Jonathan Muskat
Jonathan Muskat

Coping with our Failure in Afghanistan

The stunning and swift collapse of the Afghan government and the seemingly reckless exit of the US military from Afghanistan have raised serious concerns about the future of that country and its citizens.  For 20 years, Afghan citizens have enjoyed basic civil rights in a society that will be replaced by a fundamentalist Islamic regime.  And we need to ask why, after 20 years, we couldn’t create a westernized society in Afghanistan.

We can debate the wisdom and responsibility that America has to try to spread westernized democratic values to those societies that don’t provide rights that reflect these values.  Unfortunately, there are many countries that do not provide these rights to their citizens, and the United States does not generally interfere in another country’s domestic politics especially when doing so can endanger the lives of United States military personnel, unless those countries present a threat to the United States.  At the same time, the United States created a relationship with Afghanistan when it forced a regime change and it provided the promise of a better future for its citizens. Therefore, once it created that relationship, it is much more difficult to just get up and leave without a plan to support the Afghan people.

What emerged from this failure was that America had to choose between  supporting a stable westernized country with an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan and allowing an fundamentalist Islamic country with no military presence.  After 20 years, America was unable to create a stable government, and I wonder what that says about its ability to successfully force regime change in Islamic countries.  American thinking here, that once we provide a Middle Eastern country with a taste of freedom then we can work with it to create a stable westernized country, proved to be false. 

That conclusion has proven to be very heartbreaking.  It was heartbreaking to watch images of the chaos and violence at the Kabul airport as American aircraft evacuated American personnel.  And it is heartbreaking to think about what will happen to the rights of ordinary civilians in a fundamentalist Islamic state, especially the rights of women and children.  Could we have completely destroyed the Taliban and then left Afghanistan as a secure country with western values?  And what price must we pay to achieve these goals?  There are no good answers and often it’s a question of the lesser of two evils.  It’s heartbreaking and very disappointing.

And this failure perhaps will convince those who argue that Israel should just roll into Gaza and wipe out Hamas and force a regime change to reconsider that plan.  Because maybe real change must come from within and forcing regime change in Gaza may only produce a temporary solution and long-term instability.  

At the same time, we as Jews know better than anyone the power of hope.  Our Sages established the bracha of “hatov v’ha’meitiv” after the crushing defeat of the failed Bar Kochba revolt.  Why did they institute this bracha praising God that He is good and that He does good?  Because the Roman emperor allowed the Jewish corpses from the revolt to be buried and their bodies did not decompose.  They saw a sliver of God’s light in the dark world, and they created a blessing to celebrate this light wherever we see it.  We, too, must not completely give up hope on helping to effectuate change in the broader world, including the Arab world.  The reckless exit of the United States from Afghanistan coincides with the first anniversary of the Abraham Accords, the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which was shortly followed by normalized relations with Bahrain, Sudan and then Morocco.  And these relationships survived the Gaza conflict in May, which means that these relationships are real.  

We live in an unredeemed world.  In an unredeemed world, there is much terror and oppression and we must make complicated calculations as to how much risk we want our citizens to incur, specifically our military personnel, to protect the lives of others who are non-citizens.  Of course, we want to help everyone and make a better life for everyone else on this planet.  The question we must confront is at what cost, and that is a challenging question both politically and ethically.  What’s not in question is that we must continue to try and we must continue to hope. There will be failures, but if we persevere there will also be successes.  Baruch Hatov V’ha’meitiv.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.
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