With the endgame near for large-scale U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Americans have already begun to debate the broader implications of the conflict. Many have painted it as a failure, even a strategic fiasco. But it is not. Given the dynamics of the conflict and its wider strategic context, Afghanistan should be considered a win, albeit one that came at a much greater cost than was necessary.
In the emotional turmoil following the Sept. 11 attacks, there was little consideration of the ultimate strategic goals of a U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan. The focus was instead on destroying al-Qaida and its infrastructure. The brutal and barbaric Taliban regime governing the country only became a target when it decided to support its terrorist allies. The Bush administration believed that once the Taliban had been removed from power, Afghanistan would be put under some sort of international control. This reflected the administration's wider preference that fighting be left largely to the United States, with someone else taking care of cleaning up afterward.
The problem was that President George W. Bush and his advisers greatly underestimated the degree to which decades of conflict and abusive governance had wounded Afghan society and its political and economic systems, and overestimated the willingness of other nations to manage the reconstruction and stabilization process. It quickly became clear that the stabilization of Afghanistan would be much more difficult and expensive than the administration had assumed.