America Hasn’t Ended a War, but Prolonged One

August 23, 2021 | Matthew Continetti
About the author:

In justifying the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, President Biden has cited his unwillingness to pass on to his successor a twenty-year-long conflict, dubbed by many of its critics an “endless war.” The problem with this line of reasoning, writes Matthew Continetti, is that “the war isn’t over,” and won’t be even after the last American soldiers leaves Afghanistan:

Afghanistan is just one front in a global conflict that the United States did not initiate and cannot wish away. The cold war did not end when the South Vietnamese government collapsed. Nor will the war on terror or the “long war” or the “forever war” cease with Taliban control of Afghanistan. When participants in the worldwide Salafist-jihadist movement look at the developments of the last week, they don’t see reasons to quit their mayhem. They see the chaos, panic, violence, disorder, and American retreat as a vindication of their ideology and a spur to further action.

When America removed its troops from Iraq at the end of 2011 and failed to enforce its red line against the use of chemical weapons in Syria in 2013, the Middle East did not become less violent or pathological or dangerous. It was only a matter of time before Islamic State (IS) overran the Iraqi cities of Falluja, Ramadi, and Mosul. . . . So terrible was IS that in August 2014 President Obama intervened against it with airstrikes—an intervention that continued, with greater success, under Obama’s successor.

As I write, the caliphate is no more, Baghdadi is dead, and Iraq has another shot at a better future. There are 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq and some 900 in Syria. This is not a coincidence.

Biden created a situation in which America has neither boots nor eyes on the ground in a landlocked, mountainous country thousands of miles from port and surrounded by unfriendly states. Unlike twenty years ago, China and Russia are strong and adversarial and looking for opportunities to embarrass the United States. Every threat or attack that emanates from Afghanistan will testify to U.S. stupidity and weakness.

This dispiriting assessment doesn’t include the propaganda boon to the Salafist-jihadist cause. Kabul will be transformed from an island of modernity to the global capital of anti-Western jihad.

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