Global Ethics Review: Ending the Afghanistan War, with Jonathan Cristol

May 11, 2021

ALEX WOODSON: Welcome to Global Ethics Review. I'm Alex Woodson from Carnegie Council, the world's catalyst for ethical action.

In this podcast series, we'll be connecting Carnegie Council's work and current events with our senior fellows, senior staff, and friends of our organization. You'll hear from leading experts on artificial intelligence and technology, migration, climate change governance, and U.S. foreign policy and global engagement. 

This week I’m speaking with Dr. Jonathan Cristol. He is a research fellow in the Levermore Global Scholars Program at Adelphi University and a senior fellow at the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard College. Cristol is also the author of The United States and the Taliban, before and after 9/11.

This podcast is the latest in a series of talks between Cristol and me on U.S.-Taliban relations and the Afghanistan War. In this discussion, we focused on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, which was announced by President Biden last month. We spoke about what the end of the war will mean for Americans at home and we also talked about human rights issues, including women’s rights in Afghanistan after the withdrawal and the status of Afghans who have helped American and NATO troops over the last 20 years.

For the rest of our podcasts on Afghanistan and the Taliban, you can go to carnegiecouncil.org. And for much more on this subject, I highly recommend Cristol’s book The United States and the Taliban, before and after 9/11.

But for now, here’s my talk with Dr. Jonathan Cristol.

Dr. Jonathan Cristol, thank you so much for joining us. Great to see you again.

JONATHAN CRISTOL: Nice to see you. Thank you for having me.

ALEX WOODSON: Of course. We are going to talk today about Afghanistan and the U.S. troop withdrawal. Joe Biden announced last month that all U.S. troops would be out by September of this year, 20 years after the 9/11 attacks.

Just to start very generally, what are your impressions of this plan? This is something that you have been thinking about for a long time. What were your impressions when Biden made this announcement?

JONATHAN CRISTOL: I was very glad to hear Biden's announcement, and I think that it is probably the right decision. It is worth mentioning that his plan, as you say, is to withdraw by September 11, the 20-year anniversary of the attacks. A lot of people focus on that date, but we have already started the withdrawal, and just after that announcement a senior State Department official didn't say quite explicitly but heavily implied that we would be out well before then, and so I think we should read that date as a sort of news grabber in the moment of the announcement, but I expect that we will be out before then.

I think it is a good thing, but the reason why I think it is a good thing and why I would have opposed the same action under the previous administration is because my hope is that when we withdraw—or prior to a full withdrawal—we take the people who helped us with us if they want to leave. That is fairly straightforward. It is something that there has been recent press about. It is something that there is, I believe, the political will to do, though I don't think we are moving as fast as we could be.

I actually think we need to go further. I think we need to mount a coordinated effort with our allies and other partners to resettle Afghan citizens who are worried about what will happen when we leave. I do not think the criteria should be just that they are worried about it, but there are people who made life decisions based on our presence and commitment to the country whose lives will be in direct danger by the Taliban when we leave, and I think that we have a moral and ethical obligation to help those people.

I don't think that that obligation extends to staying in Afghanistan indefinitely because we certainly have made things better for some people, but have we stabilized the country, have we gotten the country to a point where it can act on its own, have we solved the problem of violence directed against women and directed against minority groups? No, obviously not. We have seen that in the last 24 hours, and I don't think our continued presence will help in that regard either, but we can offer those people our protection elsewhere.

I don't think huge numbers will necessarily take us up on it. I am not saying like an airlift to the United States, but again working with partners to resettle those people who want to be resettled elsewhere.

There was no chance that the Trump administration was going to do anything like that. First of all, it didn't value working with partners in the first place. Second of all, the idea that we were going to welcome even Afghans who helped us is a bit far-fetched based on what we know of the Trump administration's approach to foreign Muslim people. But I am hopeful that the Biden administration will take steps in that direction. Am I certain of it? I'm not certain of it. I think it was the right decision, but if you ask me a year from now if it was the right decision, I guess I am not certain I will say the same thing. I hope that I will say the same thing.

ALEX WOODSON: I do want to speak about that, basically visas for Afghans who worked alongside U.S. troops and other people who helped North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces.

One more question about the actual withdrawal. You mentioned that you are happy that the Biden administration is doing this. You think that they will do a much better job of helping out Afghans who helped out U.S. troops than the Trump administration did. Are there differences beyond that, beyond Trump's plan to pull out and Biden's? Trump wanted to pull out on May 1. As you said, we are already starting this pullout. What are the differences that you see in how Biden is handling this versus how Trump handled this, putting aside the visa issue?

JONATHAN CRISTOL: I think the major difference is not necessarily unique even to the situation in Afghanistan. I think what you had under the Trump administration was a desire to get out, almost regardless of what was going on, and that as long as the Taliban were not actively killing Americans in the moment that we would leave.

I think the difference in the Biden Administration's plan is that the Biden Administration seems to have plans. They have at least thought these things through. Whether they reached conclusions that I would remains to be seen, but they at least appear to be doing this in a more organized fashion.

There are very few comparable case studies. There is nothing directly comparable, but if we look at the Trump administration's partial withdrawal in Syria and we see what happened there—the United States gets the order to go, they go, and the Russian flag gets mounted over U.S. outposts. It is sort of haphazard and has negative consequences. There are some negative consequences that are unavoidable, but we can at least plan a sort of orderly withdrawal that does not leave everyone in the lurch, at least more than they are going to be.

ALEX WOODSON: Since Biden has announced the plan for withdrawal, from what I have seen there has been an increase in violence in Afghanistan. It seems that the Taliban forces and Afghan security forces are fighting a little more. There was a terrible bombing a couple of days ago at an all-girls school in Afghanistan. Is this in response to the withdrawal plans? Was this violence that was going to take place in any case, and do you see it continuing at this level until September and maybe even beyond?

JONATHAN CRISTOL: I think it's important that we not fall into the trap of thinking that everything is always about us. As bad as the recent attacks have been—there have been two major ones in the last couple of days, and you have had a consistent series of attacks on journalists as well. So I don't necessarily think that these would or wouldn't happen if we were sticking around. I suspect they would. I suspect that these are not tied to our withdrawal. It is not as if this was a bastion of peace up until the announcement that we were leaving.

It is also worth mentioning that at least as of the time we are recording this, the Taliban have not claimed responsibility for either of those attacks. It is possible that it is an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) affiliate or another group. It is also possible that it is the Taliban. The Taliban have been relatively careful, even despite the rhetoric about us staying past May 1, about not mounting attacks at least against Americans and not mounting attacks that might interfere with the U.S. politics around it that will make it harder for us to go. They see that we are on the way out. They may not necessarily trust that we are actually going to leave entirely, although I think that we are—not politically withdraw but at least withdraw the military presence on the ground – and I think they have every incentive to not disrupt that.

There are other actors that might actually prefer us bogged down there that have their own complicated relationships with the Taliban, so it is possible—I think we have to at least consider—that they are increasing attacks before we leave with the hope of getting us to stay, but I don't think that is likely to be the reason.

I do think that once we withdraw, we will see an increase in violence and we will see an increase in this kind of violence, which is why I think it's so important that we mitigate that both by getting some people out who are obvious targets, specific people and groups, if that is what they want, and that we do what the Biden administration has suggested.

This goes to your earlier question. The Biden administration has been fairly clear that even when our on-the-ground military presence leaves, that we are not going to "abandon" Afghanistan. We may or may not provide air support. I think that remains to be seen, but we will certainly provide intelligence support. We will be in the neighborhood—at least compared to the Upper West Side of Manhattan—and not too far so that we can intervene in a targeted way and maybe help prevent some attacks, at least if we get wind of them and can take action from the air. As long as we do that, I think we will certainly not solve any major problems but we might be able to do some good in preventing some attacks from taking place.

But the reality is we have lost. We are not framing it that way. I understand the politics of that, and I understand why President Biden says that we have achieved all our goals there. I disagree with that. I actually think that the war achieved none of our goals, or we achieved some of them, but not because of the war in Afghanistan, and certainly we could have achieved them without it.

I think we have to accept the reality that, to one degree or another, the Taliban will be significantly more powerful when we go. They will be at least a major part of the Afghan government and possibly be the Afghan government if they defeat the Afghan National Army on the battlefield and if they successfully take Kabul.

I think there are some good arguments as to why that might not happen, but I think we are fooling ourselves if we think that the Taliban are not going to be the dominant force in Afghan politics indefinitely. What that means and how that looks in terms of the government itself I think probably remains to be seen, and how violent things are before then also remains to be seen, but we will have left after 20 years with the Taliban back in power or imminently in power, and more members of al-Qaeda are alive than there were on September 10, 2001.

We have done a very good job of degrading al Qaeda's capabilities. To be honest, I don't really care how many people are in al Qaeda if they don't actually have the capability to attack us. They can dream about it all they want. So we have degraded their capabilities. We have eliminated a lot of their high-ranking people, which is both a blow to morale but also institutional memory, planning, and things like that.

But did we do that because we were in Afghanistan? Maybe in terms of small numbers of Special Forces, intelligence, drone strikes, and things like that. But did that require the actual invasion and 20-year presence there? I don't think it did, and of course we all know that bin Laden escaped from Afghanistan, and we were able to get him anyway, but I suspect we could have gotten him in the same amount of time had we not invaded.

So I don't see us as achieving any of the goals that the Bush administration set, but we did actually make lives better for a lot of people, and that is important. It isn't necessarily a core national interest of the United States, but abandoning those people I would argue is also not in our interest, and it is cost-effective and fairly easy to solve in that regard.

ALEX WOODSON: I do want to speak about how this is affecting Afghans, and you have always been very good at making sure that is the focus of these talks and of your work.

Before that, I want to speak about America a little bit more. We have a podcast called The Doorstep with two of our senior fellows, Nick Gvosdev and Tatiana Serafin, and the project of that is to examine how issues like the Afghanistan War, like Iran and Russia, anything like that, affects everyday Americans.

It seems very likely that the Taliban will have greater influence in Afghanistan after September 2021. Maybe al-Qaeda will have more power in Afghanistan as well. Maybe they will be able to recruit more and have more of a home base there. What does that mean for Americans at home? Should we be concerned about terrorism? Should we be concerned about things like that, or is this really something more for the Afghans to worry about? What are the doorstep considerations for Americans when it comes to this?

JONATHAN CRISTOL: We should be worried about any territory in which a terrorist group with global ambitions like al-Qaeda is able to have a safe haven and mount attacks. We are right to be concerned about that. But one thing I think is important to note—and this goes back to the 1990s and the time period before September 11—the Taliban don't care about us. They don't care one way or the other, and that cuts both ways.

The presence of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the 1990s was controversial among the Taliban. There was a lot of resentment toward the Afghan Arabs, and were it not for the support of Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader at the time, we may have had a very different outcome because there were Taliban leaders who were willing to turn over bin Laden but couldn't oppose Mullah Omar.

It's not that Mullah Omar wanted al-Qaeda to attack the United States. It's just that they didn't care, and I think that is what we are likely to see again. I don't think the Taliban are going to invite al-Qaeda and other groups to come in and set up shop to mount attacks against the United States. In fact, they have an incentive not to. There is an incentive from the international community, but there is an internal incentive because why would you want a competing power base at the time when you are about to achieve a pretty significant victory, particularly one that you are already resentful of or is problematic in many ways?

On the other hand, are they going to expend their own blood and treasure to fight al-Qaeda and keep them out? I don't think so either. So we should be concerned about it, but we should not assume that we are powerless to stop that either. We can offer them incentives as we did in the 1990s, although ultimately those efforts failed, to not do that. 

One thing that I advocated in my book and that others have argued—Barnett Rubin has a United States Institute of Peace article about this from March—is that we can offer assistance and recognition and the lifting of sanctions, not only related to a government, but on Taliban officials and their ability to interact with the outside world. That is something they have wanted for 25 years or more. I am a bit more pessimistic than Rubin, but I do think that we will maintain political and economic leverage even after we leave that could incentivize them to not tolerate terrorist groups operating in their territory.

I know we like to talk about the Taliban as well as a terrorist group, but really I think of the Taliban as an insurgency. In the 1990s it was a rebel army. I think you can make a better case today for them being terrorists than you could in 1990s, but I would say they are fighting an insurgency, and they often engage in terrorist acts, but they are not a traditional terrorist group, and they certainly don't have global ambitions. They could care less about us. They are like a caliphate at home, not the global caliphate that al-Qaeda or ISIS have as a long-term plan.

ALEX WOODSON: Moving on to discuss the Afghans and how they are going to be affected by this, as you brought up right at the start of the podcast and as you have been tweeting about, you mentioned in other podcasts, the idea that America needs to help out Afghans who helped out U.S. troops, NATO troops over the last 20 years, providing visas for them and making sure that they are safe. It seems like an obvious point, and it seems like something that President Biden would be all for. What exactly is the holdup there, and are you optimistic that this will be resolved at some point soon?

JONATHAN CRISTOL: That's a very good question. Let me just add something to my previous answer as well, because I am not sure if I directly touched on the impact on people here at home, other than fear of terrorism.

I think you also have to weigh that concern against the continuing cost of remaining and whether remaining in Afghanistan will make us more safe. I agree with some people, like Max Boot and others, that actually the costs at this point, the economic costs and even the military costs, probably are sustainable, but they are not politically sustainable. It is different than our long-term presence in Europe, Korea, or Japan, where we are there because we are wanted, where we serve as a tripwire, and we are not involved in combat on a day-to-day basis.

The situation in Afghanistan is very different, and the idea that politically we could remain there indefinitely without real hope of ever achieving a victory but not quite a loss either, I think is politically untenable. I think Biden was right to seize the moment to withdraw in a way that Trump claimed to want to do but didn't. He announced the withdrawal, but it was set for after his term was up. Obama did too. Everyone has wanted to get out, but no one has actually done it. I think Biden sensed that there was an opportunity to do it and took that opportunity.

On your question about the Biden administration and visas, there had been a slowdown in processing these visas for people who worked with us. I am very optimistic that that is being taken care of and will speed up. There is pressure from veterans, pressure from active service members, and it is not particularly a controversial idea. Yes, if you're the previous administration and you don't want Muslims in the country, then you have that as a reason. But that is a minority of Americans. So it is a function of just getting it done, and I am hopeful we will do that, and I would be a bit surprised if we don't.

What I am concerned about but mildly hopeful, although I am getting a little bit less hopeful each day, is that we again go a step further and say, female college professors, female doctors, students, journalists—the Taliban are not going to roll into Kabul and just start executing people randomly. They are not dumb. That is terrible domestic politics.

But they will probably make an example out of different groups, different people, and different institutions and try to force compliance with their interpretation of Islamic law and try to force that compliance through probably some major acts of violence at the beginning. But because they are not going to randomly attack people, we can have a sense of who should we give the opportunity to get out. That is something that I don't think we have any sort of legal obligation to do. If we don't take interpreters with us who want to come, people who have assisted us, that is going to harm our ability to conduct military operations with local help anywhere because people will see that.

I don't think there will be the same effect if we don't offer assistance to other people, but I do think that if we want to be able to sleep at night and if we want to live up to an informal but ethical obligation, we have to at least provide that opportunity. We don't have to bring everyone to the United States, although I think if it came to it, we should, but it is a NATO operation, so I think we can offer different alternatives.

And many of those people won't leave. People don't like to leave their homes. People are willing to fight for their homes. People are willing to give their lives for it. But I think we have to at least offer that as an option.

I am hopeful about it, but that is where the Biden administration could run into domestic political problems if the right-wing media ecosystem latches onto it, and then you will hear the talk about "extreme vetting" and the people aren't vetted and this and this and this, and there will be all sorts of reasons not to, and it will be a question of whether the Biden administration wants to use its political capital on a relatively unprecedented—I don't want to use the word "airlift" because that is a little bit overdramatic—decision or opportunity, I am not even sure how you would phrase it. That is where I am not sure.

I will admit that, rightly or wrongly, the way they handled the question of refugees makes me more concerned. Yes, in the end they were responsive to pressure, but I am not sure that this issue that I am talking about has salience with the American public in the same way—even with the left, who are really putting the pressure on, rightly in my view, on refugees—I am not sure that the positive pressure will be there. I am cautiously optimistic about it, but it could be a political fight, and it could be a political fight that the administration hopes to avoid. But I think we will learn that very quickly.

I should also say the other cause for pessimism is that it will be a tremendous undertaking to do what I suggest, to coordinate with allies—and not just allies, other partners, even Pacific Island states who took people from Guantanamo, anyone and everyone—an orderly not exactly a rescue operation. It is sort of preemptive rescue. That will take a lot of effort and energy, and I suspect we would know if that was happening. I think that would leak or just be discussed, so I am a little bit nervous that we haven't heard talk about that, but we have a new administration. Maybe they are doing that and it hasn't broken through the news because of COVID-19 and other things, but we will see.

ALEX WOODSON: One thing you said a few minutes ago in an answer to another question—and this is something you have mentioned before talking to me—is that the lives of some Afghans have been made better over the last 20 years. There has been an improvement in the lives of Afghans in some ways over the last 20 years since the U.S. presence.

I imagine a lot of those people that you mentioned are women and girls whose lives have become maybe marginally better in the last couple of decades. What happens after September 11, 2021, with women and girls? As we said, the Taliban has not claimed responsibility, but there was just a terrible bombing a couple of days ago at an all-girls school. Is there any reason to be optimistic about that, because as we talked about before, it didn't seem like this issue of women's rights and gender equality had much of a place in the negotiations that have been taking place for the past couple of years.

JONATHAN CRISTOL: That's right. I think that maybe that is reflective of the previous administration, although I don't think that would be reflective of Zalmay Khalilzad's position in and of itself.

It is going to get worse when we leave because the Taliban, at best, are going to be in a power-sharing situation with the Afghan government, and they are going to have influence over legislation and enforcement and enforced religiosity, let's say. That's the best case. So the best case I would say would be a nonviolent regression of women's rights.

The worst case is significantly worse, but it's all relative. It might not be as bad as the most pessimistic outcomes. In the 1990s during the talks with the Taliban, one thing that they said repeatedly was, "Well, yes, we are being extra repressive because we are consolidating power, working through," but they never ruled out the idea of having female doctors who would treat women and having maybe modest levels of education in single-sex environments. There was the possibility of a system more like Saudi Arabia pre-Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) than how we imagine the Taliban.

That is terrible for women. That would be a very strong regression, at least in Kabul. In rural villages it is different. But it doesn't mean wholesale slaughter of people necessarily, and it doesn't even mean it has to be as bad as it was in the 1990s. But it is hard for me to imagine that it wouldn't regress and it wouldn't be bad.

I think there is promise in the idea of holding out economic assistance, diplomatic recognition, and lifting of sanctions in exchange for some guarantees of rights. I think that is a good idea, but I don't think we'll be able to go as far as we might like. It will be hard to make the case that they have to go further than other states that we recognize and have normal relationships with.

I don't see how Afghanistan ends up better than Saudi Arabia at the moment, which is a bit better for women than it was prior to MBS, and I don't say that as a fan of MBS, which I am sure people who have listened to us talk before comes out at every opportunity. But the situation in Saudi Arabia has improved for women, and I don't think it would get any worse in Afghanistan than, let's say, 2005-era Saudi Arabia. Terrible, but that's my optimistic take, which is why I think what they will do is make examples and quite possibly level institutions that are dedicated to women's issues and education, but I don't necessarily think they will level those institutions with everyone inside, and I think in Afghanistan that counts as an optimistic take.

ALEX WOODSON: It's still a very grim scenario that you are sketching out.

JONATHAN CRISTOL: I would add that I also wouldn't be surprised if part of the intra-Afghan negotiations—assuming that it is a negotiated settlement and not a military settlement, and I think that is a big assumption—doesn't have a bifurcated system, which the Taliban always had informally where the rules are different in Kabul than out of Kabul. With the Taliban, even when they controlled 90 percent of Afghanistan, there was less enforcement in Kabul than there was outside Kabul because Afghanistan, like the United States, is much more conservative in rural areas than in urban areas.

One of an infinite number of problems for the Taliban was that things were always changing. Another possible outcome is you actually formalize that so people have a sense of what they are allowed to do and not do. That also could reduce some violence outside of Kabul if it allows for people to move to Kabul if they want a higher degree of freedom and that there is this sort of "island of bounded liberty" in an unfree country.

ALEX WOODSON: We will definitely be watching this in the fall.

Last question. I know you are not just focused on Afghanistan in that region. Your interests are pretty vast when it comes to international affairs. What do you think other nations are thinking—you can just pick a couple of nations, you can talk about allies, however you want to take this question—when they are looking at how the Biden administration is handling the Afghanistan withdrawal right now?

JONATHAN CRISTOL: It's a very good question, and I think we can look at what they are looking at both in Afghanistan and outside. One thing that especially our allies will be interested to see is whether we actually follow through on what the Biden administration said. Yes, the Taliban are suspicious about it. Our adversaries and enemies are suspicious about it, but I think it is more important now that we have said we are doing this, everyone will be seeing whether the Biden administration does what it says it is going to do, particularly in a situation like this where everyone anticipates we are not going to do what we say we are going to do. I think that sort of amorphous concept of American credibility will be damaged if we don't follow through.

On the other hand, as I keep saying, I think our moral credibility is damaged by getting out in the wrong way. So I think that is important in one way, but I think that once we leave and the American presence is politically toxic internally, we will see a bit of a scramble for concessions on natural resources. The one thing that is different from the past is that now the natural resources found in Afghanistan are valuable, and I am not talking about opium. The minerals that they have, and I am not a geologist, but my understanding is that these are things that are used in high tech. So 25, even 35, or 40 years ago it was not valuable. They do not make as much money as they could from this because there are sanctions on the Taliban but also because of the ongoing violence. I think once we leave, Russia, China, and probably even the United Arab Emirates and other actors will move to try to at least get an economic opportunity for themselves domestically. So I think there are states that are watching very closely in that regard.

I think it will represent—again, assuming that we continue on the path that we are on, what I hope everyone sees in this, every state actor, is at the very least a thoughtful, reasoned approach to policy that is not a knee-jerk reaction to, "Oh, it has been 20 years, we should get out," or "We should stay forever because why would we leave?" I think the way the administration has gone through this, even having Bill Burns in his testimony talk about how he thinks that we will be less safe, but the fact that we do it anyway and listen to these different arguments, that the president thinks about them, weighs options, and follows through will be part of the broader Biden administration that "We're back." It is ironic, because we are leaving, but in a broader sense I think the message it sends is that we are now engaged actively in foreign policy across a wide range of fronts in a thoughtful way with a really outstanding team of people who are not D-listers and dead-enders focused on it. I caveat that. Zalmay Khalilzad, as we have talked about, was a great choice, and that's why he remains there.

ALEX WOODSON: The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan.

JONATHAN CRISTOL: Zalmay Khalilzad, who is the U.S. coordinator for the talks in Doha, who had been the ambassador under the Bush administration, and who is of Afghan descent, is extremely knowledgeable about this and has been the most engaged and probably nuanced on this issue since these talks in Doha began under the Trump administration. He is not a D-lister or a dead-ender, but I think we are probably fooling ourselves if we think that Trump and Zalmay Khalilzad were having in-depth discussions about policy.

We have talked about on this podcast before that I found it both good that he was involved, but I have referred to those talks as being almost for show because I thought the Trump administration was going to do what it was going to do anyway, and no matter what agreement they reached the Taliban would just roll into Kabul anyway. I am not sure that is quite the case now.

We had capable people working on this, but capable people working on something and five dollars will get you a foot-long at Subway. You need buy-in at the White House and the National Security Council and attention and thoughtfulness to have any sort of reasonable chance of the least bad outcome possible resulting. I think showing that we are back in that sense of a reasonable and thoughtful approach is important for the U.S. image in the world globally.

It is a bit popular among some columnists and crowd to talk about the U.S. withdrawal as damaging U.S. credibility, but it's an amorphous concept. I think it is also an important concept, but I am not quite sure how spending 20 years in Afghanistan shows a lack of resolve or credibility. That's pretty high resolve, to be involved for that long.

It is also damaging credibility to be Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy's football. The longer we stay while treading water or regressing, because the Taliban have taken more and more territory over the years, also damages us. That damages a perception of our capability. Yes, it might show our willingness, but who cares about willingness if you are not capable? So I think staying there also potentially damages the reputation of the United States in the world in a different way, and I think leaving enhances that credibility, which is why I also try to differentiate my view on this as someone who has been outspoken that we should leave, although doing so in a particular way. That is not my general view about international affairs. It is specific to this context.

Some people think the United States should withdraw from everywhere, the advocates of restraint. Restraint I think is a good thing but as a formal concept which has a lot of weight attached to it—"We should withdraw from here, we should withdraw our troops from everywhere, why are we still in Korea, why are we still in Europe?"—that is not me at all. I am not reflexively opposed to U.S. involvement, but I do think that after 20 years without the prospect of achieving any more than we have achieved, it is time to leave. I hope that we do. I am quite sure we will, but I hope that we do so in an honorable way that doesn't lead to people dying because they trusted us and they counted on us to be there.

Before we end, I also think it is worth mentioning that this attack on the school was an attack on women and women's education. It was also an attack on Hazaras as an ethnicity and Shias as a religious minority in the country, and those are other groups that we have to consider, the Hazaras, who have worked closely with the United States in the past, who were oppressed by the Taliban in the 1990s. They are also at risk. It could actually be that they get a better deal from the Taliban than from ISIS or al-Qaeda, particularly ISIS, but things have improved for many groups, and we shouldn't abandon them. But we can leave without abandoning them.

ALEX WOODSON: Jonathan Cristol, thank you so much. Always great to talk about these issues and to keep the focus on the people who are truly affected by this war. Thanks for coming on today.

JONATHAN CRISTOL: Thanks for having me. Always happy to be here.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Read MoreRead Less