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Facing Reality in Afghanistan

Members of the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard transfer Capt. David A. Wisniewski's casket to a caisson while HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters fly overhead during his funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Aug. 23, 2010. Wisniewski died July 2, 2010, from injuries suffered during a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. (Credit: SSgt Gina Chiaverotti-Paige/Public Domain)

Richard Haass proposes embracing endless, unwinnable war:

Continuing to a fight a war that we know cannot be won is a senseless waste. Refusing to give up on an unwinnable war because we don’t want to admit failure is insanity. Putting more American lives at risk to perpetuate a pointless war is unconscionable, and the costs of doing so will necessarily outweigh the non-existent benefits. The U.S. has spent and lost far too much in Afghanistan already, and it is time to acknowledge that. Concocting new excuses to keep a failed policy going just so that we can keep denying that failure is absurd, and someone in Haass’ position should be embarrassed to be making such an argument more than 17 years after the war began.

The longer version of Haass’ argument is no more persuasive. Here he desperately invokes the discredited “credibility” argument to defend his position:

Another reason not to leave in a manner unrelated to conditions on the ground is that, coming after Syria, such an exit would cast further doubt on America’s willingness to sustain a leading role in the world. This is not to say that the US should remain involved in Afghanistan simply because it has been involved. But perceptions matter, and simply walking away would lead many allies – not just in the region, but also in Asia and Europe – to wonder if they might be the next American partner to be abandoned.

The fear of what other allies might think about U.S. withdrawal from an unnecessary war has driven some of the worst foreign policy decisions in modern American history. Our European and Asian treaty allies aren’t going to conclude that the U.S. will abandon them if we finally acknowledge that we should get out of Afghanistan. The difference between the significant interests that the U.S. has in Europe and East Asia and the scant interests we have in Afghanistan speaks for itself. Maintaining a “leading role in the world” does not depend on staying in Afghanistan forever, and wasting resources and lives on fruitless, costly wars like this one makes it more difficult to sustain such a role. Perceptions may matter, but realities matter far more, and the reality is that continued military involvement in Afghanistan is a drain on U.S. resources and a detriment to our interests.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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