Afghanistan: What Happened and What Can Be Done?

September 15, 2021
Afghanistan Poster

Bernard HaykelProfessor of Near Eastern Studies and Director of the Institute for Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, Princeton University; Melissa M. Lee, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University; Michael A. Reynolds, Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University;

Moderated by Robert P. GeorgeMcCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University

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America's precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan has raised a number of important questions that this panel hopes to address. Among these are: Is this event a sign of America’s loss of standing in the world? What are its geo-strategic implications? Was it a mistake for the US to seek to spread values such as democracy and women’s rights, rather than focus narrowly on strategic interests? The latter would have been to destroy Al Qaeda and nothing else. Is the perennial tension between values and interests reconcilable? How is it that the US has been defeated (if that is the correct term) after 20 years and nearly $2 trillion dollars in spending on Afghanistan? What does this tell us about the competence of the US government, its leadership, military and intelligence services? Who is accountable for this loss? Unlike other world powers, repeated US defeats--in Iraq and now in Afghanistan--appear to have no repercussions for those who advocated for these wars or for those who prosecuted them. What will the effects of America’s withdrawal be on the people of Afghanistan as well as on the regions of Central and South Asia? Will this withdrawal, with its horrific scenes of desperate Afghans clamoring to board US military flights out of Kabul airport, have an impact on domestic US politics? Will it have an impact on the midterm elections of 2022 or the prospects of a second Biden presidential term? This panel, which unites experts from different disciplines and with a wide range of regional expertise, will seek to answer these questions and provide different perspectives on the recent events in Afghanistan.

Bernard Haykel is a scholar of the Arabian Peninsula, focusing on the history, politics and economics of Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), and Yemen. He is professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University where he is also director of the Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East. Professor Haykel is presently completing a book on Saudi Arabia’s political history that will be published by Princeton University Press. He is considered an authority on Islamist political movements and Islamic law and is the author of numerous articles on the politics of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, Salafism, al-Qaeda and ISIS. Haykel has supervised over 10 Ph.D. dissertations that deal with Arabian politics and history and has received several prominent awards, such as the Prize Fellowship at Magdalen College, Oxford, the Carnegie Corporation and Guggenheim fellowships and the Old Dominion Professorship at Princeton. Professor Haykel appears frequently in print and broadcast media, including PBS, NPR, the New York Times, Project Syndicate and the BBC among others. He earned his D.Phil. in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford.

Melissa M. Lee is Assistant Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She studies the international and domestic politics of statebuilding and state development. Professor Lee is the author of Crippling Leviathan: How Foreign Subversion Weakens the State (Cornell University Press, 2020). Her research has also been published or is forthcoming in the American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, International Organization, and the Annual Review of Political Science, and her policy writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs. Her work has received the American Political Science Association’s 2016 Helen Dwight Reid (now Merze Tate) award, APSA’s European Politics and Society Section 2020 Best Article Prize, and Perry World House’s Emerging Scholar Global Policy Prize. Professor Lee received her Ph.D. in Political Science from Stanford University and her B.A. in Political Science from the University of California - San Diego.

Michael A. Reynolds is associate professor of Near Eastern Studies and Director of Princeton’s Program in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies. He is the author of Shattering Empires: The Clash and Collapse of the Ottoman and Russian Empires, a recipient of the American Historical Association’s George Louis Beer Prize, a Financial Times summer reading list selection, a Choice outstanding title. He is currently writing a biography of Enver Pasha, the Young Turk Minister of War. He has written for the broader public in The Wall Street JournalLos Angeles TimesNewsweekThe National Interest, and War on the Rocks. The pandemic permitting, he will be a visiting scholar at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in the spring 2022. 

Robert P. George holds Princeton University's McCormick Chair in Jurisprudence and is the Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He has served as chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), and before that on the President’s Council on Bioethics and as a presidential appointee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He has also served as the U.S. member of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST). He is a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States, where he received the Justice Tom C. Clark Award. A graduate of Swarthmore College, he holds M.T.S. and J.D. degrees from Harvard University and the degrees of D.Phil., B.C.L., D.C.L., and D.Litt. from Oxford University.

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Afghanistan: What Happened and What Can Be Done?

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