“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” President Donald Trump said in his recent State of the Union address—one of the few lines that may have appealed to both ends of the political spectrum. Debate is raging in the United States over how quickly to disengage from Syria and Afghanistan, as frustration with these seemingly interminable conflicts has grown on the political right and left. Trump grasps this frustration and seems inclined to pull American forces out of both places.
But every time Trump mentions military withdrawal, security experts, political leaders and military commanders push back. Trump’s statement about not fighting “endless wars” was, as Kori Schake put it, “a clear signal that his administration has scaled back its objectives for Afghanistan and is headed for the exit.” A “precipitous” withdrawal from Afghanistan, a report from the RAND Corporation warned, “would mean choosing to lose.”
Pulling out American troops, the experts contend, would pave the way for an eventual victory by the Islamic State in Syria and the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could unleash another round of terrorist attacks on the United States. They may make their case in different ways, but the ultimate message is clear: “Victory” is attainable if the United States persists for some unspecified additional period of time.