Fifteen years after President George W. Bush first sent American forces into Afghanistan, his wife considers the job unfinished. “I hope we won’t leave,” former First Lady Laura Bush said on Monday.
She cited the conversations she’s had with Afghan women, who worry about what follows the exit of U.S. forces. “They hope that our troops won’t leave too fast,” she said, “because if we leave there’s a vacuum. And they saw what happened in Iraq, where it just wasn’t successful for us to leave.” And she applauded the progress that Afghan women had made over the past decade and a half. “That’s one of the reasons I hope we won’t withdraw our troops—because we would have to start all over again,” she said.
It’s a war that President Obama inherited from his predecessor, and despite his pledge to “end the war in Afghanistan” by 2014, one that he’ll now pass along to his successor. Although there was overwhelming support for the invasion when it was launched, 42 percent of the public said they now considered it a mistake in a 2015 Gallup poll.
But Laura Bush remains as committed to the empowerment of Afghan women as she was when she first publicly took up the cause, in a November, 2001 radio address. “I hope Americans will join our family in working to insure that dignity and opportunity will be secured for all the women and children of Afghanistan,” she said then. In a nation that remains wracked by violence and torn by insurgencies, it’s proven an elusive goal.