Were the Wars Worth It?
Asking questions of justice, responsibility, stewardship, and security ten years on.


The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were both necessary and wise. The Clinton administration had mistakenly prioritized diplomacy over military action in its dealings with terrorists and their sponsors. Neither the 1993 World Trade Center attack nor Osama bin Laden’s 1996 declaration of war on America led President Clinton to order reprisals. Al-Qaeda interpreted White House inaction as weakness and was encouraged to carry out further attacks, culminating with 9/11.

Liberals and libertarians may vilify President Bush and Vice President Cheney, but dictators and terrorists now think twice about attacking the United States. Killing Americans again has a cost.

No one should question the value of liberating 24 million Iraqis and nearly as many Afghans. They may not instantly become free but, as with President Truman’s involvement in Korea, historians will recognize a wisdom that contemporaries did not. Bush deserves some credit for the Arab Spring as well. Arabs may have been critical of some U.S. actions, but Bush succeeded in changing the conversation: Arab publics began to discuss the meaning of democracy, accountability, and their achievement.

Still, it remains up to President Obama and the American public to confirm the value of the wars. Obama seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, walking away from Iraq and promising a similar abandonment of Afghanistan, with little more than rhetorical support for the continued relationships upon which their further transformation depends.

 Michael Rubin (@mrubin1971) is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

These words are written from my tent in Zhari District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. This is the very birthplace of the Taliban. Mullah Omar grew up a short distance from my tent. There is fighting every day in this area of operations. This is said to be the most deadly area in Afghanistan. Last month was reportedly the most deadly in the war.

The previous six sentences should answer any questions about how well we’ve done in Afghanistan. We are finally making obvious progress, at least. Morale in this American unit is high and we are taking away Taliban sanctuary. Are we winning? Yes. Is it worth it? Not for Americans. For Afghans, yes. Many, if not most, Afghans are afraid we will leave too quickly. If we wish to succeed — price notwithstanding — now is no time to slacken off. This will be a long process measured in many decades, but after the main enemies are beaten down and the central government is sufficiently strong, we can ease up on our commitments.

Iraq is a different story. We achieved success at a very high cost. Was it worth it? Probably. We will not know the answers for years to come.

 Michael Yon is author of Moment of Truth in Iraq.