"We will never 'win' militarily in Afghanistan, nor can we kill our way to success."
Retired Admiral James Stavridis made a lot of sense when he wrote these words for TIME magazine last May. Taken out of context, they might make one think that Stavridis, past NATO Supreme Allied Commander and current Dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, had come around to calling for the U.S. to cut our losses in what is already the longest war in our history.
Unfortunately, however, his article was entitled "5 Reasons Trump Should Send More Troops to Afghanistan" and the above mentioned flash of sanity—and recognition of reality—actually constituted part of one of those five reasons. More troops, the Admiral argued, would "create political capital" and "better leverage" in the negotiations with the Taliban that he envisions happening—at some future date. In other words, these new troops—along with all of the old ones—are designed to be pawns in a geopolitical game.
"In other words, these new troops—along with all of the old ones—are designed to be pawns in a geopolitical game."
Of all of the many crimes attached to this now apparently permanent war, this may be the greatest. War is hell and it’s not where we go expecting to encounter good behavior. Still, in war we nonetheless expect both our military and political leaders to adhere to certain standards. We expect them to attempt to avoid civilian casualties. We expect them to treat enemy prisoners humanely. But perhaps most fundamentally, we expect that they will value the lives of the soldiers and sailors placed under their command; and it's assumed therefore that those men and women won't be put in harm's way primarily to save face for the leaders—leaders who, for instance, might find themselves unwilling and/or unable to acknowledge that their continued deployment no longer made sense.
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This dereliction of a basic responsibility towards their troops obviously does not start with Donald Trump or the current Pentagon leadership. Stavridis's article virtually quotes a 2008 statement by then Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen that "we can’t kill our way to victory." And as we know, Mullen's first boss, George W. Bush, not only started this seemingly endless war as a response to an act of terrorism, but also another one in Iraq that, if anything, was an even greater travesty than this one. Barack Obama then not only kept Mullen on—along with Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates—but increased American troop levels in Afghanistan at a point when (if he is half as smart as his supporters think he is) he had to know he was sending them on a fool's errand.
Nor is the current willingness to risk the lives of American military personnel in pursuit of quixotic policy goals confined to the Trump Mad House. Pundits have noted the similarities between Trump's plans and the proposals of former Vice President Joe Biden, currently said to be contemplating another presidential run in 2020. Likewise, Obama Administration assistant secretary of defense Derek Chollet has allowed that, "To be honest,” the Trump plan is “probably pretty close to what a Hillary Clinton would do." And let’s face it, while Bernie Sanders has occasionally indicated a desire to alter the direction of U.S. foreign policy, he too has offered few specifics about breaking with the course of the last decade and a half.
"Sixteen years on into what used to be called the 'War on Terror,' a few things have become clear."
Sixteen years on into what used to be called the "War on Terror," a few things have become clear. From a military point of view, we would seem to have established the fact that when we invade other countries, even if we may not be able to win, we cannot be driven out militarily—seemingly we can stay endlessly. And on the political side, we can’t lose—which is to say that no president can or will acknowledge the obvious fact that whatever merit sending troops to Afghanistan may or may not have once had, the interests of the nation are not well served by their continued deployment there. And so they must stay on, seemingly endlessly. When he was an anti-Vietnam War protestor, former Secretary of State John Kerry once famously asked, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Today few seem to pose that question—the reason being perhaps less that people don't see this war as a mistake, than because they can't imagine that there will ever be a last soldier to die in it.
If Donald Trump has been good for one thing—and granted that's a big "if"—it’s that he's almost single-handedly revived political protest in this country. If all of those people absolutely fed up and appalled with his antics would turn their attention toward the disastrous military policy over which he now presides, we'd have the makings of a major antiwar movement. So, if you hate the Donald, please hate his war.