America has not won a war since World War II. We have also not lost a war since then, which is all the more troubling.
Beginning with Korea, America entered the war on sound principle to repel the unprovoked North Korean invasion. Then, the first inkling of our tendency toward mission creep began. On reaching the 38th parallel, US/UN forces crossed the border and became an army of invasion rather than defense.
MacArthur saw a chance to push on into China, although officially it was a mopping-up operation of the North Korean Army. However, the Chinese had other ideas and began flooding North Korea with several hundred thousand Chinese soldiers.
MacArthur ignored intelligence reports about Chinese intervention, leading to one of the most horrific engagements in modern warfare, the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. The 1st Marine Division, vastly outnumbered and surrounded, fought their way out with all their dead and wounded. The level of American courage and determination was unmatched. The heroism was astounding.
But was it necessary?
The Korean War is technically still going on under an Armistice without finality.
Just three short years after active combat in Korea ended, the first casualties of Vietnam occurred. Then, in 1965, Johnson escalated the war based on what was almost certainly a false report of an attack by North Vietnamese gunboats on the USS Maddox, a Navy destroyer operating in the Gulf of Tonkin.
The premise was to support the people of South Vietnam. The reality was to create a buffer against communist expansion into Southeast Asia. There was no clear path to victory. No definable goal. And no recognition that many of the Viet Cong fighters were embedded within the very people we claimed to be supporting.
57000 dead and hundreds of thousands of wounded Americans later—not to mention the millions of Vietnamese casualties—we left with no meaningful achievements to show for it.
Once again, the bravery, heroism, and fighting ability of the American military in Vietnam was unmatched. But, we’d spent nineteen years there and no one can define what we achieved.
Then came the first Gulf War. Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the US-led UN coalition pushed the Iraqis out of Kuwait in a masterfully executed battle plan. They entered Iraq and destroyed the Iraqi military. When it became clear that the battle had changed into a massacre of Iraqi troops, we stopped.
In this war, President George H. W. Bush, a veteran of World War II, had set a goal, accomplished the plan, and achieved victory. It would be the closest thing to finality in American combat history for more than thirty years.
Unfortunately, it would be a lesson his son, George W. Bush, would fail to heed.
On September 11, 2001, a non-state force harbored in Afghanistan by the Taliban government perpetrated an act of war against the United States of America. President George W. Bush ordered the military to war, rightfully so.
We attacked Afghanistan and obliterated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, forcing Osama Bin Laden into hiding. Then, for some inexplicable reason, when we knew with a high degree of certainty that Bin Laden was in Tora Bora, we choose not to put troops on the ground and finish him off. One of the main reasons we entered Afghanistan was to capture or kill Bin Laden, and we failed to do so.
It would take the rest of Bush’s time in office and into the Obama Presidency before we accomplished this stated purpose for invading Afghanistan.
But more troubling than that, while still engaged in combat in Afghanistan, we invaded Iraq based on flawed or fraudulent intelligence and started a whole new era of warfare.
And this is where the wheels came off American policy on fighting wars. It is why we find ourselves, twenty years after we first invaded Afghanistan, just now ending our involvement. It is why we still have several thousand troops in Iraq. Troops and personnel are hunkered down in the American compound in Iraq because it is too dangerous to travel throughout most of the country.
It is why we cannot know the price of victory when we cannot even define it.
President Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan was the right decision. There is little justification for remaining that bears any resemblance to our initial reason for being there. If we believe we have both the obligation and capability to use the military to change the many areas of the world where human rights abuses occur, we will need a much larger military.
And when faced with the reality of the very victims of human rights abuses at our own southern border, we choose to build walls and lock them in cages. The disingenuous nature of such behavior is appalling.
The execution of the plan to evacuate Afghanistan was rife with problems. But one must keep in mind the chaos that ensued on the streets of Kabul was inevitable. Once the first Afghan began leaving the country, chaos would inevitably arise.
Biden will have to answer for his handling of the withdrawal, and for the deaths of the thirteen Americans, but at least he won’t have to answer for any more needless deaths in Afghanistan. Doing the right thing poorly is better than perpetuating an error perfectly. Until we can define the goals of military intervention, we must be judicious in our willingness to deploy our troops in harm’s way.
America has not won a war since World War II. America has not lost a war since World War II. We keep substituting Pyrrhic victories for genuine success. In every war we’ve fought since World War II, the United States military has never been defeated on the battlefield. Yet this matters little if we cannot define victory.
We cannot continue to win every battle, yet lose precious American lives in ill-defined wars. If a never ending armistice in Korea, nineteen years in Vietnam, and twenty years in Afghanistan isn’t proof enough our policy needs to change, we are doomed to repeat our own foolish, and deadly, mistakes.
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