The Global War on Terror is approaching a new stage. The Islamic State (ISIS) has been driven out of Iraq and almost destroyed in Syria. Recently, President Trump ordered a sudden withdrawal of American forces from Syria and announced a desire to do the same from Afghanistan. Much expert and political opposition arise to slow him down. Some people argued that the Islamic State had not yet been totally defeated or destroyed. Parallels were drawn to President Obama’s withdrawal of forces from Iraq. This had been followed by the rise of the Islamic State and its invasion of Iraq.
Peace talks between the Americans and the Taliban have been proceeding and may be approaching a settlement. With regard to Afghanistan, two lines of criticism or concern arise. First, a peace deal with the Taliban will be based up on some kind of compromise or power-sharing agreement between the Taliban and their indigenous Afghan opponents. What assurance can be offered that the Taliban will honor their commitments? The Taliban came to power in the first place through victory in a civil war. Are they likely to pursue the same path again. Second, the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban which had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Who is to say that they will not again become patrons of anti-Western jihad?
In both cases, critics of President Trump argue for a continued American role in what Dexter Filkins called “The Forever War.” While these critics are experts–and I am not–and they make important points, it seems to me that they fail to address a key question. “How does this thing end?” We are at war with an idea–Islamic radicalism–and with global social conditions–the failed states and the failed societies in much of the developing world. It seems likely that the “defeat” of ISIS will soon be followed by a wild fire of Islamic radical rebellions running from Bangladesh through Indonesia to the southern Philippines. Islamist movements are on their heels in much of Africa, but the conditions that gave rise to them have not been addressed.
I ask my fellow candidates the following questions. Are we going to keep military forces in every place an Islamist wild fire has broken, been contained, and burned out in case the embers catch light once again? Are we going to send military forces to every new place an Islamist wild fire breaks out? Of course, it will be argued that American military technology and special forces are effective force multipliers. America can “lead from behind” and on the cheap by assembling” coalitions of the willing” to do much of the fighting.
It might be answered that even these forces are not infinite. America is not on a real war-footing and has not been since 2001. A small share of Americans bear the cost of battle. We develop plans for Operations in each Theater of Operations as it arises, but I see no Strategy for winning the global and forever War.