It was simple and clear in 2001.
Tony Blair was in messianic mode, clad in a cloak of infallibility. His prime objective was to build a blood brother relationship with the Republican Bush as he had with the Democratic Clinton. Rage at 9/11 found its expression in the delusion of Western omnipotence. Osama Bin Laden had to be found. The tinpot regime in Afghanistan had to be toppled for protecting him. This 13th century society had to be transformed into a Scandinavian democracy minus corruption and the drugs trade.
Tony Blair explained to the Commons that 90% of the heroin used in Britain comes from Afghanistan. He said the country was riddled with corruption and had the second worst deaths in childbirth rates in the world. Not an inch of progress has been made in 11 years on all three of these issues. In most areas the vast sacrifice of Western blood and treasure has made conditions worse.
The International Crisis Group reported that violence and the billions of dollars in international aid have brought wealthy officials and insurgents together. As a result, "the economy is increasingly dominated by a criminal oligarchy of politically connected businessmen".
The negatives column in the Afghan war's balance sheet does not get any shorter. So far, the conflict has cost the lives of 422 UK troops, 3,000 coalition troops, between 14,000 and 34,000 civilians, created millions of refugees, and opened up a black hole in Western economies that has sucked in more than $500bn dollars. Afghanistan costs the US around $10bn (£6.3bn) a month; and Britain paid £4.5bn last year.
What has been achieved by the war?
Bin Laden has been killed - but not as a result of NATO action in Afghanistan. The killing of Bin Laden has demonstrated that special forces, police work and drones are a far more effective weapon against terrorists than wars. However they breached international treaties and consign us to the moral low ground.
Schools have reopened with almost 80,000 children enrolled today, virtually double the number in 2007. Two-thirds of Afghans now have access to basic health services – up from 8 per cent during Taliban rule; more than 1,000 judges, 200 of them women, have been trained; and elections, albeit increasingly corrupt ones, are routinely held.
Violence is at record levels, a dysfunctional government is plagued by corruption, and a police and army riddled with illiteracy and dependent on coalition support, Afghanistan is anything but stable. Despite billions of dollars being poured into creating an Afghan army and police force capable of fighting the Taliban little has been achieved.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called Afghanistan: The Impossible Transition, says that the idea of transition by 2014 is "unrealistic" and warns: "If the transition were carried out, it would provide a considerable boost to the insurgency and, ultimately, the defeat of the Karzai regime." Over the past two years, the security situation has deteriorated in the border provinces, according to the report. And President Karzai is showing increasing signs of moving closer to Iran and Pakistan.
The prospect of settled peace is an illusion. Canada and the Netherlands have withdrawn their troops without detriment. Australia and France are leaving early.The UK should do the same.