Student Reaction

Student Reaction
At the end of Professor Long’s presentation, I had the distinct feeling that I had just been
told an inconvenient truth that I really did not want hear: that the United States needs to leave
some troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. Professor Long consistently returned to
the same conclusion while assessing the positive and negative consequences of U.S. and NATO
troop withdrawal in 2014: the situation in Afghanistan will not change dramatically. It will take
years to observe the real consequences of significant foreign troop withdrawal, and even longer
to observe the impact of the U.S. training of Afghan security forces. His timeline for U.S.
seemed much less fanciful than other supporters of the United States’ military role in
Afghanistan. The “if we only stay two more years everything will better” argument always
seems a bit ridiculous. The tempting response to such arguments is “Really? Have you seen
Afghanistan?” Austin Long’s response to that would be something like “Yes I have and that’s
why I think just two more years is wholly inadequate.”
The focal point of 2014, the reason why it is receiving so much attention and hype, will
be the elections in April and the governmental transition of power. Replacing Hamid Karzai,
Afghanistan’s first democratically elected president, will be a challenge – one that will affect the
stability of the country and the entire region. Those trained by the U.S. do not necessarily have
the political patronage, or legitimacy, to become effective rulers and many potential leaders have
left Afghanistan to seek asylum in Europe. The political position of the next president will also
dictate who will be appointed to lower level regional offices. A more progressive Tajik president
would be more inclined to appoint the children of current and former party officials who have
been trained in the west. This generation’s new perspective, however, may not be as welcomed
under a more conservative, former mujahideen fighter such as Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf. The next
president’s actions and beliefs will also dictate Taliban and al-Qaeda activity in the coming
years. Deterring these groups’ reemergence will also largely depend on continued momentum,
strength and effectiveness of Afghan military forces.
As Americans, we are so accustomed to U.S. intervention in various forms around the
world, that continued involvement and intervention in Afghanistan is assumed and would go
unquestioned. As long as evidence of continued involvement is not publically displayed
regularly, the U.S. is generally apathetic to on-the-ground or peripheral activity. The U.S. is
more concerned with the media coverage resulting from the failure of Afghanistan’s
constitutional democracy that they helped put in place. Because democracy, liberalism and
nation building are such central themes in American foreign policy rhetoric, more attention will
be focused on the government and less on the continued security efforts in the country. After all,
U.S. troops are still stationed on the Korean peninsula, in parts of Germany and on bases built in
the Gulf in 1991 during the war. No matter what the Bilateral Security Agreement outlines, or
whether or not one is achieved, the United States’ role as world policeman will continue in
Afghanistan and/or the surrounding region. Overall, I am still deeply skeptical of continued U.S.
involvement and its consequences, but Dr. Long was quite persuasive in laying out the perhaps
even more negative consequences of the United States not being involved.