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homeAsked if the United States might send still more troops to Afghanistan, if the Obama surge is not succeeding by year’s end, Vice President Joe Biden answered, “I do not believe so.”

So, that is it. Biden is saying the 100,000 U.S. troops in theater or on the way is our limit. If Kabul and the Afghan army fail with this investment of American forces, they will be permitted to fail. All the chips we are going to commit are now on the table.

And a series of critical deadlines is approaching.

By the end of August, all U.S. combat troops are to be out of Iraq. Only 50,000 “training troops” are to remain, but all U.S. forces are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

In December, a review takes place of Afghan war strategy. Next July, U.S. withdrawals are to begin, though, since naming Gen. David Petraeus as his field commander, President Obama and his cabinet have emphasized that the withdrawals will be “conditions-based.”

We will walk, not run, to the exit.

But if we are topping out in Afghanistan, and the U.S. troop presence in Iraq is already less than half of the 170,000 after the surge of 2007, it seems America is on her way out of both wars.

What did they accomplish–and at what cost?

Saddam and his Baathist regime were overthrown, the dictator was hanged, elections were held, and a government that reflects the will of a majority of Iraqis put in its place.

Cost to the United States: More than 4,200 U.S. dead, 35,000 wounded, $700 billion sunk. In the Islamic world, the Iraq War led to pandemic hostility toward America. At home, the war led to the rout of the Republicans and the election of an anti-war liberal Democrat.

If Obama is indeed leading America into socialism, the War Party that led us into Iraq can take a full measure of credit.

And what is the cost to the Iraqi people of a U.S. invasion and occupation and seven-year war, the end of which is nowhere in sight?

Perhaps 100,000 dead, half a million widows and orphans, 4 million refugees, half having fled their country, devastation of a Christian community that dated to the time of Christ and the ethnic cleansing of the Sunnis from Baghdad.

Four months after elections, they have no government, and bombs that kill dozens still go off daily. And, when the Americans leave, a civil and sectarian war may return. The breakup of Iraq along ethnic and religious lines remains a possibility. The price of liberation is high.

And what did the Iraqis do to deserve this? Did they attack us?

No. They had nothing to do with 9/11 and had complied with the U.S. demand to eliminate all weapons of mass destruction years before the U.S. Army stormed in to discover and destroy those weapons.

And we wonder why these ungrateful people hate us.

The Afghan War was, at its inception, a just war.

If the Taliban would not turn over bin Laden and those who plotted the mass murder of 3,000 Americans, we had a right to go in after him, as Woodrow Wilson had a right to send Gen. John Pershing into Mexico to find and kill Pancho Villa after he murdered Americans in New Mexico.

But after the defeat of the Taliban by the Northern Alliance, the overthrow of Mullah Omar and our failure to capture or kill bin Laden at Tora Bora, we decided to stay on and convert the most tribalized and xenophobic land on earth into an Islamic democracy and strategic ally.

We will soon enter the 10th year of this war. And though 100,000 U.S. and 50,000 NATO troops are committed, the Taliban are winning–because they are not losing. They are more numerous, more deadly and more resourceful than they have been since their ouster in 2001.

Even Gen. Stanley McChrystal said the war was a draw. And Biden says we have reached the limit of our commitment.

Thus, what we are looking at is endless bleeding, now running at 60 dead U.S. soldiers a month, with no American military or political leader willing to say when the bleeding will stop or the war will end.

And the home front is visibly eroding. A majority of Americans now believe the war is unwinnable or not worth the cost, and a growing minority in Congress wants out. Some NATO allies are departing. Others are setting deadlines for withdrawal.

As for the Afghans we leave behind, who committed themselves to America’s war, they will, when we depart, suffer the fate of the “harkis” in Algeria, the South Vietnamese army and boat people, and the Cambodians we left behind to the tender mercies of the Khmer Rouge.

Have the politicians, journalists and think-tank geniuses who dreamed up these wars suffered ignominy and disgrace?

Not at all. They are debating and devising a new war–with Iran.

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8 replies to this post
  1. Yes, let us, in typical Buchanan-pseudo-pacifist style, withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan now. That way, the human, financial, and political costs can be in vain. Brilliant.

    Better yet: let's just concede the entire Middle East to the Islamofascists who want to kill us. Count me as one Christian conservative who does not want that war on my soil.

    We return to the isolationist days at our peril. The 21st century is a different world — even for imaginative conservatives.

  2. Kevin, you seem more than a wee bit testy on this issue. I don't believe Buchanan is a pacifist, and I know I am not. However, I do believe that prudence demands we count the costs of our actions, especially so that we learn from the past and may make better decisions in the future. Certainly 4,200 U.S. dead, 35,000 wounded, and $700 billion is a very high cost indeed.

    Is it not legitimate to ask was it worth it? Should we have stayed in Afghanistan for almost 10 years after we destroyed the terrorist training camps we went there for? Are you so much more enamored with the new political structure in Iraq (voting followed by chaos and violence) over the old system (dictatorship followed by repression and violence)?

    Is it truly a conservative position to go beyond punishing the terrorists, and destroying their camps, with a 10 year attempt to remake Afghan political culture in our own image? Come now, you must admit this has all the signs of going from justified military action to hubris on a grand scale. Or perhaps you don't.

    Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet, and other notable conservatives, have expressed great concern that centralization and militarization have been the greatest threats to preservation of the principles of the American Republic. They were not pacifists. They were true patriots who wished to guard against taking actions to destroy the enemy which may simultaneously lead to undermining the ordered liberty we claim to fight to preserve. Is the current TSA/NSA security culture in our nation consistent with freedom in this or any other century?

    I am for taking military action against those who clear evidence indicates threaten the safety of our Republic and its citizens. But, does this necessitate a permanent military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, how about Germany, South Korea and Japan? Is there no end to this? If not, I fear that we must (as Brad Birzer has suggested on this site) admit that the Republic is lost and that we fight to defend a democratic empire.

    Kevin, I would welcome a duel if you think me a pacifist. I say kill the enemy and come home. Don't move into his house and call it self-defense.

  3. Well, Doctor Roberts–this is from Doctor Willson–I want to know specifically, in the name of a person, which one of your children or my grandchildren you are willing to strangle, blow up, or just let become a statistic in a "war" against something you neocons call "Islamofascism," which does not exist and which you invent at our peril, as all ideologues try to reinvent reality. There never has been, by the way, isolationism in the United States. There has been a strong progressive attempt to create that label, but only on the part of the Wilsonians and FDR monsters who have tried to put together the empire. I can show you from the historical evidence just how FDR started the wonderful process of demonizing the patriots who tried to stop him. So please stop the patronizing crap. It won't work with me. And I mean that in the nicest, kindest, academic way.

  4. After reading the ad hominem responses to my comment, I'd humbly submit that I'm not the "testy" one on this issue.

    I notice how quickly the label "neocon" was invoked, as some type of shorthand tool to dismiss my questioning of Buchanan's tired (and largely unproven) rant about American power. That's just intellectually lazy.

    And patronizing? Is that how we describe the legitimate reaction to repeated attempts (a few successful, of course) by Islamic terrorists to attack the United States? If we can't at least agree that Islamofascism exists, I'm not sure where the conversation goes. To suggest it's a figment of neoconservatives' imagination is to ignore the reality of who controls the governments of 75% of majority-Muslim countries. That's not "patronizing," "crap," a "reinvention," or any of the other labels that shed more heat than light.

    Moreover, Professor Wilson, on a related point, I would encourage you to consider that your support for FDR's and Wilson's opponents lead you to the fallacy that some of those people did not, in fact, advocate for isolationism. While you may cite as evidence the overt attempts by Wilson and FDR to demonize them, I would cite as evidence their actual statements. It's impossible not to see them as isolationists when we do that.

    Now, back to the core issue: as Winston asks, can't we at least explore this issue? Of course! But can't we also question the logical conclusion of Buchanan's position?

    And no, Winston, I don't agree with you about Afghanistan. What you see as "hubris" I see as a necessary step that is a product of reality on the ground in Afghanistan and across the world. Some here may want to apply the labels of past debates to my position, but I think the exceedingly dangerous threat posed by the jihadist fringe has altered that framework.

    Again, if we can't even agree that such a threat exists, this becomes a pointless, theoretical, academic exercise. That would be a real tragedy for many reasons, not the least of which is the intellectual dishonesty required to establish such a position.

  5. Kevin,

    I believe you are misrepresenting my position. Did I say there are no terrorists? No. Did I recommend doing nothing as a response? No. I accept that there are terrorists and that they present a threat to our citizens. Many of them are followers of Islam. I have no idea if they believe in fascist political theory. I don't think you do either.

    A necessary step in Afghanistan was to go in and take out the terrorists training camps and to make clear to the government of the country we would not tolerate them harboring terrorists. But, did this necessitate moving in for the next 10 years? I think not. Nation building in the middle east is not a conservative approach. It is radical and expensive. Not to mention deadly.

    Will you admit that the militarization of the Republic is a bad thing and that wars, in two nations simultaneously, for almost 10 years have massively increased the power of the national government? Is this perhaps more dangerous to the long term health of the Republic than even the loss of life we experienced on 9/11?

    If not, what about waging war in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and several former Soviet nations all of which have terrorist bases similar to Afghanistan before we got there? Must we wage war in, and establish permanent military bases in, every nation where terrorists reside? Is this the work of a Republic or an Empire? Every empire had security reasons, to go along with economic ones, to justify permanent military occupation.

    I will say this again. Kill the terrorists. Destroy their bases. When necessary, go back and do it again. That is prudent application of military force against the enemy. It is not pacifism.

    Just don't occupy foreign nations for decades, longer than WWI and WWII combined. That is foolishness. And I don't believe it is conservative.

    I appreciate your commitment to our nation's security. I disagree with your specific support of an imprudent military and foreign policy approach.

  6. Kevin,
    No, I think you misuse the term ad hominem in this case, but I am willing to be less "naughty," as my middle daughter often accuses me of being. My wife just says I'm a sonofabitch and makes the conversation very clear.

    I just won't let people throw around manufactured words like "isolationist" and "Islamofascist." They have no meaning, except to be, perhaps, ad hominem.

    They are the words of ideologues, exactly the people my mentors and friends Russell Kirk and Gerhart Niemeyer so deplored.

    And my granddaughter and her husband have been in Iraq–82nd Airborne, so I don't speak with the distracted ideas of the academy when I talk about the Levant.

    On the substance of this issue I agree completely with Winston's last post. And there is indeed much to be discussed, but let's agree not to use code words. I won't call you a neocon again if you will cease using the other offensive and unhistorical words.

    Fair enough?

  7. I will only add a personal note to John's last comment. As my son is also an officer in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division (1st Brigade Combat Team) I take our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq very seriously and personally. I accept a policy which may end up getting my son hurt or killed (I pray this does not happen) in order to defend our nation from terrorists. I despise the idea of him paying such a price for a plan for "democracy in the middle east."

    All I ask for, beg for, is a prudent use of our military. Never one drop of blood for an American empire. Kill the terrorists, destroy their bases and bring our boys home. I believe it is conservative to choose American lives over a goal of changing the culture and politics of foreign nations.

  8. Gentlemen, thanks for your responses. I appreciate the opportunity to comment, and in the spirit of agreeing with you 90% of the time, I am glad to have played a small role in bringing a glimmer of controversy to your fine blog. I avoided responding sooner out of respect for the Sabbath.

    First, John, while your offer to cease the usage of "labels" is generous, I'm afraid I'll have to pass. I'd rather be mislabeled as a neoconservative than wallow in the fiction that "Islamofascism" does not exist. This is related to Winston's point: do the jihadists describe themselves as fascists? Of course not. But is it fair for Western scholars to examine the actions, beliefs, and government policies of the Islamic statists and conclude that they are fascists? Sure.

    And doing so does not make one, automatically, a neoconservative. That's the point I found so frustrating about your initial responses. We're quick to invoke Russell Kirk's admonitions about the projects of ideologues, but the flip side of that is to make sure that we, ourselves, are not so trigger-happy in assigning those labels recklessly. So doing does not advance the debate.

    Here's the crux of the issue: one can make a valid case, substantiated by copious evidence, that there has been an isolationist strain in American history — and that it continues today (I'm not sure which social and political circles the two of you interact with, but I encounter people who would self-identify as isolationists everyday). Likewise, one can do the same for the Islamofascist threat. Moreover, one can do so while despising the project of "progressives" in the 20th century in demonizing their political opponents.

    I also suspected — and I mean this respectfully — that there was a personal connection to the two theaters of war that caused our dialogue to get heated. I respect that — and pray for your loved ones.

    Unfortunately, their sacrifices do not change my reading of reality on the ground: that in order to finish the job in Iraq and Afghanistan, we may have to be there a very long time, even longer than World Wars I and II.

    And, of course, Winston, I don't support the creation of an American empire. I support the most expeditious withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan that will still preserve victory. But of course that desire rests on my understanding that Islamofascism exists and must be defeated in order to save the Permanent Things we all cherish in Western Civilization. Therein lies the rub.


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