“The next time you watch a former U.S. commander or senior defense official on television wax about some magic solution to Afghanistan’s problems, save yourself the trouble and change the channel. The sustainable stalemate is a myth, nothing more and nothing less.” Daniel R. DePetris at Newsweek
Four months after President Joe Biden decided to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a narrative continues to proliferate in the ether that the White House could have simply carried on with the status-quo ante: retaining several thousand U.S. troops and helping the Afghan government maintain control with a combination of air power, training and advisory support. The horrendous ISIS attack near a main gate at Kabul airport on Aug. 26 that resulted in multiple casualties, including U.S. troops, is only amplifying the speculative analysis.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Aug. 20, Retired Gen. David Petraeus (a former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan) said this type of U.S. commitment on behalf of Kabul would have been “sustainable.” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested something similar. “After 20 years, the U.S. had reached a level of limited involvement commensurate with the stakes,” Haass wrote in an Aug. 16 op-ed for the Los Angeles Times.
Yet when it comes down to it, the Biden administration only had two choices as it debated what to do about Afghanistan: withdraw from a failed 20-year state building exercise or escalate in the hope the situation on the ground would eventually stabilize. The notion there was a Goldilocks option in Afghanistan between these two poles is unsupported at best and fanciful at worst.