National Security & Defense

The Corner

Our Savage Wars of Peace

Lost amid the coverage of the Comeydämmerung is a huge story that isn’t getting the attention it deserves. The United States is preparing to go back to war in Afghanistan.

The Washington Post reports:

President Trump’s most senior military and foreign policy advisers have proposed a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan that would effectively put the United States back on a war footing with the Taliban.

The new plan, which still needs the approval of the president, calls for expanding the U.S. military role as part of a broader effort to push an increasingly confident and resurgent Taliban back to the negotiating table, U.S. officials said.

The plan comes at the end of a sweeping policy review built around the president’s desire to reverse worsening security in Afghanistan and “start winning” again.

According to the Post, the change in policy is designed to “reverse moves by President Obama to steadily limit the U.S. military role in Afghanistan.”

The news comes after months — if not years — of worsening conditions on the ground, a flailing central government in Kabul, and growing Taliban strength. In January, Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense and combat Marine, wrote in these pages about the fall of Sangin to the Taliban. Just a few years before, in 2010, the U.S. Marines went through hell to wrest Sangin, a district capital in Helmand province, from Taliban fighters.

The 3rd Platoon of Kilo Company in the 5th Marine Regiment was patrolling the farmlands in bloody Sangin in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. When I joined them, they were shot at or encountered concealed IEDs (improvised explosive devices) every day. . . . Third Platoon went into Sangin with 51 Marines and in seven months took 27 casualties, including two killed and nine amputations. Altogether, American and British forces each lost 100 troops in the battle and incurred several hundred moderate to severe casualties.

West laments that, for all the blood and treasure expended over so many years — it’s been 15 long years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan — “some problems can only be managed” and that U.S. war aims should be to deny terrorists a sanctuary statelet: “More grandiose political goals will remain elusive.”

It may be that re-engagement in Afghanistan is the right policy. It may be that America’s national interest requires the continued involvement in that weary country. It may be that a cold-blooded appraisal of the situation warrants the expenditure of yet more American blood and treasure. It may be that an unsatisfying, bloody, messy stalemate is the best we can hope for, something that should be considered a policy “success.” It may be that Americans aren’t yet done with what Kipling called “the savage wars of peace.”

But shouldn’t there be a public debate about all this? Shouldn’t the Congress at least debate the policy? Or are we to believe that the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force permits American military action in central Asia in perpetuity?

One would hope that congressional and public input into matters of war and peace is not yet passé.

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