When I was a young soldier I was an idealist. I blindly believed in America and her leaders. I was certain that honest people who had the best interests of our nation at heart made our foreign policy. I was convinced that no president would place America’s sons and daughters in harm’s way without the best of reasons. Such belief is essential to those in uniform.
Tragically, that belief is now all but gone.
Since Congress has consistently abrogated its constitutional responsibility to declare war, successive presidents have made a mess of it. Ask yourself a question, an entire American generation has grown from childhood to adulthood while at war. What have we achieved? Is America safer for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the never-ending American Global War on Terror? The expenditure of thousands of Americans lives, and billions of U.S. dollars has accomplished what? The clear winner in Iraq is Iran. Despite recent peace talks, the clear winner in Afghanistan is the Taliban.
Although it is emotionally satisfying to kill those designated as terrorists, those many thousands of dead have seemingly gotten us no closer to victory. Is our strategy merely to keep killing? If so, we will be doing so for a very long time, indeed.
But, what is the problem? We have won nearly all the battles. However, it appears that we are either losing, or perhaps have already lost all the wars. Our sons and daughters are still dying on these foreign battlefields while we are told: “They are defending our freedom.” Although that rationale once held water with me, it does so no longer. The Taliban does not directly threaten our liberties. The Iraqi version of ISIS has morphed into what it once was; a movement that holds no land mass.
President George W. Bush initiated a war in Afghanistan in October of 2001 to remove the Taliban from power, so they could no longer give shelter to al-Qaida — the overlords of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. He later chose to invade Iraq in March of 2003. Nobody seems to understand why. Iraq had nothing whatever to do with the tragic events of 9/11.
In any case, choosing to fight two long wars simultaneously was always a fool’s errand. The absurd notion that America could bestow sustainable democracy and liberal order on either country is reflective of both arrogance and naivete. History has more than proven this point.
President Barack Obama inherited these wars and managed to close-out, for the most part, the conflict in Iraq in order to focus our attentions on the conduct of a more humane war in Afghanistan, meaning with more restrictive rules of engagement (ROE). War cannot be fought by humanitarian means. Sadly, war’s ends define its means: Violence. We followed the rules (The Law of Land Warfare), our adversaries followed none. The Taliban is today resurgent.
President Donald Trump, like his predecessor, inherited these Bush-era conflicts. After more than three years, and beyond less restrictive ROE, I am unable to discern a national strategy that addresses Afghanistan. Recent ham-handed attempts at peace failed. The Taliban know that they are winning. Therefore, they have no reason to engage in sincere peace negotiations.
We continue to slog-on in the vain hope of perhaps finding “something” that will look like victory so we can declare ourselves winners. The problem is that so much American blood and treasure has been expended that few in responsible positions with the D.C. Beltway are willing to contemplate a complete withdrawal. They want something for all the “sunk costs.” If they have their way, and so far they have, this means that our military personnel will continue to be at risk for reasons that defy simple explanation.
The wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan were begun under the Bush administration without defining the end state desired for our nation’s military. So, our military soldiered-on while desired political ends (objectives) and means (methods) changed with the vision, or lack thereof, with each succeeding White House occupant. Previous presidents made the same error in Vietnam. Wars cannot be fought and won in this manner.
Robert Bruce Adolph is a former United Nations Chief Security Adviser and U.S. Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel. He recently published a startling book entitled “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge,” that is available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites and now available in ebook format.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, email@example.com.
Robert Bruce Adolph is a former United Nations chief security adviser and U.S. Army Special Forces lieutenant colonel. He recently published a startling book entitled “Surviving the United Nations: The Unexpected Challenge,” that is available on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites and now available in ebook format.