Posted on July 19, 2023



End The "Ending" Of Wars

Outcomes matter, after all


Daniel Clark



It was only twelve years ago that Republicans expressed outrage at President Barack Obama for "ending" the war in Iraq. In all realism, victory had been at hand ever since George W. Bush ordered "the surge" in 2007. Saddam and Sons were long gone by that point, al-Qaeda in Iraq had been routed, and the only way to lose control of the situation was to precipitously withdraw in order to fulfill a fatuous promise about "ending" the war.

Following Obama's impetuous 2011 abandonment of Iraq, AQI, which had exiled itself to Syria, returned as the rebranded Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. It sought to fulfill the mission of its late founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to establish an Islamic caliphate in Baghdad, and appeared capable of doing so in the absence of American-led opposition. Obama, having failed to foresee that our enemies would not agree to "end" the war, was forced to un-end it in 2014 by launching a multi-front campaign against ISIS called Operation Inherent Resolve. It was not until a year into the presidency of his successor, Donald Trump, that all Iraqi territory that had been captured by ISIS was retaken.

This episode should have been more than enough to drive home the point that military outcomes matter, and that we cannot unilaterally "end" a conflict without actually resolving it. To the contrary, Trump remained committed to "ending" the war in Afghanistan, even after repeatedly trumpeting his role in the defeat of ISIS in Iraq. In his private business, Trump very well may be the master negotiator he says he is, but as a political leader, he had to contend with the fact that, as a candidate promising to "end" the "forever war," he gave away his endgame before talks with the Taliban even began. The Taliban realized that America's withdrawal from Afghanistan was not something that was being offered to them, but instead was something being asked of them, for which they could name their price. The result was what former Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster accurately described as a "surrender agreement."

By the time President Joe Biden executed our ignominious exit, Trump and many of his loyalists were disavowing the policy. They weirdly but correctly argued that the former president's agreement, which was never submitted to the Senate for approval as a treaty, was nonbinding, and therefore that Biden's decision to honor the deal was his own responsibility. Trump has even claimed he had intended to keep possession the Bagram air base, in direct contradiction of the terms of the deal he negotiated.

Just as in Iraq, the enemy never agreed that the war had ended. The Taliban easily overthrew the elected Afghan government, whose forces collapsed when the American air power and logistics on which they were dependent were suddenly yanked away. Incredibly, Biden is now gloating that his operation was a success, that there is no al-Qaeda presence in Afghanistan, and that "we are getting help from the Taliban." In fact, a recent United Nations report tells us that the Taliban are providing al-Qaeda with "welfare payments," and that the leadership of al-Qaeda is now enmeshed within the Taliban power structure. This should surprise nobody, for the Taliban and al-Qaeda have been one and the same ever since 9/11, if not before.

Rail as we might against Trump for negotiating the surrender deal, or Biden for carrying it out in such a horrendously inept manner, neither of those men would have acted as he did, had it not been demanded of him by the American people. We have given our enemies who perpetrated that horrific and unprovoked attack its base of operations back, and why? Because our highest priority was to "end" the "forever war." To amend the popular slogan of two decades ago, Never Forget, but Just Don't Give So Much of a Damn Anymore.

Ironically, the War on Terror would not now be so unpopular if not for its own successes. The only reason Americans can afford to be so dismissive of it is that Islamic terrorism is no longer constantly demanding our attention. Exactly why do people think that is? Because the TSA has been so gosh darned effective? Sometimes, it seems as if we are slipping into denial that the threat had ever been real in the first place, much as leftist academics would have us think about Communism. Perhaps one day in the near future, history books will begin referring to the Islamic scare of the early 2000s. That is, until we receive a deadly reminder from that same enemy, which we have now given the time and space to regroup.

Now, former president and current presidential candidate Trump is promising to "end" the war between Russia and Ukraine "within 24 hours." In an interview with Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo, he said that if he were president again, he would tell Vladimir Putin, "If you don't make a deal, we're going to give [the Ukrainians] a lot. We're gonna give more than they ever got." Not only would threatening more of what we're already doing be unlikely to bring the Russians to the negotiating table, but such a threat would be totally lacking in credibility, coming from the nation's foremost critic of aid to Ukraine.

Trump frequently makes the grandiose claim that he "rebuilt the military" during his four years in office. His excuse for the scarcity of supporting evidence is that Biden has already undone this herculean feat of his by giving away all of our military hardware to Ukraine. His threat that he would not only continue but accelerate Biden's policy in this area is nearly impossible to take seriously.

More likely, he would follow the suggestion of libertarian Sen. Rand Paul (R, Ky.), which is to withdraw all aid from Ukraine, thereby turning the tide of the war in Russia's favor, and leaving the Ukrainians little choice but to cede territory in exchange for peace. Granted, that would probably succeed in putting an end to the fighting for the time being, but it would revive Putin's plans to conquer the whole country, and possibly to move on to another invasion after that. A war that had been a disaster for him to this point would suddenly turn into another incremental victory, encouraging him to come back for a third attempt to finish the job, perhaps in another decade. As usual, the "ending" of a "forever war" is likely to create an over and over and over again war.

In addition to not really ending the conflict, this would produce an outcome that is in opposition to America's national interests, much like the "ended" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having been given an opportunity to squelch Russia's expansionist ambitions, and cause an upheaval within Putin's government, we would instead strengthen and embolden the aggressor, while making our own nation appear rudderless and weak.

There was a time when Americans used to finish wars, instead of "ending" them, and those two outcomes are not nearly the same. As long as we're merely "ending" wars, they will never truly be finished. Whether it is instead we that will be finished is another question.



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