Nearly two decades after the U.S. military launched a war in Afghanistan responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Taliban has retaken the country. The offensive by the Islamist military organization comes amid a planned withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. Former Rep. Max Rose was once one of those troops, serving as an infantry platoon leader in the U.S. Army in Kandahar Province for 10 months, from 2012 to 2013. After losing reelection to Congress in 2020, Rose recently wrapped up a six months stint as a COVID-19 senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Defense, though he said his role didn’t have any direct implications on the presence in Afghanistan. Rose has said that he hasn’t ruled out another run for Congress against Rep. Nicole Malliotakis in 2022. City & State talked to him Monday about why he thinks getting involved in Afghanistan was the right thing to do, why the current situation was “inevitable” and what he thinks New Yorkers should be doing about it.
This morning, we’re seeing videos of Afghans flooding the tarmac at the airport in Kabul, trying desperately to flee the country. What’s going through your head when you see that?
First and foremost – and I’m seeing this all over my Facebook feed and text messages and calls from buddies – it’s important for us to reemphasize today, more so than most other days, how sincerely grateful and thankful we are for those who served in Afghanistan. Many of whom made multiple deployments, made incredible sacrifices. And that service wasn’t for nought. They accomplished something. It was real, in response to the greatest domestic attack this nation has ever experienced. And at a moment in history – 2001, post-USS Cole, post-embassy bombings in Africa – it was a sentiment throughout the world that America didn’t have a backbone. That America won’t respond no matter what happened. And we showed them that that’s not the case. That we do have backbone as a nation. There’s been no successful attack that has emanated from Afghanistan. And that’s directly tied to their heroic actions.
With that being said though, you can’t let that gratitude and that acknowledgement of history bleed into a perpetual support for the allocation of military resources, and the sacrifice of treasure and, most importantly, blood, in pursuit of perpetuating what is an untenable situation from a geopolitical as well as from a military standpoint. Absolutely untenable.
Now, the videos that we’re seeing right now are heart-wrenching, heartbreaking, and I’m sure that a deep dive will be conducted to figure out the ways in which this process could have gone better. But with that being said though, the end of this movie was inevitable, absolutely inevitable. And the speed with which it occurred, despite 20 years of investment in the Afghan national government and military just shows and proves out its inevitability. That is not a justification for staying there.
This leads to the last point, which I think is the most essential. We can’t let a movement and an effort to end what is America’s longest war, we can’t let that bleed into naive isolationism or a dangerous reduction in America’s capacity to defend the homeland and conduct counterterrorism operations abroad. There is today not a patch of ground that America cannot kinetically touch in defense of the homeland, and in response to entities that threaten the homeland, or America’s interests abroad. We have to continue to invest in that, whether that capacity will one day maybe touch Afghanistan, or tens of other nations that could pose a threat to us.
Your concern is clearly with national security. Do you think American involvement in Afghanistan has made life safer for Americans? What about for Afghans?
Absolutely. I 100% believe that our involvement in that conflict and our resolute involvement has showed that – for the last 20 years there has not been a direct attack that has emanated from Afghanistan. And, by the way, it has also sent a message that in the event of a significant attack on the homeland, America will respond in a resolute and fierce manner.
With that being said though, none of that is a justification for (a) perpetual warfare commitment to an untenable situation. So now we need to transition to a new stage, and that new stage is centered around our capacity to respond to terrorist threats no matter where they emanate from, Afghanistan or otherwise. And I am a firm believer in the United States of America maintaining that capacity. But also not committing an ungodly amount of treasure and harrowing levels of servicemembers to something that cannot be resolved with our military.
Overall, do you think it was the right decision for the U.S. to start a war in Afghanistan 20 years ago?
I’ve seen blame placed on President Joe Biden specifically, criticism that the pullout was done irresponsible. Do you blame any particular leader? Is that the right perspective?
In terms of the execution of the withdrawal, there’s no doubt that the Pentagon and the National Security Council and the State Department will evaluate what could have gone better. But that does not take away from the fact that the decision itself to end this war was eminently justified, whether that’s under President (Donald) Trump, or under President Biden. And the fact that you have some people who are defending President Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban a year ago, now vociferously demonizing President Biden, just speaks to the lunacy of politics in the modern day.
I believe Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who you ran against last year, has fully blamed Biden.
On this day especially, Nicole’s opinions are irrelevant. What matters is what is best for the long-term national security of the United States of America, while also preserving our values and properly utilizing finite resources. That’s what matters here. On this day, more than any, you’re going to see folks taking advantage of the opportunity for retweets and sound bites. That’s not how you conduct national security. You have to conduct national security with an eye towards a global view, not being naive. You can be a naive isolationist, you can be a naive jingoist. And we don’t have the time for either of those today. And we certainly don’t have the time for anyone taking a hyperpolitical lens on this, particularly at a moment when Donald Trump forthrightly set the table for this withdrawal in the first place.
Do you think there’s anything New York’s state and city governments should be doing about the situation in Afghanistan?
As a city that is more familiar with aiding and supporting diasporas and communities abroad more than any other – certainly any other city in America, perhaps more than any city in the world – this is not a situation that New Yorkers are unfamiliar with in terms of the opportunity to send aid abroad. But what I would say that I think is really especially important is that for New Yorkers, in terms of their civic participation, to center the conversation on how, in the era of 2021 and beyond, how do we preserve this country’s national security? With the understanding that New York City all too often, has a bull’s-eye on it. And that means that we can’t just, with a blindfold on, continue to engage the world as if it’s 2001, 2002, 2003, and continue to expend resources in that manner. (We have to be) constantly evolving, constantly reshuffling, constantly thinking about how do we make the right investments. And New Yorkers, being the leaders that they are, they need to demand that of their elected officials, particularly at the federal level.
Do you think New York, and the United States as a whole, should be accepting Afghan refugees at this time? Should there be a limit?
Absolutely. As many as possible.
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