Engaged In Wars Without an End?

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Maybe we were doomed from the beginning. Calling our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan the “War on Terror” drew nervous resistance from those who likened it to another one of America’s most disastrous visions: the War on Drugs. More than a decade after our first troops landed in Afghanistan, the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange throws the biggest question into sharp relief: what the hell is this all about?

There was a time when we knew, or at least we thought we did. We were in Iraq to enforce worldwide sanctions against Saddam Hussein and to prevent the proliferation of ye olde weapons of mass destruction. We were in Afghanistan as a more direct result of 9/11, attacking the Taliban for their refusal to hand over Al-Qaeda ringleader Osama bin Laden. With bin Laden’s body having been fed to the sharks and Saddam Hussein long dead, isn’t it time to question just what we were (and, unfortunately, are) doing over there?

Yes, yes, the war in Iraq was over. We brought almost all of our troops home. Now, however, show me one thinking American that doesn’t believe we might be in for Round 2, Round 3, and I’ll show you an American who hasn’t been paying attention. Barack Obama may not have instigated this war, but he was fully in charge of seeing it into its home stretch. If you think he’s going to let his legacy reflect that a band of Sunni militants retook the country on his watch, think again. That legacy has been tarnished enough by Obamacare, an explosion in the national debt, failed economic recovery attempts, the ugly deterioration of our relationship with Israel…well, you could go on forever. He’s not going to let Iraq descend into full-scale religious war without U.S. troops on the ground.

Afghanistan – it now seems clear – is a war that can’t be won. The Taliban have only strengthened in the last couple of years, and the Bowe Bergdahl situation is not so much a bizarre anomaly as it is a damning indication that we don’t know what the end game is. Are we Afghanistan’s Western police force? Are we planning to eradicate the Taliban altogether? What constitutes a clear and true ending to the conflict? I’m afraid that no one in the current administration would be able to answer that question, and that leaves the door open to any number of possibilities. Including releasing major Taliban chieftains back into the wild, apparently. If there’s no particular plan, after all, then why not?

America has two ongoing policies that sometimes come into direct conflict – we don’t leave a brother behind, and we don’t negotiate with terrorists. We were forced into a situation where we had to choose one or the other in the Bergdahl scenario, and Obama chose to follow the former and ignore the latter. The major problem with this is that the Taliban aren’t done fighting. They will likely never be done fighting as long as there are men to fight. Therefore, what he did was nothing less than emboldening and strengthening the enemy. Alas, in these wars without end or meaning, the truth of that simple fact becomes obscured.