Why Winning and Losing are Irrelevant in Syria and Afghanistan by Max Boot – Washington Post
President Trump is already pulling U.S. troops out of Syria and is likely to pull them out of Afghanistan, too, assuming that a tentative peace deal with the Taliban is finalized. Although Trump initially claimed that the United States had won in Syria, the real impetus for both moves is a widespread sense, shared by Trump supporters and critics alike, that not only aren’t we winning, but that also we can’t possibly win these “forever wars,” no matter how long we stay.
“There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy,” wrote strategist and travel writer Robert D. Kaplan in the New York Times. Veteran diplomats Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, meanwhile, wrote for NPR that “ISIS isn’t Germany or Japan, where the U.S. and its allies broke those regimes’ will to fight, destroyed all their war-making capacity, eradicated their fascist state ideologies and helped reshape a new environment for two democratic countries. For the U.S. to achieve that goal in Syria is mission impossible.”
I have enormous respect for these writers, but their observations, while true, are also irrelevant. James Dobbins, a former U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and his colleagues at Rand are closer to the mark when they write: “Winning may not be an available option, but losing certainly is. A precipitous departure, no matter how rationalized, will mean choosing to lose. The result would be a blow to American credibility, the weakening of deterrence and the value of U.S. reassurance elsewhere, an increased terrorist threat emanating from the Afghan region, and the distinct possibility of a necessary return there under worse conditions.” The Rand report is about Afghanistan, but the same analysis applies to Syria…