War for Political Prestige: Lost Causes in Syria and Afghanistan

John Glaser, August 28, 2013

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As President Obama contemplates how and when to commence war crimes in his impending attack on Syria for, at best, dubious reasons, it’s worth remembering that we are already at war.

You’d be forgiven for forgetting. We don’t hear about this one, but the U.S. is still militarily occupying Afghanistan, waiting out America’s longest war.

The current plan is for the Obama administration to significantly reduce U.S. military presence next year, while maintaining extensive and expensive training programs for Afghanistan’s still inept military and police so they can go on fighting the strong-as-ever Taliban insurgency. In addition, billions of dollars worth of taxpayer money will continue to be sent to the incredibly corrupt Afghan state, which many say will collapse absent foreign support – proof of how worthwhile our 12 years of blood, treasure, violence, counter-insurgency, and state-building has been, I suppose.

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Stephen Biddle makes the case to cut our losses and get the hell out of the country as completely as possible:

Outright withdrawal might damage the United States’ prestige, but so would a slow-motion version of the same defeat — only at a greater cost in blood and treasure. And although a speedy U.S. withdrawal would cost many Afghans their lives and freedoms, fighting on simply to postpone such consequences temporarily would needlessly sacrifice more American lives in a lost cause.

It’s not really clear to me how much worse the lives and freedom of Afghans would be if the U.S. withdrew completely, but I take his point.

The reluctance the Obama administration has shown in getting out of Afghanistan is based on the same ridiculous pretensions at work in his drive to bomb Syria: face saving.

David Rothkopf at Foreign Policy said as much last year, even going so far as to claim Obama himself opposed his own troop surge in Afghanistan and didn’t believe in its efficacy. “So why did he do it?” Rothkopf asked. “The answer is that that Obama was leaving Iraq and could not afford to look weak in Afghanistan at the same time or he would come under political attack from the right.”

Obama recommitted America to war in Afghanistan for the sake of prestige, political reputation, and our vaunted “credibility.” Those are the same reasons the Vietnam War carried on for so long. They are the same reasons the Afghan war will go on past our supposed 2014 withdrawal date. And they are the same reasons we are being set up for another debacle in Syria.




14 Responses to “War for Political Prestige: Lost Causes in Syria and Afghanistan”

  1. Afghanistan is under US treatment yet!!! USA will be remembered for it halfway work in Afghanistan if it left it without eliminating elements that it had come after!!! What a bullshit! What is America doing now in Syria? Helping Al Qaida groups against Essad? Where is the brain?

  2. Too much reading of the foreign policy press of the ruling elite by Glaser.
    Is he in love? Does he have ambitions? Why soil oneself by wallowing in this crap?
    To find out what of importance will transpire historically, look down not up, young John.

  3. It’s not really clear to me how much worse the lives and freedom of Afghans would be if the U.S. withdrew completely, but I take his point.

  4. Great points, John. Biddle's comment is too ironic — seeing he was one of Gen. McChrystal's "counselors" who pressed him to go along with the Surge of 30,000 more troops in '09 in the first place. He thought it was well worth the "blood and treasure" then ….

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