Fecteau: The War Forward in Afghanistan – What Is It?

Saturday, October 14, 2017


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While it doesn’t receive as much press coverage as of late, the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan sluggishly drudges on to this day. This is the longest war ever fought by the United States and -- arguably -- the most flawed (the United States at least withdrew from Vietnam). Though the war effort has been discussed ad nauseam, there is still no clarity as to what defines success.

The most significant problem with the War in Afghanistan is a political, not military, failing. Instead, policymakers either increase or decrease troop levels without a clear, achievable goal that would allow America to end the longest war in our history.

Currently, President Donald Trump is increasing troop levels by another 3,500 in addition to the almost 10,000 special operators and conventional soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan. This just a smaller version of President Obama early strategy. Mr. Trump increased U.S troop levels in Afghanistan to almost 100,000 during his tenure to stabilize the country before withdrawing. Obviously, neither the stabilization nor the withdraw actually happened.

Mr. Trump also prides himself on no longer micromanaging the war from Washington D.C. – In practice, this has meant more drone strikes, bigger bombs, and increased enemy and civilian casualties.  This escalation of air strikes in a nation that has already been bombed by two different countries for almost fifty years is a textbook case of diminishing marginal returns (the bombs cost much more than the huts U.S. military is bombing.) We may kill slightly more enemy combatants, but we will be no closer to achieving a strategic objective that lets our mission end in success

The war is estimated to cost just over one trillion dollars by the end of 2017. The Pentagon has said the latest troop boost alone could cost one billion dollars. Despite all this money and almost sixteen years of combat, the actual mission in Afghanistan remains unclear with the occasional reference to preventing it from turning into a safe haven for terrorists – a mission we have already lost.

Some critics of withdrawal from Afghanistan have a point: a hasty U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan could lead to a situation similar to that in Iraq. The American withdrawal from Iraq, combined with their weak government, made the country vulnerable to insurgents and a breeding ground for ISIS.

However, that is not a reason for endless war. Unless we plan to stay in Afghanistan for a hundred more years, we need to define what conditions will allow us to leave and then achieve them, instead of tinkering with troop levels and bombing rules. If we cannot definite those conditions, we should withdraw now instead of wasting more lives.

The American people should demand specifics on the current war plan in Afghanistan. The conflict seems unending and in vain. Any gains in Afghanistan are tenuous considering the Afghans do not seem willing or capable to govern themselves. Additional troops will unlikely turn the tide of the bogged down war effort anyway. After all, the decision by President Barack Obama to increase troop levels to 100,000 did not change the course of the war, just delayed the inevitable failure of the inept, corrupt Afghan military.

Congressional should take some ownership of the war as well. As commander-in-chief, President Trump wide latitude to execute the war, but Congress has control of the purse strings. The antiquated resolution passed to justify the war in Afghanistan is nearly 16 years old, and in need of some serious revisions to meet the new conditions on the ground -- to ensure the war in Afghanistan is not open-ended, and there are strings attached to any further escalation of forces.

The enormous sacrifices of the men and women of our armed services are the largest concern. Almost 3,500 American troops have already given their lives for the war effort in Afghanistan, and many who survived are scarred for life with deep psychological and physical wounds. Yet, with no clear path forward how are we supposed to "honor the sacrifice of every fallen hero, every family who lost a loved one, and every wounded warrior."

This war has been fought with little or no accountability for far too long.  The White House’s lack of details about the path to victory and eventual withdrawal. If the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable, we should withdraw now or many more lives may be lost in the delusion to honor the lives of the troops that were lost before. John Kerry’s admonition during Vietnam about “how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” is as true now as it was then.

Mr. Trump and our military commanders should honor the troops by defining conditions that are considered a success because we’ve simply invested too much blood and treasure in this country. Mr. Trump needs to take a humble step back and realize there are worse options than admitting defeat - admitting defeat in ten more years after even more Americans have died for our leaders’ hubris.


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Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) is a Master of Public Administration candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and an Iraq War veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau


Related Slideshow: RI Democrats React to Trump Withdrawing from Paris Climate Agreement

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Gina Raimondo

RI Governor

I am deeply disappointed that the President has decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize that the Paris Agreement is about so much more than climate change. It’s about opportunity, stewardship and America’s standing as a global leader. 

President Trump’s action will not deter Rhode Island from taking necessary steps to address climate change. Our action at the state level will create new jobs and attract new investment in the green economy. 

We’ve set a goal to secure 1,000 MW of clean energy resources and double the number of clean energy jobs by 2020. Ocean State families and businesses are on the front lines fighting climate change. I will continue toward with the General Assembly and partners in other states to protect our environment and advance clean energy alternatives, while creating new opportunities for our workforce in the process. 

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Jim Langevin 

U.S. Congressman

President Trump’s ill-considered decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement puts the future of our entire planet at risk. The withdrawal represents an abandonment of pledges to protect our environment and risks undermining the entire accord, which includes nearly every country on earth. In addition, the President’s action cedes Unites States leadership and means losing a seat at the table to negotiate global agreements in our country's best interest.

The Obama Administration made significant progress toward slowing the rapidly warming climate by negotiating the Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions on a global scale. Unwinding these commitments represents another assault by President Trump on the health of the public and the planet. His Administration continues to deny climate change despite the overwhelming scientific evidence that shows this is an ongoing human-caused crisis.

Rhode Island is on the front lines of sea level rise, and our citizens will ultimately pay the price for inaction today. Communities like my hometown of Warwick are particularly vulnerable to the storms and floods that come with climate change. Warming seas have chased our traditional catch out of our fisheries and threaten to decimate our beloved Ocean State coastline. Abandoning the Paris deal, the culmination of a multi-year effort by world leaders, is an abdication of our responsibility to leave the world a better place for our children.”

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Sheldon Whitehouse

U.S. Senator

“Donald Trump and his children said just a few years ago that climate change was ‘irrefutable’ and its consequences ‘catastrophic and irreversible.’ They were right. There is no denying the growing threat of rising seas, warming global temperatures, and melting glaciers and ice sheets. 

But we can still avoid the worst if we quickly reduce carbon emissions. That is why ignoring reality and leaving the Paris Agreement could do down as one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our nation’s history, isolating the U.S. further after Trump’s shockingly bad European trip. 

Trump is betraying the country, in the service of Breitbart fake news, the shameless fossil fuel industry, and the Koch brothers’ climate denial operation. It’s Sad. 

America’s biggest corporations and investors urged the President to stick with international efforts to address the climate threat. They and all of us will now have to proceed with a seriousness of purpose commensurate with the threat, knowing of this President’s grave defects. 

If you haven’t joined an environmental group, join one. If your voice needs to be heard, get active. If you are a big corporation with good climate policies that has shied away from engaging politically, it’s time to engage. And if you’re a university that teaches climate science, it’s time to stand up for your scientists. Whoever you are, help end climate denial and take action.”

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Jack Reed

U.S. Senator

“President Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris climate agreement is a blow to the environment that makes us a less secure nation. Our military, which spends every hour of every day thinking about how to protect Americans says climate change is a problem and a real threat multiplier. Indeed, climate change is an established part of the military’s threat and risk assessments.

The United States should continue to be a leader when it comes to protecting the planet; instead, the President is abdicating this responsibility. President Trump is unwisely putting the United States alongside Syria and Nicaragua in declining to be part of the Paris agreement. 

The American people deserve better.” 

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David Cicilline

U.S. Congressman

The President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement is a terrible mistake. It will diminish American leadership in the world, undermine our ability to create good-paying jobs, and contribute to the further degradation of our environment. 

It is very disappointing that we now know, without question, that the President of the United Sates is a climate change denier. His decision today ignores the overwhelming scientific consensus regarding the serious consequences failing to address climate change. 

The only thing President Trump will accomplish by this decision is to set the United States and world back decades in this fight. I have no doubt that future generations are going to wonder what the hell we were thinking today”


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