Following 9/11, the United States was right to go to war in Afghanistan. Targeting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban government which harbored them in the aftermath of the attacks was a sensible and achievable mission. After a swift victory and the establishment of a new, popular Afghan government, policymakers should have removed U.S. troops. Instead, Washington pursued a nation-building effort to establish a central authority to govern all of Afghanistan—a goal impossible to achieve at reasonable cost and unrelated to the core security interests that justified the initial campaign. After nearly 18 years of war and our key goals accomplished long ago, it is past time to withdraw all U.S. forces to focus on vital national security interests.
Like most Middle East nations, Iran is guilty of malign behavior—but it is weak, regionally isolated, and unable to meaningfully project power. Its undesirable activities are local and pose no direct threat to the United States, and it lacks the capability to cause significant, long-term disruptions to the flow of oil. The threat Iran does pose is easily checked by its more powerful neighbors—dealing with it therefore requires little U.S. effort. “Maximum pressure” is a risky strategy that could provoke Iranian escalation instead of negotiations. A policy change to normalize relations with Iran would enhance U.S. security, help extricate the U.S. from the region’s disputes, and avoid a potentially catastrophic war.
When President Obama, without congressional authorization, ordered U.S. forces to intervene in Syria, the mission was clear: liberate ISIS-held territory. That mission has been achieved. Leaving behind U.S. forces in Syria involves large risks without any security upside: it threatens to drive adversaries into allying against the United States; to inflame Islamist-nationalist sentiments in Iraq and Syria, making U.S. forces targets; and to risk U.S. conflict with Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Syria for no good reason. Staying also ties down U.S. forces and limits their focus on core missions. With ISIS’s “caliphate” destroyed, U.S. troops have achieved all they reasonably can and should be fully withdrawn.
U.S. allies must be held responsible for defending themselves and the global commons. During the Cold War, defending the free world from communist conquest and domination while they rebuilt their economies was necessary and proper. As those countries prospered, however, the justification for American protection waned. The Cold War’s end further eroded the foundations of perpetual alliances backed by foreign-deployed U.S. troops. Other advanced nations should share America’s global burdens instead of free-riding on us.
The Saudi-UAE-led intervention in Yemen’s civil war undermines U.S. interests: It prolongs and exacerbates a civil war that has increased Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) presence there, needlessly breeds new enemies and resentment toward the United States, and undermines U.S. standing as an exemplar of liberal values. None of our limited interests in the Middle East, and no achievable security or prosperity gains in Yemen, justify our involvement. U.S. military support for the Saudi-UAE-led coalition should end.