NOTE: The letter to the editor shown below was originally sent to the Editor of the New York Times on August 30, 2021 in response to the opinion piece “Let’s Not Pretend That the Way We Withdrew from Afghanistan Was the Problem” by Ezra Klein, published in the issue of August 26, 2021. Both the opinion piece and the letter to the Editor were first published in the New York Times. You can find the opinion piece at the top of this page.
To the Editor,
Many members of my extended family and former clients are from Afghanistan, and it is concerning that the prevailing wisdom has now become that we should never have tried to help them in the first instance and never should again. Saving a nation from tyranny is a herculean mission, but we should not be so quick to conclude that it is unachievable.
Mr. Klein notes that poor execution should not be blamed for bad ideas. I would posit that the reverse is equally true. Casting the endeavor as inevitably doomed should not absolve repeated failures in execution and mistakes in political and military decision-making.
We cannot with certainty say there were no alternate decisions that could have been made over the last 20 years that could have led to a better outcome. Perhaps Afghanistan could never have been the ideal version of a Western liberal democracy, but something short of that and better than the current outcome is not unimaginable.
Simply because we failed does not mean that success was never possible. Simply because nation-building is hard does not mean it cannot be done. Simply because we floundered does not mean we should never have tried.
The price of defeat has been steep, but the reward of salvaging a nation of 39 million and the lives of generations of women and girls was worth the attempt, even if the possibility of success was remote.
Toronto The writer is an immigration and refugee lawyer.
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