There was a special Christmas Eve treat in the Washington Post – an op ed by the redoubtable Max Boot explaining why the United States needs to leave a substantial military force in Afghanistan after 2014. Russian-born Boot  is a leading neoconservative who currently perches at the Council on Foreign Relations, but he also writes frequently for the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal. In common with many other neocons, Boot has never served in the U.S. military yet appears to be fascinated by it. I can find no evidence that he has done anything but cheerlead every war Washington has fought since 9/11 while demanding, “more please.” In September 2012 he co-authored “5 Reasons to Intervene in Syria Now.” He holds a master’s degree in diplomatic history from Yale University, which has not stopped him from morphing into a “military historian.”

As part of his argument, Boot constructs the usual straw man to explain why Washington should maintain substantially in excess of the 6,000 strong force currently envisioned for deployment near Kabul post-2014. It goes like this:

  • “Imagine that intelligence analysts have identified a ‘high value target’ – say, a terrorist facilitator with links to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban – in Kandahar.  How would the US military capture or kill him without a secure base in Kandahar?”

Boot’s reductio ad absurdum argument suggests that something like a division of U.S. troops should remain in Afghanistan in perpetuity just in case his “high value target” shows up. He ignores the fact that there would be substantial Afghan security forces of various kinds in and around the city as well as a CIA base that would itself have significant paramilitary resources. The argument for keeping American soldiers in large numbers in any location where there is a terrorism problem is infinitely elastic and can be used for stationing soldiers anywhere and everywhere. What applies to Afghanistan also applies to places like the Philippines or Indonesia. The question that Boot does not ask is “What kind of threat to the United States does the straw man in Kandahar really represent?” Absent a clear and imminent threat directed against American lives and property the argument for continued U.S. involvement in far off wars is and should be unsustainable.