Wineke: Was the war worth it? We don’t know

The Latest: Plea To Taliban To Protect Afghan Women’s Rights
Rahmat Gul

Taliban fighters patrol in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021.

MADISON, Wis. — The war in Afghanistan took 20 years, trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives ended, disrupted or disabled. It ended with the Taliban back in power.

Was it worth it?

The easy answer is “no.” I think the more accurate answer is that the assessment depends on what we mean by “worth.”

If the answer was that we spent all that effort and all those lives to keep a corrupt central government in power, well, then, the answer has to be no, it wasn’t worth it.

If the answer is we spent all that effort and all those lives to keep the Taliban out of power, then, again, the Taliban is back in power.

What we don’t know is what, if anything, changed in Afghanistan during those two decades.

We – and our allies – did a lot of things besides fight in Afghanistan. That country now has millions of educated women and millions of men who have grown up in an atmosphere in which women had rights.

That wasn’t true 20 years ago. Will it affect how the country is governed going forward? I don’t see how it cannot affect the country. We’ve already seen a Taliban leader sitting down for an interview with a woman Afghan journalist.

I’m not suggesting that Afghanistan is ready to be a Midwest Wisconsin suburb. Taliban rule is certain to truly painful consequences. I’m just saying there is at least a possibility that the nation won’t revert back to the 14th century.

To the extent it doesn’t, the American investment can take some credit.

The pundits and sages among us are also lamenting that the Afghan debacle is undermining American prestige around the world.

Probably so. The pictures – and the reality behind them – are devastating.

But we’ve been doing a pretty good job of undermining our own prestige for quite a while now. We had an insurrection in Washington in January and a good part of one of our two ruling parties still is trying to overturn last year’s presidential election.

The Covid virus is staging another comeback and we are once more wearing masks in public, in large part because combatting the virus has become a political issue. How does that make us look?

The end of the Afghanistan war is embarrassing. President Biden is being judged harshly and he should be – as he said, he is the president and he made the decision.

But we live in a complicated world and none of us is so omniscient that we can know for sure what will happen next in Afghanistan.