18 August 2019

Overcoming Inertia: Why It’s Time to End the War in Afghanistan

by John Glaser and John Mueller 

The war in Afghanistan has become America’s longest war not because U.S. security interests necessitate it, nor because the battlefield realities are insurmountable, but because of inertia. Policymakers have shied away from hard truths, fallen victim to specious cognitive biases, and allowed the mission to continue without clear intentions or realistic objectives.

Although the American people are substantially insulated from the sacrifices incurred by this distant war, the reality is that the United States can’t win against the Taliban at a remotely acceptable cost. Almost two decades in, the insurgency is as strong as ever, and the U.S.-backed Kabul regime is weak and mired in corruption. And while official assessments of the conflict have long acknowledged it as a stalemate, top military leaders have consistently misled the public and advised elected civilians to devote greater resources to achieve victory.

In refusing to end the war, policymakers have succumbed to the sunk cost fallacy, believing that redoubling efforts would make good on spent resources and ensure that costs already borne were not expended in vain. They also have entertained the spurious notion that withdrawing from a lost war would harm America’s credibility. But the most pervasive myth that has prevented policymakers from ending the war is that a victorious Taliban would provide a haven for transnational terrorist groups to launch attacks against the United States. Not only does this exaggerate the terrorism threat, but it ignores the Taliban’s evident disinterest in once again making Afghanistan a home base for international jihadists.

There has been progress on negotiations, and a full political settlement built around a cease-fire and a withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan is within reach—but only if policymakers are willing to make significant concessions to the Taliban and to dispense with erroneous rationales for continuing the fight…

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