The grim situation at home and around the world has become such that many figures previously on the fringes of the political discourse are now proving to be prescient sages.
It happened when the possibility of a lab leak turned from a kook conspiracy theory into a reasonable and even likely explanation for the coronavirus pandemic.
It happened when vaccine passports turned from a paranoid delusion of government overreach into a reality of life in New York City.
Now, many are realizing that former Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian and sometimes-Republican from Texas, was eerily accurate in his forecast for America’s military presence in Afghanistan — a decade in advance.
Though there were and are many compelling reasons to keep troops in Afghanistan, it’s now clear that the 20-year conflict was politically doomed.
In March 2011 remarks to Congress, Paul outlined the reasons why the U.S. should take the opportunity to declare the war over.
“The question we are facing today is should we leave Afghanistan,” Paul said. “I think the answer is very clear, and it’s not complicated. Of course we should, as soon as we can.
“If we don’t [leave by the end of the year], we’ll be there for another decade, would be my prediction.”
Should the U.S. have pulled out of Afghanistan a decade ago?
“The American people are now with us,” he continued. “A group of us here in the Congress — a bipartisan group — for nearly a decade have been talking about this, arguing not to expand the war, not to be over there, not to be in nation-building,” he said.
“And the American people didn’t pay much attention. Now they are,” Paul added. “The large majority of the American people now say it’s time to get out of Afghanistan. It’s a fruitless venture. Too much has been lost.”
“The chance of winning — since we don’t even know what we are going to win — doesn’t exist. So they are tired of it,” he asserted, adding that there was also a financial incentive to withdraw from the country.
“Some argue we have to be there because if we leave under these circumstances we’ll lose face; it will look embarrassing to leave. So how many more men and women have to die, how many more dollars have to be spent to save face?” he asked.
While pulling out ten years ago could have caused the same chaos that has now humiliated our nation, it also could have saved a decade’s worth of lost lives and resources.
Paul went on to argue that the reason for the conflict — ostensibly to wipe out al-Qaida — meant that we should have left the country long before the 10-year mark.
Instead, U.S. forces remained while the Taliban rose to prominence.
“The Taliban used to be our allies at one time when the Soviets were there,” Paul pointed out. “They want foreigners out of their country. They’re not al-Qaida.”
Paul drew a straight line from America’s exorbitant expenditures on the conflict — which topped $100 billion a year at the time, according to the BBC — and its continued presence in Afghanistan to the fate of the Soviet Union under the same conditions.
“How did the Soviets come down? By doing the very same thing that we’re doing: perpetual occupation of a country,” Paul said. “We don’t need to be occupying Afghanistan or any other country.”
Paul summed up his argument by driving home an important point that has become crystal clear this week.
“We can’t change Afghanistan,” he said. “Even if you could, you’re not supposed to. You don’t have the moral authority, you don’t have the constitutional authority.”
While Paul’s isolationist tendencies are certainly not mainstream, it’s undeniable that he correctly predicted that the U.S. would spend another decade fighting a seemingly unwinnable war.
He also correctly asserted that Afghanistan couldn’t easily be remade in America’s image.
It’s up for debate whether staying in Afghanistan after the defeat of al-Qaida was worth it.
We got into this mess to beat back the perpetrators of 9/11, but staying gave us a strategic advantage in the region. If our presence was the only thing keeping the Taliban at bay, then perhaps it was our responsibility to stay.
But President Joe Biden managed to squander two decades of American military and political effort in one fell swoop.
In light of that eventual defeat, Paul certainly had a point.