President Biden faces agonizing choices in withdrawing from Afghanistan, a situation where there simply are no neat, ethical answers, only unhappy tradeoffs. Let’s see if we can untangle some of the conundrums. Warning: It whipsaws your emotions.

The war has been awfully long, and Americans tired of it years ago. It started brilliantly in October 2001 when a few special forces backed by air power and allied with anti-Taliban Afghans quickly ousted the Taliban regime. Americans, justly enraged by 9/11, were delighted.

Could we then have said “mission accomplished” and left? Remember how the Taliban took power in the 1990s. Chaos reigned after the Soviets withdrew in 1989, and the Pashto-based Taliban were the only ones who could restore order. After a speedy U.S. exit, they would have taken over again. Which they are about to do now.

We soon lost sight of the war’s aim. Initially, it was to capture and try the Al Qaeda chiefs then sheltered by Afghanistan. But the Taliban regime refused to cough them up, so we had to fight the Taliban, who combine fundamentalist Islam with Pashto ethno-nationalism that aims to own Afghanistan. U.S. national interests have never included Pashtunistan. Except now they do. We created a national interest where there was none.

Make no mistake, the Taliban are primitive savages who outlawed everything from shaving, kite-flying and music to educating women. When the Taliban take over in a year or two, they will reserve special wrath for educated women, whose numbers have shot up over 20 years. Many will be killed. Some already have been.

It will take a strong stomach to turn our backs on those who will suffer under restored Taliban rule. Should we grant large numbers of them asylum? Keep out Central Americans and welcome Afghan refugees?

Asylum for Afghan refugees raises the “Saigon problem.” By letting thousands flee the North Vietnamese in 1975, we hastened the collapse of the South Vietnamese army. Why fight and die when you can flee to an American ship? (The opposite: Israelis know they must either fight or be driven into the sea, a great motivator.)

Our 2,500 dead in Afghanistan is not terribly high, although of faint solace for those who have lost husbands and fathers. The zero casualties of the last year is deceptive. With the U.S. proclaiming its intention to leave, the Taliban figure all they have to do is wait. But if we stay, our soldiers are again marked targets. Our casualties will soar.

U.S.-Taliban “negotiations,” essentially fake, resemble the fake U.S.-North Vietnamese negotiations of the early 1970s. Once the U.S. was practically out by the end of 1972, Hanoi granted us a “decent interval” to avoid humiliation. But many — including Nixon and Kissinger — understood that the hundreds of thousands of North Vietnamese in the south and Laos and Cambodia would give them victory. It just wouldn’t look like an American defeat.

Those who decry Biden’s decision to pull out argue that it allows Al Qaeda and its offshoot ISIS to again plot terrorism from Afghanistan. True, but jihadists can plan terrorism from just about anywhere. The specific 9/11 plot was hatched in Hamburg, Germany, where its Egyptian leader was a student. Jihadists operate in London, Paris, Madrid and Brussels under the very noses of the police.

In Pakistan, they operate with the permission of Pakistani intel. Pakistan is already the next major battleground over Islamist terrorism. Can Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence contain the monster it founded and funded? Now they learn how dangerous double games are. Let’s not leap to the aid of those who hid Osama bin Laden for 10 years.

The military bitterly dislikes failing a mission. Their ethos is to win. That’s why many still claim we could have won in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They offer a sunk-costs argument: After expending much blood and treasure, we are pulling out when victory is still possible. It will just take more blood and treasure.

There are a couple of culprits here. First are the joint Congressional resolutions, Authorizations for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), which allow the president to take the country to war without a declaration of war. Congress can later say, “Gosh, we didn’t know it would be used that way.”

Next might be substituting rage for analysis of the complexities of the country we plan to invade/save. It may not even be a country, just a collection of hostile tribes and valleys with little loyalty to a nominal capital. We are largely blank on the history, geography, languages, politics and religions of the country we’re entering. Area specialists have been sidelined. There’s no one around to warn.

As this sad episode shudders to an ignoble close, let us build a Washington monument to restrain us from future missions impossible.