Outsiders will not fix Afghanistan

Outsiders will not fix Afghanistan
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President TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE is reportedly preparing to announce a withdrawal of 4,000 troops from Afghanistan. This comes as negotiations between the United States and the Taliban restarted before being suspended again as a result of the Taliban assault on Bagram Airfield. All this comes on the heels of a new World Bank report arguing that even with some sort of ceasefire, the Afghan government would still need significant foreign aid for many years to spur economic growth. Its public expenditures are 58 percent of gross domestic product right now, and grants from international donors make up 75 percent of those expenditures. But the ongoing problems in Afghanistan are beyond the ability of the international community to fix.

Any kind of reduction in American troops is a step in the right direction. As the Afghanistan Papers report in the Washington Post makes clear, this war will not be “won” in any sense of the term. But the talks are ultimately unnecessary and the Trump administration should take the extra mile of bringing everyone home. The United States does not need to work things out with the Taliban before keeping ourselves safe, and there is simply not much else the United States can accomplish in Afghanistan at this point.

The rationale for these negotiations with the Taliban is that the United States need them to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a launching point for terrorism. But terrorists do not even require launching points. Over the last two decades, terrorist groups have planned and carried out massive attacks in cities such as London and Paris. The 9/11 attacks were planned from multiple points across the world. The United States has the capability to monitor dangerous activity from afar anyway. Any potential plot can be disrupted using traditional tools of intelligence and police work. Even if that were to fail, we retain the option for a limited strike to neutralize imminent threats or high value targets, as vividly illustrated by the raids carried out against Osama Bin Laden and Abu Bakr Baghdadi.


On the subject of continued foreign aid, even if a political solution is reached between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and that is a big if, the problems of governance and slow economic growth will not be solved by sending foreign aid. The problems are structural. The Afghan government is one of the most corrupt on the planet, and the political system is marred by ethnic division. It consistently ranks at the bottom of most indices of economic performance, national security, and freedom.

Due to the huge influx of cash from the international donor community, the Afghan government turned into a highly centralized, unaccountable, predatory state rewarding connected elites and incentivizes corruption, rather than establishing the country for productive activity. Traditional Afghan power players, along with previously uninfluential individuals, seized on the cash to advance their political and economic interests.

These problems contribute to a vicious cycle that undermines the ability of the Afghan government to collect revenue and provide security for its citizens, which further undermines economic growth. The problems are with the Afghan constitution, where all the power lies with a corrupt elite in Kabul. Sending additional foreign aid will do nothing to change that.

The United States should stop investing in Afghanistan both militarily and otherwise. It should be clear that outsiders will not solve its problems. The United States and the international community played a role in creating the mess in Afghanistan, and they certainly will not be the source of any resolution. After nearly two decades and billions of dollars, it is time the United States and the allied countries leave Afghanistan to the Afghans.

Jerod Laber is a writer and fellow with Defense Priorities in Washington.