We must preserve a sense of lost time

Washington Post

It’s not a question for the deck of cards, the letter from the powers that be or a commemorative ribbon, though these might serve just fine.

What we really need from our national community is a sense of lost time. That’s the danger that emerges from what remains in time — that what was — has been lost.

As is, there’s just not enough time to remember all those who were willing to give their lives in defense of freedom. And, sadly, that we’ve lost more of them over the past decade than over the preceding 100 years of the nation’s history.

In 2003, the American combat mission in Iraq officially ended after the use of weapons of mass destruction proved false. Our military troops who’d finished their work there came home.

But as many as 31,000 American combat troops remained until now — more than 3,000 still are there. The American mission in Afghanistan, set to finish after the 16-year effort in that country, has been extended yet again. It is now the longest war in American history.

The reasons for the fact that those forces remain in those countries is that it’s harder for us to withdraw them. In the case of Iraq, it’s because the fighting there, from ISIS and other radical jihadists, is far from over. In Afghanistan, there’s a worry that the Taliban could regain a foothold. To our everlasting shame, our government has supported those insurgents — that is, deeply emboldened them — yet, as bad as they are, they are only one group in a whole array of threats in that country.

There have been tensions in that country, and Europe had its own problems with Russian aggression. But there were few significant challenges in those countries over the past decade. They didn’t involve troop pullouts.

Now, with Syria in disarray because the U.S. has pulled out of that country, the reasons why we weren’t able to pull our forces out when we wanted to have our say are especially valid. And, as always, the Americans left their responsibilities to NATO to European allies. Their nations may have troops in Syria, but many European nations don’t have troops in the country. Or the French haven’t fully committed to that effort.

The Afghanistan situation is even worse. President Donald Trump announced earlier this year that U.S. troops would stay in Afghanistan, in large part to ensure that the Taliban does not gain a strong foothold there. We may have been able to have limited combat operations there, without much activity going on in the streets of Kabul, according to this recent account by the AP.

But this past weekend, Trump surprised those in this country and most of his allies around the world when he said we are not getting out of Afghanistan in the near future. It’s because we are told that we have to help bring stability to Afghanistan. And that may be true. But let’s be very clear about what kind of stability would be possible if we remain there indefinitely. A stable Afghanistan is not in our national interest.

Far more importantly, it’s not in the interest of the Afghan people. That’s because, unless we stay in the country, the violence and instability there will continue to grow. And if we stay there, we will create a vacuum — and violence will flow back to our home. And that violence will not stop just because we decide to leave. That’s because those forces that we’ve left behind will continue to fight, with the minimum of government interference.

The ultimate cost of going to war is simply too great. We have lost too many of our heroes in too many wars. We must be careful how we make decisions on this front.

We must not win too many. We must not stay too long.

— The Washington Post

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