College of Liberal Arts Discusses Afghanistan War

Maybe you can't remember what it was like before. Maybe the "before" was before your time. Or maybe you have some vague memories of it. Whatever the case, you'll now have to learn and define what the "after" of the United States' war in Afghanistan will be like.

This Friday, September 17 at 2 p.m., the History and Political Science departments will engage College of Liberal Arts students in a Teach-In about Afghanistan. If you join the Zoom, you'll hear from and interact with Political Science Professor Artemy Kalinovsky about 40 years of war and foreign intervention in the country.

Dr. Kalinovsky's advice for students with aspirations of shaping tomorrow's foreign policy? Pay attention.

"I was an undergraduate student when 9/11 happened," recalls Dr. Kalinovsky. "I wasn't very politically involved. At the same time, I didn't think Afghanistan was a good idea. I felt the Iraq War was a terrible idea. It seemed completely unstoppable that these things would happen, whether I wanted them to or not. 

"Looking back at myself critically, I think that stuff was really profitable, right? Students today are much more engaged than people in my generation, but they need to pay attention to these things. They need to think about what this might mean."

The Political Science professor urges students to consider how U.S. foreign policy decisions could affect them in public service or defense careers and as citizens. He also asks them to consider the impact on their families and the type of world they'll be living in.

Some Temple CLA students were considering points even 20 years ago. History Professor Ralph Young, who has organized the teach-ins for the past two decades, remembers many of his students believed it was "crazy" to invade Afghanistan in 2001.

"Al-Qaeda was not a state or a country, so going to war seemed (despite popular support for it) to not be a smart decision," says Dr. Young. "It was right to go after the perpetrators of 9/11, but to go to war, first in Afghanistan and then Iraq, only meant there was going to be a lot of 'collateral damage.' Additionally, many of my students and I believed the war could never defeat terrorism, only create more terrorists."

The Cost of War puts that collateral damage at 335,000 civilian deaths as of 2019. Many more were wounded and millions were displaced. Additionally, the Cost of War estimates the U.S. had spent $6.4 trillion on its War on Terror as of 2019.

While many in the CLA community may be happy the "forever war" is over, few are likely to see the manner of the U.S.'s exit as anything other than a humanitarian catastrophe. 

According to Dr. Kalinovsky, however, ending the war "was never going to be pretty." The professor notes that the Taliban had been growing stronger, and the U.S.-funded and trained Afghan military was never sustainable. 

Additionally, the former Soviet Union failed to achieve military victory in its own war with Afghanistan due to interference from Pakistan. In both wars, the Taliban also knew that if it just held out long enough in the country's unforgiving terrain, it could outlast foreign invaders.

Dr. Kalinovsky believes the absolute best-case scenario was that the U.S.-backed Afghanistan government and military could have held the Taliban off for 12-18 months before falling. He believes the blame for the current president and the previous three share the blame for this inevitability. Other than finding a way to pressure neighboring Pakistan to directly oppose the Taliban, however, he's unsure how any president could have orchestrated a better exit.

"You could stay there, and you could keep the conflict at the level where it is now, but sooner or later it would have escalated," concludes Dr. Kalinovsky, "and I have to give the president credit for recognizing that, even though I think he could have done better."

Join professors Artemy Kalinovsky, Ralph Young and CLA students for Friday's Afghanistan Teach-In.