Sunday marks the twenty-first anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the United States—planned and launched by al-Qaeda from Afghanistan—that killed 2,977 innocent people. Much has changed since then, but following the disastrous US military withdrawal last year, the Taliban once again rule Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda enjoys a safe haven there—just as it did on Sept. 11, 2001.
Some may dismiss the tragic outcome in Afghanistan as a sad episode the United States can safely relegate to the history books as Washington focuses on important challenges elsewhere. But nothing could be further from the truth. Threats remain in Afghanistan, and the failure to address the self-delusion in Washington that led to the disastrous withdrawal in the first place will invite future disasters in U.S. policy toward other adversaries.
To understand the persistent malady of self-delusion in Washington, consider US President Joe Biden’s comments in August 2021. “What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point with al-Qaeda gone?” he asked in an effort to justify his decision to withdraw every US service member from Afghanistan. “We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan...And we did.”