Opinion

Gregg Easterbrook

With bin Laden dead, why doesn’t the U.S. leave Afghanistan?

May 11, 2011 19:28 UTC

In 2003, the United States invaded Iraq citing two justifications: to depose Saddam Hussein and to destroy Iraq’s banned weapons program. Within a year, Hussein and his accomplices were imprisoned, and it had been discovered there was no Iraqi banned weapons program. Having achieved its goals, why didn’t the United States leave? Seven years later, this question haunts the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

In 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan, citing two justifications: to find Osama bin Laden, and break up al Qaeda. Bin Laden is now dead, and al Qaeda broken.

So why doesn’t the United States leave?

By autumn, American forces will have spent a full decade in Afghanistan — conducting patrols, bombing the heinous, bombing the innocent. The United States has roughly 100,000 soldiers and air crew in Afghanistan, almost as many as the peak force in Iraq. The U.S. presence in Afghanistan constrains the Taliban, and the Taliban are an awful group. But the Taliban are a central Asian problem afflicting Afghanistan and Pakistan — their existence does not in any way threaten the United States’ national interest.

Having fulfilled its goals in Afghanistan, why doesn’t the United States leave?

Max Boot, a Council on Foreign Relations fellow, writes in the Wall Street Journal that, “Since 9-11, al-Qaeda has never had more than a few dozen fighters inside Afghanistan at any given time.” Boot is a hardliner — he supports the Afghanistan war, and is author of the 2003 book Savage Wars of Peace, a spirited defense of superpower engagement in low-level conflicts. Boot also thinks there are terrorist groups other than al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Why did America spend so long in Iraq?

Sep 1, 2010 18:06 UTC

Last night President Barack Obama announced “the end of our combat mission in Iraq.” This is welcome news — if years late. Yet in an address to the nation that ranged as far afield as energy policy and “the limitless possibilities of our time,” the president never got around to the essential question of this costly bloodbath:

Why did the United States spend seven years fighting in Iraq?

By the estimate of the British correspondent John Burns and New York Times London bureau chief, who was living in Baghdad when the invasion began and remained there until 2008, the war killed 4,500 Americans and wounded 35,000 of them. It also caused “tens of thousands” of Iraqi civilian deaths; cost $750 billion, nearly enough to wipe out this year’s federal deficit; and created “the anti-Americanism that would become commonplace around the world.”

That last is all too easy to overlook. Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the world’s sympathy was with the United States. Everyone, including almost every Muslim, knew the 9-11 attack was heinous. Almost all nations, including nearly all Islamic nations, supported America’s counterattack in Afghanistan, which was clearly justified as self-defense.
Then we bombed and invaded Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the 9-11 monsters, killing at least 10 times as many innocent civilians as were killed here on September 11. We took huge numbers of Iraqis prisoner, and tortured or humiliated them.

Why we let our young soldiers die in Iraq and Afghanistan

Jul 8, 2010 14:03 UTC

Aghansoldiershill

In Afghanistan and Iraq, United States forces are trying to fight a shadowy enemy that does not wear uniforms, while being told to protect corrupt governments. But here is the really disturbing parallel between the current conflicts and Vietnam: Washington is drawing out the troop presence in Afghanistan and Iraq long after any justification has expired, in order to postpone that moment when it must be admitted we did not succeed.

America won’t fail in Afghanistan or Iraq — but won’t succeed, either. Lives are being sacrificed so that American leaders can continue pretending otherwise.

A terrible price

Lack of success is different from failure. The United States military wins nearly every battle, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, most U.S. soldiers and aircrew have behaved in exemplary fashion. But the United States has not known success — we have not stopped Afghanistan and Iraq from being horrible places. Inconclusive outcomes, neither success nor failure, seem likely now. American leaders seem incapable of facing the prospect that a vast expense of blood and treasure has been directed toward an inconclusive outcome.

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