If you believed America’s longest war, in Afghanistan, was coming to an end, be advised: It is not.
Departing U.S. commander Gen. John Campbell says there will need to be U.S. boots on the ground “for years to come.” Making good on President Obama’s commitment to remove all U.S. forces by next January, said Campbell, “would put the whole mission at risk.”
“Afghanistan has not achieved an enduring level of security and stability that justifies a reduction of our support. … 2016 could be no better and possibly worse than 2015.” Translation: A U.S. withdrawal would risk a Taliban takeover with Kabul becoming the new Saigon and our Afghan friends massacred. Fifteen years in, and we are stuck.
Nor is America about to end the next longest war in its history: Iraq. Defense Secretary Ash Carter plans to send units of the 101st Airborne back to Iraq to join the 4,000 Americans now fighting there, “ISIS is a cancer,” says Carter. After we cut out the “parent tumor” in Mosul and Raqqa, we will go after the smaller tumors across the Islamic world.
When can Mosul be retaken? “Certainly not this year,” says the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart.
Vladimir Putin’s plunge into the Syrian civil war with air power appears to have turned the tide in favor of Bashar Assad. The “moderate” rebels are being driven out of Aleppo and tens of thousands of refugees are streaming toward the Turkish border.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is said to be enraged with the U.S. for collaborating with Syrian Kurds against ISIS and with Obama’s failure to follow through on his dictate—”Assad must go!”
There is thus no end in sight to the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq, nor to the U.S.-backed Saudi war in Yemen, where ISIS and al-Qaeda have re-arisen in the chaos. Indeed, the West is mulling over military intervention in Libya to crush ISIS there and halt the refugee flood into Europe.
Yet, despite America’s being tied down in wars from the Maghreb to Afghanistan, not one of these wars were among the three greatest threats identified last summer by Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security” said Dunford, “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I would have to point to Russia … if you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”
Dunford agreed with John McCain that we ought to provide anti-tank weapons and artillery to Ukraine, for, without it, “they’re not going to be able to protect themselves against Russian aggression.”
But what would we do if Putin responded by sending Russian troops to occupy Mariupol and build a land bridge to Crimea? Send U.S. troops to retake Mariupol? Are we really ready to fight Russia? The new forces NATO is moving into the Baltic suggests we are.
Undeniably, disputes have arisen between Russia, and Ukraine and Georgia which seceded in 1991, over territory. But, also undeniably, many Russians in the 14 nations that seceded, including the Baltic states, never wanted to leave and wish to rejoin Mother Russia. How do these tribal and territorial conflicts in the far east of Europe so threaten us that U.S. generals are declaring that “Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security”?
Asked to name other threats to the United States, Gen. Dunford listed them in this order: China, North Korea, ISIS. But while Beijing is involved in disputes with Hanoi over the Paracels, with the Philippines over the Spratlys, with Japan over the Senkakus—almost all of these being uninhabited rocks and reefs—how does China threaten the United States?
America is creeping ever closer to war with the other two great nuclear powers because we have made their quarrels our quarrels, though at issue are tracts and bits of land of no vital interest to us.
North Korea, which just tested another atomic device and long-range missile, is indeed a threat to us. But why are U.S. forces still up the DMZ, 62 years after the Korean War? Is South Korea, with an economy 40 times that of the North and twice the population, incapable of defending itself?
Apparently slipping in the rankings as a threat to the United States is that runaway favorite of recent years, Iran. Last fall, though, Sen. Ted Cruz reassured us that “the single biggest national security threat facing America right now is the threat of a nuclear Iran.”
“Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded,” wrote James Madison, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Perhaps Madison was wrong. Otherwise, with no end to war on America’s horizon, the prospect of this free republic enduring is, well, doubtful.
Patrick J. Buchanan is a founding editor of TAC and the author of The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.