In traditional libertarian circles and in modern populist herds one may hear the term “endless wars.” It is a silly term.
With elements of left wing anti-military sentiment combined with populist isolationism, the endless wars argument describes a nation that is supposedly addicted to war. Let’s examine that, shall we?
The main thrust of the contention refers to three conflicts. They are Afghanistan, Iraq, and the current arming of Ukraine. We’ll deal with them one by one.
While there is some validity in the criticism of the length of the first two engagements, at least in the first the true issue is not length or initial commitment but the gullible policy of nation building. That’s the real rub.
Few doubt we needed an armed response to the terrorist attacks of September 2001. This was not a lone incident, but a highly coordinated military assault on American centers of power.
To not commit to destroying the Taliban sponsors of Usama Bin Laden would have sent a signal to the world that the United States was open to attack by any international miscreant with a grudge. Can we really call our action there in response to 9-11 part of an addiction to war? Or was it a legitimate action against a foe who had murdered thousands of Americans?
The problem was that after we took Kabul we launched a utopian drive to bring 21st century political and social values to a 12th century theocracy. Guess what happened? Yup. It didn’t take. Hence how Biden pulled out of Kabul, on the heels of a resurgent Taliban that virtually ran us out of the country.
The move would have been to take Kabul and then mercilessly hunt down the Taliban. After we got as many as we could and destroyed their infrastructure we should have left. No schools, irrigation, or lectures on democracy. Just a serious example of what happens to a country that harbors those who attack the United States. Cato the Elder, call your office.
Thus we were there too long not because of a pathological need to wet our martial whistles. We stayed too long, seemingly endlessly, because we went about the whole thing in a golly gee whiz idealistic manner. Some people needed to read Hans Morgenthau.
While Iraq also wasn’t the product of an addiction, the libertarians and the populists get points on this one. It was a dumb needless war without a coherent mission. It stemmed from the same nation building mania as did much of the Afghanistan operation, with a not thought out hunt for WMDs thrown in for color. If we really had to go to war there, a very debatable point, we should have destroyed the regime, set up our own pet strongman, and left.
As for Ukraine, the Russians attacked a friendly nation, a nation it is in our national interest to aid in defending. Why? Because do we really want a reconstituted Soviet Empire on NATO borders? Do we need to be taught the lesson of Munich once again?
No, these are not endless wars. Afghanistan and Ukraine were and are good moves in the national interest, even if the Afghanistan follow through was deeply flawed. Iraq was a mistake. But war addictions need more than one modern geopolitical mistake to make them endless.