The "Endless Wars" - Are they real?
An opinion piece by James Jay Carafano was brought to my attention by a reader last night. I’ve been trying to avoid arguing with or discrediting people like Carafano, because people like him are so wrong that there isn’t any helping them. However, since he’s so wrong on arguably the biggest issue there is, I couldn’t resist. There’s so much wrong with Carafano’s argument, so I made a list to avoid rambling on.
1. We aren’t at war.
The basic premise of Carafano’s article is this: We aren’t fighting forever wars. I was inclined to dismiss his article outright after reading this, but I couldn’t help but wonder why he felt this way.
Carafano’s reasoning behind his conclusion is simple. According to him, we just aren’t at war. Technically, he’s right. We haven’t been in a declared war since World War II. Everything since then has been called something else. You can call it a peacekeeping mission, a counter-insurgency operation, a police action, or any euphemism of your choosing. That doesn’t change the fact that, regardless of what you call them, we’ve been in a number of wars since World War II.
I think Carafano and his friends at the Heritage Foundation need to quit hiding behind the technicalities of the war-declaring process in American politics and come to terms with reality. War is war, no matter what you want to call it. However, Carafano seems to think that since our indefinite involvement around the world isn’t a result of declared wars, we aren’t really at war.
Carafano also didn’t bring up the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has granted the President a blank check to wage war with whomever he wants since September 14, 2001. The AUMF is at the center of the wars we’re currently fighting, and it allows these wars to go on forever.
2. Voices from both left and right are demanding an end to America’s endless wars.
For the life of me, I couldn’t come up with more than a handful of major figures on either side of the aisle demanding an end to America’s endless wars. Representative Tulsi Gabbard comes to mind, but among the rest of the Democrats, there isn’t anyone else supporting her stance.
On the right, figures like Senator Rand Paul, Representative Thomas Massie, and Representative Justin Amash come to mind, among a few others. Tucker Carlson has made some good arguments, too, despite the fact that I’m hesitant to point to him as an example of anything good. The majority of the right, though, isn’t demanding an end to the endless wars. In fact, they’re calling for more wars.
3. The endless-war warriors want us to do less on the world stage. Even in this age of great power competition, these “new” isolationists would prefer America step off the playing field and wave from the sidelines. It’s a strategy that would work well for Beijing, Tehran and Moscow – but not for the U.S.
There’s a lot to unpack in such a small, yet misguided, paragraph. Let’s start with the claim that the “endless-war warriors” want the US to do less on the world stage. This simply isn’t true. The “endless-war warriors” don’t want the US to do less on the world stage. What they do want is for the US to do less militarily on the world stage. For example, instead of going to war with a country, the “endless-war warriors” want the US to engage with that country diplomatically. President Trump’s success in avoiding a conflict with North Korea is a great example of how the US can remain involved on the world stage without going to war.
Second, the term “isolationist” is largely incorrect. Those of us who oppose the endless wars don’t want to shut ourselves off from the rest of the world. We just don’t want to fight the rest of the world. People like Carafano often create a false dichotomy when it comes to international relations, as if the only two choices are a global empire or cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. This ignores the middle ground of minding our own business politically and trading with people and countries around the world when it suits us. In this sense, we aren’t isolationists; we’re non-interventionists.
Third, I’d argue that our current strategy is actually working better for a lot of our “enemies” than a non-interventionist foreign policy ever would. Take Iran, for example. The US has spent much of the past few decades destabilizing the Middle East. Countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, and more have all been seriously damaged, if not fully destroyed. Our actions in the Middle East have only strengthened Iran relative to its geographical counterparts. Conversely, had we avoided intervening in the aforementioned countries, Iran wouldn’t be the clear regional power that it is today, and even if it was, the disparity wouldn’t be so large.
4. We are, for sure, dealing with the aftermath of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
First, we maintain an active presence in each of these countries, so I don’t think it’s accurate to present these conflicts as if they’re over.
Second, the Iraqi problem was actually a US creation. Anyone who has studied any amount of our foreign policy knows that the US actively funded and supported Saddam Hussein – before and during his reign as the leader of Iraq – for decades. Our intervention in the Middle East is what created the “aftermath” Carafano is complaining about now.
The Afghani problem is a creation of the US and the Soviet Union. Each country backed its chosen group during the Cold War. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which ended with the Soviets installing a puppet government, the US – and other countries – backed the mujahedeen in an attempt to rid the country of communism. To make a long story short, the dueling factions tore the country apart and set the scene for the Taliban’s rise to power.
5. Today, what America does around the world is pretty much what it has been doing since 1945 – providing forward presence, deterrence, counterterrorism, training, assistance, and freedom of navigation. That’s important work and a heavy lift, but it ain’t war.
As I established earlier, yes, it is war. Just because you say it isn’t war doesn’t make it war. After all, tens of thousands of Americans didn’t die in Vietnam because they were providing forward presence, deterrence, counterterrorism, training, assistance, and freedom of navigation – they died because it was a war.
Furthermore, to say that we’ve been doing this since 1945 goes to show that these wars are indeed endless.
6. The U.S. is a global power with global interests and responsibilities. That’s not a choice; it’s just who we are.
As I said earlier, nobody is saying we have to completely shut ourselves off from the rest of the world. What we are saying is that we don’t have to fight everyone to achieve these goals. It is entirely possible to address our global interests and responsibilities without bombing everyone in sight.
7. No one today is arguing that the U.S. can child-proof the world to make America safe. The overly ambitious efforts of the George W. Bush era clearly created as many problems as they solved.
If I’m going to be so critical of his article, it’s only fair that I admit when he’s right.
8. But, walking away from problems doesn’t work well either – as the Obama team more than amply demonstrated. They ended the war in Iraq. And, for that, we got a war with the caliphate. They ended the war in Afghanistan. For that, we got the resurgence of the Taliban. The reset with Russia produced a war in Ukraine. Tried to buy Iran off, and that didn’t work. And they stood by as China moved to make the South China Sea its own and North Korea’s Kim built out his nuclear arsenal.
Again, we’re still in Iraq and Afghanistan, so those aren’t over.
As for the caliphate, we did a great job of helping it grow. Once again, intervention backfired.
As for the Taliban, well, I already covered that.
As for Russia and the war in Ukraine, let’s not act like we didn’t play a role in the build up to the war. (There were too many sources to fit into that sentence, so here you can find all of them.)
Iran is an interesting issue. First, the US is responsible for bringing nuclear technology to Iran in the first place, so don’t blame us non-interventionists. Second, the US didn’t “buy Iran off.” Carafano seems to have forgotten that the US froze a substantial amount of Iranian funds forty years ago. The money used to “buy Iran off” was Iran’s money in the first place. Third, Iran doesn’t have nuclear weapons and is no closer to having them now than they were decades ago. I challenge Carafano to provide any credible evidence indicating otherwise.
As for China and North Korea, Carafano has a point. President Obama didn’t do much, if anything, to combat China or North Korea. What was he supposed to do, though? Go to war? Or, as Carafano would put it, “take part in a police action?” Sure, Obama didn’t stop Chinese expansion in the South China Sea, but he didn’t go to war with China, either. Plus, who are we to tell China what to do in the South China Sea?
Carafano didn’t mention Libya, Syria, or Yemen, but I will since he criticized Obama’s decision to “walk away from problems.” Under Obama, Libya devolved into open-air slave trades, Syria quite literally got destroyed, and a genocide began in Yemen, all thanks in no small part to Obama’s military exploits. But sure, Obama was too hands-off.
9. Trump has tried to stake out a middle ground. He isn’t interested in being the world’s babysitter, but he is willing to stand up and demonstrate sufficient resolve to protect America’s interest. He has managed to do that – and finish off the Caliphate – without starting any new wars.
Trump isn’t really staking out a middle ground. He’s continuing Obama’s foreign policy, which was a continuation of George W. Bush’s foreign policy.
It’s interesting that Carafano mentioned finishing off the caliphate, seeing as the US helped create it. Oh, and Iran and Russia – two of the countries Carafano is seemingly itching for war with – have been instrumental in eliminating ISIS and fighting similar terrorist groups.
10. So where are the endless wars?
Just look around you, buddy. We have kids fighting in Afghanistan who weren’t even alive on 9/11. The War in Afghanistan is the longest war in US history. We maintain an active presence throughout the Middle East – and the world as a whole – to this day. To act like that’s not evidence of endless war is laughable.
11. What’s so bad about this administration’s foreign policy?
12. Look around, and you’ll see Russia stonewalled in Crimea. Iran just failed to close the Straits of Hormuz. The DPRK is negotiating. The Stars and Stripes proudly sail the South China Seas, and there is nothing Beijing can do about. Apparently, that’s not good enough for the end the endless-war warriors.
So, in other words, it’s business as usual. The same problems Carafano said Obama ignored were magically fixed under Trump, apparently.
And again, not to sound like a broken record, but a lot of these issues were partly our fault. After all, maybe North Korea wouldn’t pursue nuclear weapons if we never fought a war police action against them.
13. They want us to do even less. But “do less” is a poor prescription for dealing with the world as it is. History supplies overwhelming evidence that weakness and indifference do not deter aggression and exploitation, they invite it.
Carafano is almost certainly referring to appeasing Hitler, because that’s the argument everyone makes when they’re backed into a corner. Here’s a quick history lesson: Yes, Hitler was appeased; however, this ignores the scenario which gave rise to Hitler in the first place. Hitler – like most Germans – was upset at being embarrassed in the Treaty of Versailles, which came at the end of World War I – a war caused by, you guessed it, intervention. Without intervention, it’s likely that World War I would not have happened or, at the very least, that it would’ve happened on a much smaller scale. Without World War I as we know it, there’s no Hitler, and no World War II.
14. What America needs now are discussions about how to prudently exercise its power in a complex world.
Please don’t lecture me about the need for prudence when your solution is more of the same strategy that got us into this mess.
15. What we don’t need are politicians and pundits who suggest that, if America simply does nothing, our enemies and competitors will behave just as they should and everything will be just fine.
First, where are the politicians and pundits of which Carafano speaks? I’d love to hear more from them.
Second, for the millionth time, nobody is saying, “Do nothing.” We’re saying, “End the wars.” There’s a difference, but you refuse to accept that.
16. Trump’s foreign policy has been dramatically successful at rebalancing U.S. interests. It has not brought war, much less endless war. To withdraw further from the world stage would only invite the world’s bad actors to take center stage once more.
Please, name one major difference between Trump’s foreign policy and Obama’s foreign policy. The closest thing to a difference that exists between the two is the fact that Trump is meeting with North Korea, which is only happening because North Korea finally developed nuclear weapons. Had North Korea never developed nuclear weapons, they wouldn’t be willing to talk.
Yes, Trump hasn’t brought war. (It’s actually pretty easy to not start a war, by the way. We’re praising Trump for doing the bare minimum here.) He sure has continued wars, though. And, as things look with Iran and Venezuela, I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump brings war before too long.
Anyone willing to take the time to study the history of American foreign policy will be able to tell you that continuing on this course will invite the world’s bad actors to take center stage.
For his sake, I’m glad Carafano loves war, because that’s all his ideas are going to get him.