April 7, 2020

Declare Victory

By Stephen Tuttle | June 16, 2018

Now that we've decided to cozy up to North Korea while alienating our allies, maybe we should be mindful we're still fighting real wars.  

You might recall the War that Never Ends in Afghanistan. It started as an effort to remove the Taliban from control of the country because they were murderous thugs who had given aid, comfort, and safe-haven to al Qaida, the perpetrators of 9/11.

A relative handful of American special operations personnel, together with tribal leaders we called the Northern Alliance, sent the Taliban scurrying off into the hills. Then we sent more troops and more and more.

The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld troika claimed we were going to bring democracy to Afghanistan and the region.

It's been nearly 17 years, the longest war in our history, and we still have 15,000 troops and nearly twice that many private contractors on the ground there. (This is the first war in which we've had more private contractors than military personnel in theater.) The Taliban now control close to 15 percent of the country. ISIS is still a presence. We've spent nearly $80 billion training the Afghan military, and they still aren't ready to fully defend their own country. The “unity” government is barely functional and at least parts of it are highly corrupt. Their constitution is a mishmash of faux democracy and Islamic law. The official name of the country is now the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, so that whole western democracy thing didn't pan out. 

Then we decided Afghanistan was so much fun that we should venture into Iraq to rid them of their weapons of mass destruction. It was a victory achieved before we started since they had no weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps we should have listened to the U.N. inspector who told us that. Undaunted, we morphed the mission into regime change, another domino in the cascade of Middle East countries turning to democracy we were told. 

We did get rid of Saddam Hussein; a quick trial and hanging after we captured him took care of that. The void left by his departure was quickly filled by ISIS. Iraq's embryonic post-Hussein government, combined with absolute chaos in the military, left them impotent.

At one time, ISIS controlled 34,000 square miles of Iraq and part of Syria and had declared the area their new caliphate. So our little coalition, with total air superiority, went after them from above. The coalition — mostly us France and Great Britain — flew 25,000 combat sorties and turned ISIS held cities and strongholds into rubble.

Nearly all the previously ISIS-held territory has now been reclaimed though there is little left to govern. The bad guys we didn't kill — ISIS casualty estimates range from 25,000 to 50,000 dead with civilian casualties many times higher — scurried off to Syria where they can keep fighting somebody. They have vowed to return, a likely scenario since the Iraqi military is spread too thin to protect the territory regained.

We still have 5,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. We've been there since 2003, making it the second longest combat action in our history. The new Iraqi prime minister would like us to leave entirely, which is probably a good idea.

Then there's Syria. Oh, my. 

We would like their murderous dictator, Bashar al Assad, to be gone. The Russians would like him to stay, likely because he's their biggest arms customer. Russia, Assad, the Free Syrian Army, and we are fighting ISIS. Iran and the terrorist group Hezbollah support Assad and ISIS.

Everybody fighting everybody has sent about half the country into oblivion. Infrastructure and nearly every other structure are simply gone. 

Meanwhile, Turkey, our NATO ally that has allowed us to use bases in their country for our airstrikes, has started fighting the Kurds in northern Syria. The Kurds, one of our strongest anti-ISIS allies, would like their own country and Turkey sees them as terrorists. We're on both sides of that one. 

Altogether, there are now 15 different factions fighting with or against each other in Syria. Victory becomes elusive when there's always somebody else to fight.

That's the common thread to all of it: No one seems to be able to define victory or exactly what it is we're trying to win or how we will know we've won. Killing every terrorist and creating democracies are not rational objectives. And the chaos we've created is actually the perfect breeding ground for the extremists we're fighting. 

Trying to fight a perpetual holding action, as we're now doing, will only add more to the already $1 trillion cost and more obituaries to the nearly 7,000 we've already read. Our national security interests aren't well served trying to be the neighborhood cop in what is clearly not our neighborhood. 

If we can't define victory, we should simply declare it, and come home. 







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