The Afghan Deal May Be Doomed, But Bring The Troops Home Anyway

By Monica Duffy Toft and Benjamin Denison

The ink is barely dry on a new U.S.-Taliban peace deal but there is renewed hope that the forever war in Afghanistan might finally end. 

However, the likelihood that the agreement will prove sustainable and resolve the internal problems between various Afghan factions remains exceedingly low. Some have argued that this means the United States should continue to maintain a troop presence in Afghanistan until a better deal emerges. They contend that American forces should prop up and defend the current Afghan government until it is certain the Taliban will not retake the country and al-Qaeda and ISIS are vanquished for good.

This is wrongheaded. The reason the Afghan war has lasted as long as it has is because the United States has already spent more than a decade following that advice. Instead, American policymakers should accept that every war must end. The historical record illustrates the folly of expecting a durable peace settlement following a U.S. withdrawal. The core lesson of winding down the war in Afghanistan should be this: limping to the finish after so much loss in blood and treasure is the most likely outcome not just of this war, but similar wars of choice in the future. Policymakers should incorporate this likelihood into their calculations at the outset, rather than wasting resources on counterproductive military interventions.

The History of Durable Peace Settlements

Since 1898, the United States has increasingly engaged in military interventions abroad, as opposed to other forms of coercion or persuasion. These interventions have often been undertaken in war-prone territories with fractured polities and instability, which are cited to justify American involvement in the first place. While these interventions are often conceived of as short-term military missions, intended to resolve a specific instability, they almost invariably escalate into the kind of never-ending wars and deployments we continue to experience in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

In such divided societies, the argument that the U.S. can end these interventions successfully rests on the assumption that durable peace settlements can be negotiated—that rival combatants care more about peace than about killing each other. Unfortunately, negotiated settlements between combatants rarely produce the stability envisioned at their signing. Instead, it is outright military victory, and especially rebel victory, that leads to enduring peace settlements.


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