Thursday, January 01, 2015

You Responsibly End a War By Winning the War

So the president has ended the Afghanistan War. What is our enemy's vote on this as the new year dawns?

So where are the parades?

Taking America off a permanent war footing is proving harder than President Barack Obama may have suggested.

U.S. troops are back in Iraq, the endgame in Afghanistan is requiring more troops ? and perhaps more risks ? than once expected and Obama is saddled with a worsening, high-stakes conflict in Syria.

Last spring, Obama described to newly minted Army officers at West Point how "the landscape has changed" after a decade of war. He cited then-dwindling conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he said Osama bin Laden, whose plotting from an al-Qaida sanctuary in Afghanistan gave rise to what became America's longest war, "is no more."

"You are the first class to graduate since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan," Obama declared to a burst of applause.

The president is responsibly ending the war in Afghanistan, he says. But the Taliban still fight the allies we've left in place.

And oddly enough we still have more than 10,000 troops there.Because when the Taliban controlled Afghanistan, they hosted al Qaeda which struck us at home on September 11, 2001.

The president ended the war in Iraq, too, in 2011, when we left.

We seem to be back fighting jihadis in Iraq. With a bonus campaign in Syria. Because our enemies voted on this question, too. They decided to fight.

In 1997, in a paper I wrote and presented at an Army convention (The First Gulf War and the Army's Future), I noted this lesson of the Iran-Iraq War, when Iran did not fold under the pressure of the initial Iraqi invasion of Iran:

Not wanting to repeat our experience in Vietnam, many speak of needing an "exit strategy" before committing troops. Such an approach seeks to minimize our losses under the assumption that we will at some point lose, so we had better know when to cut our losses and get out. It also assumes that the situation allows for an exit and that our enemy will allow it. The Iraqis desperately wanted out of the war they initiated in 1980 but were locked by Iran in a death grip that allowed for no easy exit.

Perhaps the president is right and those new officers won't go to fight in Afghanistan or Iraq. Although the continuing commitment of American troops to help Afghanistan and the renewed commitment of American troops to help Iraq argues otherwise even if the circumstances of killing and being killed isn't defined by the president as "combat."

Yet even if no Americans go into combat in Afghanistan or Iraq, because our jihadi enemies still wage war on us those new American officers and those who follow will find themselves in combat somewhere against jihadis. Perhaps in Libya. Maybe Syria. Could be Yemen or Somalia. Maybe Jordan or Egypt.

Or maybe someplace completely off our radar screens right now.

When you are locked to an enemy because they have a death grip on us, we don't have the luxury of exiting a war short of victory. Under those circumstances, the basic truth of the situation is that either we win or they win.

Taking America off a war footing is harder because the war is not yet won.We can only pretend the choice is ours alone for a little while until our enemies remind us of the basic truth.