The Never Ending Non-War

This month the Pentagon announced that it had authorization to send 4,000 additional U.S. service members to Afghanistan

If deployed these troops will join the roughly 8,000 already in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban and ISIS, and working with the Afghan military. Some of these troops were three years old when the U.S. first went to war in Afghanistan. After more than 15 years what the American military is currently doing in Afghanistan still seems very much like war, U.S. military personnel fight and kill, and some of them die, seven American have been killed in combat in Afghanistan this year. But somehow America is not at war.

Officially the U.S. led NATO combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2014. However, thousands of troops have remained in the country, and continued to fight, without America technically being “at war”. And really for most Americans it would be accurate to say that the U.S. is not at war. Those who aren’t involved with the U.S. military, or the U.S. military industrial complex, are basically unaffected by combat operations in Afghanistan, it’s not at all part of their day to day lives. There are no anti-war protests, no national debate about the ultimate goals of the war or an exit strategy, and nothing is expected of most Americans in order for this non-war to continue.

Whether or not this is by design is a subject of much debate. The current situation is influenced by a number of complicated and interconnected factors including the Abrams Doctrine, the privatization of activities formerly done by military personnel, the size and role of the Reserves and National Guards, and other things. As a result of changes in these areas over the last several decades it has gotten easier and easier for the U.S. government to send the U.S. military to war without significantly impacting non-military communities in the U.S. And no recent president or congress, Republican or Democrat, has taken any steps to change this. The result is that U.S. government can now send the military to conduct combat missions of various size and scope, including what most people would consider waging war, without really involving or getting permission from the country at large. This is because it doesn’t affect the country at large, except of course in one very significant way; all Americans are paying for it.

As the combat operations in Afghanistan have gone from war to non-war and now moves towards it’s 16th year, it has cost U.S. citizens over thirty thousand dollars each. That includes $28 million that it was recently discovered was spent unnecessarily on Afghan military uniforms with a proprietary camo pattern. For 2017 the Secretary of Defense has requested over 60 billion more dollars to spend on not being at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Defense spending usually makes up around fifty percent of U.S. discretionary spending. Last year we spent $584 billion, or 3.2% of our entire gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, and $600 billion, 3.3% GDP, on all other non-defense discretionary spending. For comparison our budget deficit in 2016 was about $500 billion. When it comes to reducing the deficit, balancing the budget, or increasing government efficiency any plan that does not include changes to military spending is fantasy.

The first step to more logical and sensible military spending is to ensure that our military actions are logical and sensible. After a decade and a half, trillions of dollars spent, and thousands of lives lost, the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan should not be treated as a matter of course. There should be functional goals and strategies in terms of what the U.S. military is supposed to be accomplishing in terms of security and stability for the citizens of Afghanistan and in terms of eliminating the Taliban and ISIS for global security and stability. And these goals and strategies need to be things that the American people are aware of, engaged with, willing to pay for, and that it makes sense to ask our troops to risk their lives for. If we can’t do that then this non-war will never end, and in just a few years it will be fought by people who weren’t even alive when it started.