As the United States grew into a global superpower by the end of the 1800s, it followed in the footsteps of its European predecessors and began to make its presence known on the world stage.
From our early imperialist efforts to the Vietnam War, America has become increasingly involved in its foreign affairs. But, upon analyzing our country’s post 9/11 policies, we see that unnecessary intrusion beyond our borders can have detrimental effects. The lesson is clear: we must limit our interactions overseas in order to protect American interests.
For a country to prosper, international trade, international relations and influences are necessary, but military involvement should be limited and only as a last resort.
In response to the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, the US government sprang into action, marking the start of America’s war on terror, a war which arguably still has not come to an end as of 2018. Up until 2002, our actions were logical and in accordance with American interests.
The country rightfully retaliated against its enemies with bombs, raids, and airstrikes. We limited ourselves to primarily military efforts and avoided unnecessary measures that would pose a large threat to our country politically or economically. The top priority at this point was the safety of our nation. Unfortunately, our response to 9/11 quickly escalated.
On April 17th, 2002, George W. Bush formally called for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This plan aimed to provide resources, create infrastructure, and fund education directly within Afghanistan. The incentive for such a drastic plan boils down to two equally problematic goals. The first is the hope to promote international peace and fight terrorism in a moral and non-violent manner. The second is the desire to gain political and economic influence in the middle east. While the second is certainly more in line with American interests, both endeavors possess fundamental flaws that contribute to their ultimate failure.
Addressing the former, reconstruction for the goal of world peace proved unsuccessful. Audits and reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) have concluded that U.S. involvement has provided no sustainable improvements.
A recent audit from SIGAR in October of 2017 showed that out of the six planned infrastructure projects started in 2011, “four of them were more than a year behind schedule, deemed possibly counterproductive to counter-insurgency goals, and lacking in adequate sustainment plans.”
Additional SIGAR reports reaffirms the grim reality of America’s reconstruction efforts, stating,“The United States failed to understand the complexities and scale of the mission required to stand up and mentor security forces in a country suffering from 30 years of war, misrule, corruption and deep poverty.”
The U.S. was incapable of offering quality assistance, so we provided flimsy, skin deep solutions that most likely caused unrest and confusion for the Afghan people rather than relief and assistance. Bush himself would later admit that “Our government was not prepared for nation building.”
If the goal was to promote international peace, our country undeniably failed. Not to mention, the belief that it is the American responsibility to enforce peace outside our borders is detrimental to our own success. When we needlessly meddle into foreign countries for the selfless purpose of doing good, not only will failure be likely, but we also neglect the interests of our own nation. We must admit to ourselves that we are not the incredibly superior and incredibly wise country that is able to solve everyone’s issues. Especially in the aftermath of a tragedy like 9/11, our primary focus must be to do what is best for the American people. In this case, the attention has been diverted elsewhere.
With this, we come to the second premise, in which the U.S. pursued reconstruction primarily to gain influence in Afghanistan, which failed as well. This scenario is highly probable considering our actions. In 2001, the CIA refused aid to Afghan military commander Abdul Haq, despite the fact that we shared the same goal of eradicating the Taliban, simply because of Haq’s nationalist views. “We want friendship with [Americans],” Haq stated during an interview in Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer. “We cannot be your puppet.”
When the government decided that Haq could not provide them with the influence in the middle east that they had hoped for, they proceeded to attempt to gain that influence independently by inserting themselves into the region through means of reconstruction. But instead of reaping the much sought after international importance, reconstruction swallowed 113.2 billion dollars of American taxpayer money and caused our reputation on the world stage to crumble.
Gaining influence in Afghanistan is certainly a logical incentive which aligns with American interests. If done methodically at the correct time, would have proved extremely advantageous. However, the issue is, once again, that we overstepped the boundaries and overestimated our abilities. Large-scale changes cannot be brought about artificially. A quick glance into the history books will indicate that if our own Reconstruction Era proved to be a failure, there was no way we had the ability to reconstruct a foreign country.
The best solution in response to terrorism would be to increase military defense at home, fund anti-terrorist groups overseas, and if worst comes to worst, deploy troops to combat the enemies directly. Our involvement should be left strictly on a military basis, with no further meddling into Afghan politics or society.
America’s post 9/11 foreign policy has been detrimental, but it also teaches an important lesson. When we overestimate our abilities and unnecessarily insert ourselves into places where we don’t belong, no matter the intentions, it will always end in failure.