dobbins said the Afghan people are hungry for democracy, with entire families participating in droves in elections. It is vital, then, the U.S. participates in Afghanistan’s progression towards democracy, because we have the ability to influence the nation.
Critics can fairly quip that this kind of commitment is akin to steering a sinking ship. Consider Afghanistan’s previous democratic strives, subsequent setbacks, and the damage its military forces have endured while warring terrorist groups. However, the interests of the U.S. and Afghanistan alike would be best served by our presence there. Despite causes of concern, continued U.S. influence in the region is advantageous for both parties. This is the case since the war we wage is against an enemy not confined to state lines. It is one motivated by an enduring, transnational ideology. Because winning this war is in America’s interests, helping the Afghan people and its military forces to fight the enemy undoubtedly benefits both nations.
The United States is a nation founded on principles that ensure freedom, and our role as a global leader involves extending that possibility to others insofar as we can serve our interests as well. On September 27, Providence unveiled “A Christian Declaration on American Foreign Policy”. The document argues that the United States should maintain leadership in a liberal world order since this kind of order among countries provides stability and justice. U.S. leadership in the global arena entails using our power and force, when necessary, since this type of engagement is for the sake of curtailing the rise of disastrous actors.
By committing to protect the Afghan people, continue to train the Afghan military forces, and reasonably pressure the state more robustly towards democracy, the U.S. utilizes its power to lead, root out bad actors, and destroy our enemy in war. The next commander-in-chief shouldn’t hesitate to secure policy with intent to accomplish these ends, and Christians needn’t negate to support either.
Jessica Meyers is an intern for Providence. She studied at Westmont College, with a focus on Political Science and English.
Photo credit: U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, Commander, ISAF Joint Command and Royal Army Maj. Gen. Richard Nugee, ISAF Chief of Staff, lower the ISAF Joint Command colors during the ISAF Joint Command (IJC) and XVIII Airborne Corps colors lowering and casing ceremony, Dec 8, 2014 at North Kabul Afghanistan International Airport, Afghanistan. By Staff Sgt. Perry Aston via U.S. Air Force.