War is hell, and so the only responsible goal of war is a clear and attainable victory. This victory can take many forms. Far from being “precipitous”, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq recognizes the fact of our victories in both conflicts. In contrast, the critics of this decision seek to deny them and expand the goals of both wars to encompass goals that history shows are unattainable in our lifetimes.
The despicable attacks of September 11, 2001 should have always been the touchstone of the definition of victory in the Afghan War. Our goals then were clear and simple – the defeat of Al Qaeda and its Taliban enablers. We accomplished both objectives. Osama bin Laden lies dead at the hands of an American SEAL team and Al Qaeda has been decimated as an operational entity, reduced to being simply a slogan. The Taliban were driven from power in Afghanistan and a new government installed that is more tolerant and internationally responsible. It is not a perfect peace and the centuries-old ethnic rivalries and internal wars that defeated the British and the Russians means that the current government could fall and potentially be replaced by the Taliban. In that event, we have other levers of power to prevent another attack, such as immigration and trade sanctions. In the end, the future of Afghanistan will be up to the Afghan people. Its history proves that we cannot affect that decision any more than the British and Russian Empires could. Our only interest is to prevent further terrorism from originating in Afghanistan and, as this article points out, our victory lays a solid groundwork for achieving this result.
Our intervention in the Syrian civil war was never necessary, but now ISIS has been defeated and no longer controls any territory. This is a victory by any definition and justifies the complete withdrawal of all forces from Iraq and Syria. Once again, our futile attempts to solve the religious and ethnic rivalries of the Middle East with American blood must come to an end.
After the final battle was won in the Spanish–American War, the War Department wanted Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and the army to remain in Cuba as an occupying force in clear conflict with our stated goal of supporting the Cuban people’s desire for independence. In a letter that risked a court-martial, he said the army “must be moved at once or perish” from yellow fever and malaria. Our soldiers must now be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq to prevent similar unnecessary casualties. We can then concentrate on the new challenges of the multi-polar world and, in particular, those of China and Russia.