Which ‘forever war’ will Biden end next?
President Biden has ended the “forever war” in Afghanistan. He told the American people as much the day after the last U.S. soldier left Afghanistan. Yet that very phrase, “forever war,” deserves a second look. It doesn’t mean what the president thinks it does. His misunderstanding could have disastrous consequences for America.
What America is witnessing is foreign policy by slogan. As Biden showed in the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, his biggest concern isn’t eradicating anti-American terrorists, listening to America’s allies, rescuing stranded Americans or the thousands of Afghans who protected and assisted American troops, or any other high-minded matter. He’s far more concerned with something much lower: A political soundbite.
Well, there are many more soundbites to be had. The president apparently defines “forever war” as the presence of U.S. troops in a single place for decades or longer. Under that definition, there’s no shortage of “forever wars” across the world. If Biden is serious about ending these apparently endless conflicts, he should give them a second look. Think of how many troops he could bring home. Think of the applause he’d get from the Quincy Institute and the rest of the isolationist crowd.
How about the “forever war” across the Pacific? It turns out the Korean War is still going strong. Sixty-eight years after a ceasefire took effect, the United States still has 28,000 troops in South Korea. Another 55,000 are stationed next door in Japan. We’ve had a substantial military presence in the region more than three times as long as we were in Afghanistan. Surely that qualifies as “forever.” So why isn’t Biden pushing to bring our men and women in uniform home from Asia?
The president can’t ignore Europe, either. The Cold War may have ended in 1991, but America’s bravest can be found in droves across the continent. Germany hosts 35,000; Italy another 12,000. Poland has a rotating contingent of about 4,000, and thousands more U.S. troops can be found from the Baltics to the United Kingdom. There may not be an actual war going on over there, except for Russia’s brazen invasions of several of its neighbors, but that makes it all the stranger that we have such a huge buildup of forces there. What’s Joe Biden doing to draw down our troop levels in a place where peace generally reigns?
There’s even a future “forever war” that President Biden could nip in the bud. Thousands of American service members are stationed in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. They’re there in part to dissuade Iran from doing anything dumb or dangerous. But Iran has shown a willingness to do just that, funding terrorism and killing American soldiers, regardless of our presence. It’s a wonder Biden isn’t asking: Why should the U.S. be there at all?
Of course, the president won’t withdraw from any of these places — or, at least, let’s hope it hasn’t crossed his mind. The results would be disastrous for American security. In Asia, North Korea would conquer South Korea, while Communist China would carve up the region like Christmas turkey — everything from Japan to Australia to everywhere in between. In Europe, Vladimir Putin’s Russia would double down on dominating its neighbors, potentially including our NATO allies. Iran would do the same thing in the Middle East, spreading its evil influence and religious tyranny even further across the region.
But what’s true in those regions is true in Afghanistan. The U.S. went there — and stayed there — to protect the homeland from another 9/11-style attack. Our military presence there was just enough to keep terrorists at bay. In fact, there were fewer U.S. troops there than most of the countries named above, and there had been no combat deaths since February 2020. As far as wars go, America was doing pretty well.
It doesn’t matter what Joe Biden says: Afghanistan wasn’t a “forever war.” It was eternal vigilance, which is the price of American liberty. Now that investment has been squandered. America is less able to protect itself, and American citizens are more at risk.
It’s a painful reminder that foreign policy by slogan is foolish in the extreme. And in any case, the “forever war” that began on Sept. 11, 2001 — but which the U.S. carried to Afghanistan for 20 years — is nowhere close to over. And the battlefield may have just grown to a global scale.
Marion Smith is president and CEO of the Common Sense Society, a nonprofit foundation that promotes liberty, prosperity and beauty through education and public discourse. Follow him on Twitter @smithmarion.