A reader writes:
Speaking as one of the soldiers (actually a Marine) who have borne part of the burden you refer to, I don't have a problem coming back to Afghanistan if it means girls don't get their noses cut off. We are all volunteers and every single person in the US military either joined since the war in Afghanistan started or has had multiple chances to get out. We knew what we were getting into and we did it for a reason.
The consequences of either leaving Afghanistan completely or pulling back to a purely counterterrorist strategy have been glossed over for far too long.
Personally, I'm pleased that Time has begun to add some balance to the debate. It's not a case of war with the US and its allies in Afghanistan or peace with them gone, it's war either way. War without deep US involvement at the ground level would likely be bloodier for civilians.
It is true that women's rights are not the main strategic priority in Afghanistan. We invaded first and foremost to prevent future attacks like September 11th. But to suggest that the presence of the US military has no effect on the safety of Afghan women is ridiculous.
This outrage was ordered by a Taliban court. If the Taliban did not feel secure enough to administer justice in a semiofficial manner, Aisha's nose would not have been cut off. Contrary to what Matthew Yglesias suggests, extreme violence toward women is not a cultural trait that exists in southern and eastern Afghanistan independently; it was introduced by the Taliban 13 years ago. The Taliban are not an expression of normal Pashtun culture any more than the Nazis were an expression of normal German culture. We don't need to alter the social fabric of southern and eastern Afghanistan to prevent this sort of barbarism; we just need to remove the Taliban.
I say this as someone who has Pashtun Afghan friends that I work with every day. Yes, their views on the proper place of women in society are inherently offensive to most Americans, but they don't believe in senseless brutality anymore than we do. Where the Taliban have more power, they are more of a threat to women; where they have less control, they are less of a threat. Providing security and extending the rule of law throughout Afghanistan is exactly what the US military and its ISAF and Afghan allies are trying to do and is exactly what will prevent things like this from happening. (If we really aren't making a difference, why did a collection of influential Afghan women tell Code Pink that international forces were absolutely essential for their continued freedom and safety?)
Again, I am baffled by how people like you can express profound outrage when civilians are accidentally killed by US forces in spite of the very substantial risks we assume to reduce civilian casualties, yet blithely shrug off the fate of Afghan civilians under a Taliban regime because "we put in 10 years and we're tired so it's not our responsibility". If we have the means to prevent it from happening, than it is indeed our responsibility. Either these people's lives are important or they aren't.
And where does that end? Which countries are not worth saving? How many lives is the appalling toll in the Congo worth? The premise here is that ending suffering in the world is a legitimate foreign policy goal. If you can on the cheap, fine. If it takes a century of neo-imperialism, not so much.