It’s hard to conjure up a worse outcome for our investment in Afghanistan than the reality that confronts us today on the fifteenth anniversary of the war. With almost 2,400 dead Americans, 20,000 wounded, and $686 billion (as of 2014) expended towards building a Sharia government in Kabul (cost is exponentially higher when non-combat expenditures are factored in), the Taliban now control more territory than they did prior to the 2001 invasion. Over 70% of the casualties have been on Obama’s watch, yet because a Democrat is in the White House, it’s as if the war and its quagmire never happened. Nor do Republicans care to talk about it and hold Obama accountable.
Further disquieting is that fact that this 800-pound gorilla in the room has almost never come up during the course of the presidential election — either in the Republicans primary or general election. Those who decline to observe the failures of Afghanistan are already showing signs of repeating the mistakes elsewhere.
In 2008, Obama won the presidency largely off the coattails of incessant media coverage of the war disasters, promising to pull out of Iraq and refocus attention on Afghanistan. Eight years later, we have nothing to show for it but daily Taliban gains, continued U.S. casualties, and increased levels of troops who are encumbered by restrictive rules of engagement with no defined mission to execute. We have long passed the point in which we must fish-or-cut-bait — ‘define victory or leave.’ Yet, instead of ordering the generals to prioritize a strategic end to this 15-year dumpster fire, Obama is making our generals draw up logistical plans for transgenderism in the service and burdening the already-haggard infantry and special operations units with the most insane ‘women in combat agenda’ imaginable.
To be clear, while Obama lost Afghanistan in the worst possible manner at the worst possible cost, and is still placing our special ops in an impossible morass to this day, the war was doomed to fail already during the Bush years. The original sin of Afghanistan was the same sin that we commit in every theater in the Middle East. Rather than defining the threat doctrine as Sharia-based Islam and the strategic interest as defending only our interests, we got sucked into untenable Islamic civil wars and nation-building for unstable enemy factions.
The enduring lesson of Afghanistan and Iraq, one which must now be heeded in Syria and Libya, is that even if the case for intervention in Islamic civil wars can be reasonably articulated — a tenuous assumption to begin with — there must be specific ground that we can hold for a specific entity that will serve our interests and hold the country together in a way that doesn’t completely erase our investment within a few years. In Afghanistan, we were never going to hold the southern Pashtun areas that were aligned with the Taliban. Sure, we could keep 200,000 troops there forever and let sleeping dogs lie, but at some point the civil war would break open again. The same principle applied to Iraq, with the perennial rubber-band action-reaction crisis between the Iranian-backed Shiites and the Salafist Sunnis. If there is no realistic play for our military to make, we need not, indeed must not, place them into a meat-grinder in a theater where all of the factions hate us.
Which brings us to Syria.
The international media is engaging in yellow journalism showing sensational pictures from the civil war in Aleppo, essentially goading America into further involving our military in the insufferable conflict. Even Republican leaders direct their criticism at Obama for not involving us enough in the civil war. They want more troops on the ground. But for what? To fight for whom? For which outcome? The same people who used disturbing images depicting the rule of terror from the Islamic State to declare a vacuous policy of “we must destroy ISIS” are now using the scene from Aleppo to demand that we destroy Assad and his Russian backers. Which one is it? How about we let Allah sort it out?
Undoubtedly, there are a lot of innocent people who get killed in any civil war, certainly Islamic civil wars. There is so much misery in this world and we pray for God’s salvation. But what is our military supposed to do? The political class in both parties would have you believe we could identify a group of Thomas Jefferson Democrats in the country, vanquish ISIS, vanquish all of the Al Qaeda affiliates and splinter groups, defeat Assad and the Russians … and then have those mythical characters hold the entire ungovernable array of Islamic tribes together. Obama has already abused our special operators and resources by having them fund and train Al Qaeda splinter groups that are calling for the beheading of those troops already there!
Calling on Obama to “do more” will solve nothing but bring the misery of Islamic civil wars to our brave soldiers. It is our people and their safety who must reflect our first priority. We should not work against Russia nor should we work with them. In fact, there is nothing worse I’d wish upon the Russians than the commitment to the dumpster fire they have just forged. They will never be able to place that genie back in the bottle. Let them have another Afghanistan on their hands, not on ours.
This is not to say we shouldn’t stay engaged and don’t have strong plays we can make in the region. We should be supporting Egyptian President el-Sisi in his fight not only against ISIS, but the Muslim Brotherhood and Sharia supremacism. We should support the duly-elected Libyan House of Representatives, which appointed Khalifa Haftar commander of the Libyan army. Haftar successfully took back much of eastern Libya from the radical Islamists and fought the various terrorist factions, including those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Haftar was so feared by the Islamists that Ansar al Sharia, the group behind the Benghazi attack, accused Haftar of launching “a war against the religion and Islam backed by the West and their Arab allies.”
Unfortunately, Obama has already repeated the same mistakes in Libya, choosing to back the Faiez Serraj-led Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. The GNA has relied on Islamist militias affiliated with Ansar al Sharia to control territory and is now collapsing under its own weight. Thus, once again, Obama has expended ground troops and air power on behalf of a failed Islamist “rebel” government.
While Obama chooses to side with all of our enemies in any given theater, the Republican foreign policy establishment thinks we should invest our time and treasure on behalf of some of our enemies to defeat other enemies. It’s time for a new strategy of telegraphing the message to players in the Middle East that if you fight Islamic supremacism — the threat doctrine of our enemy — we will be with you. If not, let Allah sort it out.
Fifteen years into the Afghanistan failure, it is irresponsible to continue sacrificing our troops there for no reason. Conservatives must chart a new course on foreign policy, grounded in the reality of the threat we face and divorced from the willful blindness of the past two administrations. At the very least, we must prevent the political leadership from creating a new Afghanistan. Our country can’t afford another fifteen years.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.