Infographic of the Day: Should We Stay in Afghanistan?

Everything you should know about the debate, in a single flow chart.

Afghanistan infographic

Afghanistan’s been way off the front page lately, pushed aside first by health-care reform and now financial reform. But the situation’s still a mess, and it’s no accident that some have called the conflict Obama’s Vietnam.


Except its worse than the Vietnam War, in a couple of ways. In Vietnam, we didn’t want to withdraw for fear of some domino effect. If Vietnam went Communist, so too would the entire region. But that was never more than a theory. In Afghanistan, we’re pretty certain that (almost) every possible path will lead to ugliness. And that’s what’s illustrated in this remarkably ambitious infographic, created by German students Pierre la Baume, Karen Hentschel and
Marc Tiedemann.


The basic point is that if we stay, we’re forced to walk a tightrope between awful possibilities; the chances of success are razor thin, and when we leave, the country might simply revert to what it would have if we had simply left:

But if we leave, the situation will almost certainly spiral out of control, with dark consequences down the line. (Remember that it was our support of the Taliban in the 1980s, during their war with the Russians, that eventually fomented the rise of Al Qaeda.)

Afghanistan infographic

The one thing the graphic doesn’t address is why we’d ever want to stay in the first place, given how low the chances are of attaining a lasting peace. But that doesn’t mean the impulse isn’t right: To plunge a country into chaos and then simply leave without trying to fix the mess would be a profound moral failing. (At least that’s what the generals have been saying.)

Afghanistan really is a conundrum, rife with myriad conflicting options, none of them good.

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.