The United States has been at war in Afghanistan for more than eight years. That is longer than our involvement in both world wars combined. Yet the end of the conflict appears to be further away than ever. It is not even clear what would constitute victory.
Afghanistan began as the “good war,” receiving near-unanimous backing in the United States and similar support in Europe. The objectives were clear: weaken or destroy Al Qaeda, which had attacked America; oust the Taliban, which had given Al Qaeda refuge; warn other regimes that cooperating with terrorists would leave them out of power.
The United States quickly achieved all these objectives. Al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. It is not certain that Osama bin Laden is still alive; much of the organization’s leadership has been killed. Al Qaeda now appears to be mostly effective as an inspiration to other jihadist groups. Moreover, Afghanistan is largely irrelevant to Al Qaeda’s operations. National Security Advisor Jim Jones recently claimed that there are only 100 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and that they have “no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies.” The underwear bomber, linked to Nigeria and Yemen, illustrates the limited relevance of Afghanistan to terrorism these days.
The United States also succeeded in driving the Taliban from power. ...