Read Adam Serwer on how Trump and his supporters build community around cruelty
Ultimately, “saying the security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious, Obama announced that instead of dropping the U.S. troop level to 5,500, he will keep it at about 8,400,” the Associated Press reported in 2016. “He said his successor can determine the next move.” Under Trump, the AP reports, troop levels are about 15,000.
But never mind what Bush and Obama did. Is Graham’s favored approach prudent? Should the U.S. leave at least 13,000 troops in Afghanistan indefinitely while building schools in remote areas of the country?
Doug Bandow offers one powerful dissent: “If more than 110,000 U.S. and 30,000 allied troops couldn’t achieve victory in 2011,” he reasoned, “roughly 15,000 U.S. and 7,000 allied personnel won’t win today.”
C. J. Chivers provides another:
The governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, each of which the United States spent hundreds of billions of dollars to build and support, are fragile, brutal and uncertain. The nations they struggle to rule harbor large contingents of irregular fighters and terrorists who have been hardened and made savvy, trained by the experience of fighting the American military machine.
Much of the infrastructure the United States built with its citizens’ treasure and its troops’ labor lies abandoned. Briefly schools or outposts, many are husks, looted and desolate monuments to forgotten plans. Hundreds of thousands of weapons provided to would-be allies have vanished; an innumerable quantity are on markets or in the hands of Washington’s enemies. Billions of dollars spent creating security partners also deputized pedophiles, torturers and thieves.
National police or army units that the Pentagon proclaimed essential to their countries’ futures have disbanded. The Islamic State has sponsored or encouraged terrorist attacks across much of the world—exactly the species of crime the global “war on terror” was supposed to prevent.
As a fellow skeptic of Graham’s position, I regard its failure to grapple with opportunity costs to be among its most glaring flaws. The United States faces any number of potential threats to the lives of its citizens. Our military is on guard against adversaries including Russia, China, and North Korea. Our tax dollars are spent trying to mitigate threats as varied as a viral pandemic, an attack on our power grid, ongoing deaths from opiate overdoses, a catastrophic cyberattack, the eventual certainty of major earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest and California, an attempt to sabotage the water supply of a major city, and other matters of life and death on a massive scale that are too numerous to list.
Read Emily Yoffe on the problem with #BelieveSurvivors
Graham’s preferred course requires a tremendous amount of blood and treasure. Among the most obvious questions it raises is, “Would it be better to refrain from risking that blood and to spend that treasure elsewhere?” And Graham’s interventionist streak is not limited to Afghanistan. He favors fighting with Saudi Arabia in Yemen and an indefinite troop presence in Syria and Iraq––and war in Iran and North Korea if they do not accede to U.S. demands about their nuclear programs.