Political Editors / August 19, 2021

In Brief: Crenshaw Debunks the ‘Endless Wars’ Fallacy

The Afghanistan veteran says, “There are a lot of foreign policy options between nation building and giving up.”

Dan Crenshaw may be a rising Republican star thanks to his ability to speak with uncommon pointed clarity on the issues of the day. But his latest op-ed on Afghanistan is the fruit of his intellect and his experience: “He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 as a member of the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 3.” Crenshaw writes:

Almost everyone agrees that what’s happening in Afghanistan is an unmitigated disaster. There is no way to whitewash it, and few are trying. … But what got us here was the widespread belief that American foreign policy should be dictated by a simple slogan: “No more endless wars.” The current spokesman for that belief is President Biden.

The argument for bringing the troops home is an emotional one, arising from exhaustion with overseas conflict. Most people don’t understand the situation in Afghanistan, and that causes distrust and anger. Few deny we needed to take action after 9/11, but few understood what our strategy would be after we got there. Leaders failed to explain that simply leaving would allow the Taliban to re-emerge and again provide safe haven for terrorists. Americans felt stuck and became exhausted over the years with the vast sums of money spent and lives lost, seemingly in a futile attempt to build democracy.

Obviously, he says, this all contributes to the growing sense that we should leave. But, he argues, “The ‘no more endless wars’ crowd” has refused to answer the key question: “If we evacuate Afghanistan, what will happen?”

The answer, Crenshaw asserts, is a simple one: “Leaving Afghanistan would inevitably create a terrorist safe haven.”

That simple reality was never properly explained to the public. When Quinnipiac asked in a May survey, “Should we leave Afghanistan?” 62% of respondents said yes. But what if the question was framed more completely: “Should we leave Afghanistan even if it means an increased threat of terrorism to the homeland?”

He continues:

The “no more endless wars” position has another blind spot: Its advocates are unable to distinguish between wasteful nation building and a small residual force that conducts occasional counterterror operations. As a result, when many Americans hear that there is a single soldier on the ground in Afghanistan, they interpret it to mean “nation building” and “world police.”

That’s wrong. There are a lot of foreign policy options between nation building and giving up.

He notes that the U.S. found a pretty good balance in that regard for much of the last 20 years, and it could continue almost indefinitely at minimal cost. And, he adds:

The U.S. presence in Afghanistan was meeting the original strategic goal of denying a safe haven for terrorists and preventing another 9/11. The 18 months before withdrawal saw no U.S. combat deaths. Does that really sound like “endless war” in any traditional sense? More important, does it sound better or worse than the current outcome?

Finally, he concludes:

America didn’t lose a war, or even end one. We gave up on a strategic national-security interest. We gave up on our Afghan allies, expecting them to stave off a ruthless insurgency without our crucial support, which came at minimal cost to us. This administration’s actions are heartless, its justifications nonsensical. The consequences are dire for innocent Afghans and for America’s prestige. Twenty years after 9/11, I pray they don’t become equally dire for Americans at home.

Read the whole thing here.

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