The Longest War

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Being intelligent is not a felony. But most societies evaluate it as at least a misdemeanor.

-Robert A. Heinlein

The map is not the territory.

Alfred Korzybski

We have to start with the premise that the goal is to defeat the enemy.

Jim Woolsey


Acting against his instincts and preferences, President Trump announced a new strategy for what is said to be the longest war in American history: the Afghan Campaign. We will no longer insist on “victory”; we will, perhaps, accept a political settlement that may include elements of the Taliban. Given the domestic situation this was inevitable. The alternative would be to abandon Afghanistan and come home, leaving the situation to ebb and flow without our presence.

Whether abandoning Afghanistan to the Pakistani, Indian, Russian, Moslem Republics formerly part of the USSR, al Qaeda, the Caliphate, Sunni Muslim powers, Shiite Powers including Iran, random war lords who want regional control, Kabul which wants its writ to run all over Afghanistan, and probably other factions I have left out is a good idea I can not say for sure. They can fight it out without our formal presence, and if we have favorites I’m sure we have Special Forces that can intervene when our interests are at stake. This would be my preference, and formerly was the preference of President Trump; indeed, it is the outcome he expected and until recently accepted. Afghanistan is a sink hole, with few resources we want, and an infinite capacity for absorbing American blood and treasure. My immediate reaction was to wonder which faction, neo-conservative, military industrial complex, Deep State, alligators in the swamp, or some other managed to get the President’s ear.

On the other hand, there are precedents. The Afghan War is not the longest war in American history. The longest was the Seventy Years War, also known as the Cold War, which formally began just after World War II but actually started with the Russian Revolution and World War One. Indeed, the Afghan War isn’t even the second longest in American history.

The Korean War began June 26, 1950, and has not formally ended. It is no longer a shooting war, but does anyone suppose that South Korea would have developed into the nation it has become if the United States had not intervened; and having intervened fought North Korea and China to a standstill, then negotiated a stalemate armistice enforced by substantial numbers of US troops in South Korea? We stopped most of our nation building efforts in Korea, and the US garrison in Korea no longer feels that it could become a shooting war in hours; indeed, many think of serving in Korea as easy duty, a tour of overseas duty without much danger and all the comforts of civilization to boot. It wasn’t always that way, of course. We were nearly thrown into the sea at Pusan. But MacArthur invaded at Inchon, and from holding the perimeter by our fingernails we went to hot pursuit all the way to the Yalu chasing the best view a soldier can have, the enemy’s back.

And from there it turned sour again with the Chinese intervention. It ended in a standoff that endures to this day. But while China’s ally turned into a hermit kingdom invisible from space at night, South Korea developed into one of the Asian tigers – as, incidentally, did Taiwan; while Japan, once our hated enemy, developed into a noticeable economic base, and despite a great slowdown you can see each island of Japan from space at night; while North Korea remains as dark as inner Siberia or the Congo.

Had we just cut and run after the Chinese intervention in 1950, would the situation be more stable now? No one can know for certain, and the skillful manipulation of all the participants in the Cold Wear will be studied for a very long time, the actual outcome was at one time proclaimed by some foolish but influential intellectuals as “The End of History.” It is a better outcome today than many of us feared while the Seventy Years War wound down.

Whether this echoes the President’s chain of thought I cannot know; but surely he is aware of it. Broadcasting the end of US involvement would have a lasting and profound effect on Pakistan, India, Burma, Iran, and other places; it would rejuvenate al Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban, confirming their belief that they needed only to survive to win. It would give our enemies a sanctuary and advertise that others could do so.

We are committed to an overseas presence for decades with this strategy; but the result in Korea suggests that need not be the worst possible outcome.

There are implications. We will need Legions. But it can be done, and may be the safest alternative in a situation that has no attractive alternatives.


I have a dinner engagement with an executive producer of the Big Bang Theory; purely a social engagement with a friend and neighbor, but I have just enough time to get this up.



Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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