Americans have become weary of foreign military entanglements that sap the nation’s treasury, cost lives, and that promise no light at the end of the tunnel. Congress is weary. The president is weary.
There are contradictions galore in recent events involving Afghanistan and Libya. President Obama overruled the concerns of some of his top generals in announcing a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan despite the fact that it was Obama who campaigned for the presidency on the basis that Afghanistan is where the real war on terrorism must be waged. To be fair, some generals agreed Obama’s plan was one of several reasonable options.
But critics on the right say the drawdown irresponsibly threatens the gains we have made under Obama’s leadership. Critics on the left say the drawdown is not comprehensive enough.
Libya is a head-scratcher. The U.S. role articulated by the administration — air support without ground troops, to protect the Libyan people from harm — hasn’t inspired widespread confidence.
Questions still abound as to what strategic interests compel us to pound it with bombs in the first place, why we have assumed a lesser role, and questions persist even on how the hostilities should be defined. A war? A policing action? Neither? And should Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi finally fall, do we know anything about who might replace him?
A tired America looked with anticipation to other NATO nations taking a leadership role. Their ability to take charge, however, remains in question.
What would we win in Afghanistan? Could we win anything in Libya? In both cases, “winning” has been imperfectly defined. No wonder the military experts in Afghanistan prefer the word “success” to “winning,” success being a stable, Western-friendly, al-Qaida-free country. Problem is, the future of Afghanistan, in our absence, is quite uncertain.
Americans are increasingly skeptical. It is hard to have confidence that American military might can turn a poor, backward country, historically riddled with political corruption and a weak central government, into a partner in the war against terrorism. After several years of fighting, our goals have been hard enough to achieve. We feel it in our bones that to achieve “success” the U.S. would have to maintain its presence through several more presidents, at least. We can’t afford that. And the moment we leave, what is there to prevent the old Afghan ways to repeat themselves?
The American public senses this, especially now. According to the latest Pew Research Center poll on Afghanistan, more Americans than ever (56 percent) say troops should be brought home.
It’s certainly no coincidence that with the public angered over record trillions in deficit spending, they should tire of billions spent supporting wars without end and without the promise of ultimate victory.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence, either, that Americans are feeling the pressure of policing the world at a time when our military establishment, led by outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, finally has spoken out publicly against the unwillingness of our European NATO partners to shoulder their fair share of the burden. With the end of World War II, America was strong and our allies were weak, so we were generous. Now our NATO allies can afford to pay for their own defense, and the U.S. is under massive debt. Yet they continue to take and we continue to defend them with money we don’t have.
So how could we have grown weary of Afghanistan? How could we not?