Afghanistan: How Should the Biden Administration Manage the Graveyard of Empires?


In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Milt Bearden, who ran the CIA’s covert support to Afghanistan’s mujahedin during the Soviet war, published a prescient article cautioning the United States against biting off more than it could chew in what he called “the graveyard of empires.”  His advice went unheeded. 
Some twenty years later, the United States faces difficult choices.  Should Washington proceed with military withdrawal, as it pledged to do by May 1 in an accord struck with Afghanistan’s opposition leaders last year?  How can the United States ensure that a withdrawal would not prompt Afghanistan once again to become a base for terrorism or plunge the wider region into conflict? 
On March 11, 2021, the Center for the National Interest assembled a distinguished group of panelists to discuss these questions:

  • Milt Bearden is a Distinguished Non-Resident Fellow at the Center for the National Interest.  He served in numerous senior positions during a distinguished career at the CIA, including as station chief in Pakistan.  His books include The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB (with James Risen) and The Black Tulip: A Novel of War in Afghanistan.  His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, and The National Interest

  • Cheryl Benard was program director in the RAND National Security Research Division. She is the author of Veiled Courage, Inside the Afghan Women’s Resistance; Afghanistan: State and Society; Democracy and Islam in the Constitution of Afghanistan; and Securing Health, Lessons from Nation-building Missions. Currently, she is the Director of ARCH International, an organization that protects cultural heritage sites in crisis zones.

  • Paul Pillar is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University and a contributing editor to The National Interest.  He is a former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia.  His books include Negotiating Peace: War Termination as a Bargaining Process and Terrorism and U.S. Foreign Policy

  • George Beebe, Vice President and Director of Studies at the Center for the National Interest, and former director of Russia analysis at the CIA, moderated the discussion.