Decade of War—for What?
By Patrick J. Buchanan
May 04, 2012 "Information
-- “My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a
decade under the dark cloud of war,” said Barack Obama from
Bagram Air Base.
“Here in the predawn darkness, we can see the light of a new day
on the horizon. The Iraq War is over. The number of troops in
harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home. …
The time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will
Interesting comment, that last.
If “the time of war” is at an end, does that rule out U.S.
military action in Syria or war on Iran?
Setting aside the 14,000-mile round trip to Afghanistan to do an
end zone dance on the anniversary of Seal Team Six’s dispatch of
Osama bin Laden, Obama seems to have boxed in his Republican
His assurance that our wars are ending and our troops are coming
home reflects the national will. And his partnership agreement
with President Hamid Karzai and pledge that a U.S. force will
remain to train the Afghan army and prevent al-Qaida’s return
inoculates him against the charge that he is cutting and
Yet The New York Times was disappointed.
Obama had not said how the United States is to train the Afghan
army to defeat the Taliban by 2014, nor how we can get Karzai to
deal with the pervasive corruption and incompetence of his
Nor did Obama say how we can be certain al-Qaida will not return
when we depart.
The Times misses the point.
This speech was not designed to lay out a U.S. strategy for the
next 12 years, but to get Barack Obama past the post in
And for that objective, the speech works.
No one knows what will happen when 23,000 more U.S. troops come
home by Sept. 30, and all combat troops are out in 2014. The
odds are that, after a “decent interval,” like the one in
Vietnam from 1973 to 1975, the Taliban will return to take
vengeance on all who abandoned them, and Afghanistan will come
again to resemble the land we invaded a decade ago.
Why is this probable?
First, because the Taliban have shown themselves to be, though
fewer in number, a superior fighting force to the Afghan army.
They have not needed foreigners to motivate, train, advise or
Nor have they needed foreign money to fight. Yet they have
battled the best army in the world for a decade and repeatedly
sacrificed their lives in suicide attacks.
How many Afghans on our side have launched suicide attacks?
Second, the Taliban are rooted in the Pashtun, the largest
tribal group in Afghanistan, which constitutes half the
population and is concentrated in the crucial south and east.
Third, they have a secure sanctuary in Pakistan.
Fourth, because, as we saw with the hysterical reaction to what
U.S. troops thought was the routine burning of desecrated
Qurans, Islam is the most powerful cultural and social force in
the country. And the Taliban are the most deeply rooted in that
Fifth, because nationalism is the most potent political current
roiling nations from the Maghreb to Middle East to South Asia.
And the Taliban have the casualties and credentials to prove
they will fight forever to free their country of foreign
A majority of Afghans surely wish the Taliban would not return,
given the savagery of their previous rule and the desire of the
Afghan people to be free to live their own lives according to
their own interpretation of their faith.
Yet the Taliban have shown themselves willing to persist against
huge odds, to fight and die in considerable numbers for the kind
of country they wish to live in—and the kind of regime they wish
to live under.
Our allies have not remotely matched their zeal.
“A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable
faith in their mission can alter the course of history,” said
So, after a decade of war in Afghanistan, what have we
accomplished, and at what cost? Some 2,000 U.S. dead, 16,000
wounded, hundreds of billions sunk, scores of thousands of
Afghan dead. Al-Qaida was driven out a decade ago but is now in
Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa and Iraq.
The Taliban are gone from Kabul but may be coming back. And our
hope of preserving what success we have had rests with Hamid
“America has no designs beyond an end to al-Qaida safe havens,”
said Obama in Bagram. “Our goal is not to build a country in
America’s image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban.”
But if those are our goals, had we not achieved them all by
early 2002? What, then, were we fighting for—these 10 years?
If we had to do it all over again, would we?
The nation now seems not to think so. And the nation is right.
Patrick Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three Presidents,
a two-time candidate for the Republican presidential nomination,
and was the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000.