Sometime this month, the last combat troops from the U.S. and NATO will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. This is an important milestone, though a bittersweet one, since the Taliban and their jihadist allies have not been defeated. Indeed, the Taliban seem as strong as they’ve ever been, and the expert consensus seems to be that the Western-backed government will fall within six months. Then, the Taliban will once again impose their brutal form of repression on the whole country. This will lead to unimaginable suffering for millions of people, particularly women and girls, religious minorities, and anyone who worked for Coalition forces. But, it is plainly obvious that Western nations have simply grown tired of this fight, and there is no appetite for sending more troops into harm’s way.
Now, I have served in the military, though I have never deployed to a combat zone. I can understand a little, but only a little, of what Canadian veterans of the Afghan war, including many of my friends, are feeling right now. The idea of losing brothers-in-arms is difficult enough when it leads to victory, and ultimately to peace. But to have lost buddies, or to have seen them suffer life-altering injuries, in a campaign that was a failure must be even more discouraging.
And as much as we might not want to admit it, the withdrawal is an admission of failure. Some might say that it’s not worth the cost to stay involved in another country’s civil war. And frankly, that’s a valid argument. But, there is no reason to believe that what happens in the future in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan will have no effect on us. Chaos has a tendency to spread, especially when it is ignored. As Leon Trotsky once said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
As people in Western nations reflect on the mission in Afghanistan, I would suggest that the main lesson should be that arrogance is self-defeating. Frankly, it’s arrogant to think we can just walk away, and no longer be affected by what happens over there. But it was also arrogant to think we could change a whole society, and transpose our values onto that society in only a few years’ time. Here, I’m speaking as a pastor, but I think we need to recognize that only God can change people’s hearts. And even then, He encounters a lot of resistance. So we humans should exhibit far more humility when it comes to making grand plans to reshape the world. We should be suspicious of reassuring predictions which tell us that our great ideas are bound to succeed. If we can learn that we aren’t nearly as powerful as we like to think we are, we might avoid similar failures in the future.
Tim Challen, Pastor of Virden Baptist Church