There’s little that Democrats and Republican Trumpers agree on to be sure, but on one issue at least they may be united: the need to end America’s forever wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in each of which we’ve been involved for almost two decades.
Trump has threatened to abandon both places. He’s already betrayed the Kurds in Syria who fought so well and loyally essentially as our infantry against Daesh, and he seeks to do the same by withdrawing all American forces from the country in which the plan for 9/11 was hatched.. But Trump is an idiot and his desire to withdraw from Afghanistan has less to do with strategy or a hardheaded reassessment of our commitments abroad than winning brownie points with his base before a tough re-election campaign. But such a withdrawal from Afghanistan would be a serious strategic and moral mistake and I really hope a Biden administration, if there is one, will agree, even if it means the commitment of a modest force indefinitely.
Of course the case for staying isn’t helped by the fact that its strongest advocates are some of the same nincompoops whose enthusiast cheer led us into the 2003 Iraq invasion ordered by George W Bush, such as Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute and retired army general Jack Keane joined by a guy I’d hoped never to see or hear from again, Joe Lieberman and we all know how that went (although as an ardent opponent of that war it would be churlish indeed not to acknowledge that the United States plucked a solid military victory from the jaws of defeat thanks to the 2006 surge of forces under a more capable general and the fortunate timing of an alliance with the Arab Sunni Awakening; but at a bitter cost to both Iraqis and Coalition forces). We still live with the unpleasant reality that the principal beneficiary geopolitically has been Iran who lost a formidable enemy and found a new best friend in the now Shia-dominated Iraqi government.
But just because they were wrong about Iraq doesn’t mean they’re wrong now and O’Hanlon in particular makes a compelling case for retaining the current residual force of between 5-10,000 American and NATO forces. And whilst both O’Hanlon and Keane emphasize the critical counter-terrorism role of such a force, and rightly so given the ongoing threat of Daesh (ISIS-K) and the ever present possibility of a rejuvenated al-Qaida, I would argue that we should also help to thwart a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. We can do this by continuing to provide training, logistics and even air support to Afghan forces. And let’s not forget the all-important moral support our presence provides.
Why should we do this? Because of the effort and sacrifice our Allies and ourselves have made to the cause; and because Afghanis, especially women and young girls, have come too far to be sent back to the 15th century by the fundamentalist rigidity of another Taliban regime. And make no mistake, that is the alternative if we fail to continue helping the Afghans.
Fulfilling our obligations and commitments is not a partisan issue, it’s an American issue. And betrayal doesn’t sit well with us, nor should it.