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Can We Afford to Stop Fighting This War?

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A member of aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman works out under the deck of the warship on eastern Mediterranean Sea. The ship has been supporting attacks on ISIS targets in Syria under Operation Inherent Resolve (Photo: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman works out under the deck of the warship. The ship has been supporting attacks on ISIS targets in Syria under Operation Inherent Resolve. (Photo: ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

“Great nations do not quit before they prevail.”

That is the correct conclusion of Marc A. Thiessen, writing in The Washington Post in opposition to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of Syria (and presumably Afghanistan).

He made the statement to counter the declaration the president made in his State of the Union address, “Great nations do not fight endless wars,” and noted how it echoed former President Barack Obama’s 2015 declaration, “I do not support the idea of endless war.”

Thiessen acknowledges that this position gives rise to a number of fair questions that must be asked, namely: “When…will these wars end? When will we be able to declare victory and go home?”

He answers:

“In traditional wars, defining victory is easy. Victory comes when the enemy surrenders and lays down its arms. But this is not traditional war. We are not fighting nation-states with defined borders and armies, navies and air forces. We are fighting radical Islamist terrorists who are engaged in what Osama bin Laden called ‘a war of destiny between infidelity and Islam.’

“There will be no signing ceremony on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri. They will never lay down their arms. In this war, victory for the United States is every day that passes without a terrorist attack on American soil. And that daily victory is made possible because the men and women of the U.S. military are hunting the enemy in faraway lands.”

Moreover, Thiessen hits with another hard truth:

“America’s enemies have a very clear definition of victory. For them, victory comes when we give up the fight before they do. We know this because they have told us so. The 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told his CIA interrogator, ‘Americans don’t realize we do not need to defeat you militarily; we only need to fight long enough for you to defeat yourself by quitting.’ That is how the terrorists see Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 and Trump’s planned withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan: America defeating itself by quitting.”

The outgoing commander of U.S. forces fighting ISIS in the Middle East most likely agrees. In his farewell tour after serving 39 years in the army, General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, noted there are “tens of thousands” of ISIS fighters still in Syria and Iraq.

They may be dispersed at the moment, Votel said, but they have leaders and facilitators, implying that without continual pressure on them, they will re-emerge.

This is particularly true, according to Votel, “If the major actors and their proxies become embroiled in a competition for influence in Syria. This may create space for ISIS remnants or other terrorist groups to reform or reconstitute.”

James Stavridis a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former military commander of NATO and former head of U.S. Southern Command, concurs.

Writing in Bloomberg, Stavridis compared the too-early U.S. pullout of Syria to the 2011 U.S. pullout of Iraq, which created a vacuum from which ISIS constituted itself from the remains of al-Qaeda.

The situation is similarly volatile in Afghanistan, says Thiessen, where an American pullout would give free reign to the 20-plus terror groups currently there, including ISIS Khorasan, to create a base from which to plan future attacks across the world.

Theissen notes ISIS still has deep pockets — one estimate says the group has smuggled $400 million out of Iraq — certainly enough to keep the movement alive and able to cause major global chaos.

“Here is the hard truth,” writes Thiessen. “We don’t get to choose when the war ends, but we do get to choose where it is fought. It can either be fought over there, in the deserts of Syria and the mountains of Afghanistan, or it can be fought over here — on American streets and in American cities, as it was on Sept. 11, 2001. It’s up to us.”

 

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org