Thursday, September 26, 2019

Why It’s So Hard To Withdraw U.S. Troops From Afghanistan, The Middle East, And Other Regions

First, some facts, based on U.S. Department of Defense statistics as of June 30, 2019.  The data are by region, identifying the most important countries.

Europe:  (NATO):  64,702
            Germany:  35,232  (20 U.S. military bases in Germany)
            Italy:  12,843

East Asia (Excluding Hawaii and Guam):  84,593
            Japan:   55,327
            South Korea:  26,086

West Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, Africa, and Indian Ocean:  10,683
            Bahrain:  4,371

Unspecified:  9,076
Afghanistan (Q4 2017):  11,100

Iraq (Q1 2012):  11,445

U.S. troops have been in post-war Europe for 74 years, providing stability and preventing Soviet (Russian) expansion into Western Europe.  U.S. troops have been in Japan for 74 years and in South Korea for 59 years, protecting Japan from Russian encroachment and helping to secure stability and prosperity in South Korea.  Since 2001, U.S. troops have fought wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and are stationed in bases in Bahrain and Qatar.

The annual cost of maintaining U.S. troops in Europe, Japan, and South Korea is relatively modest compared with the past two decades of “hot” wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

An official estimate of the cost of the war in Afghanistan between 2001-19 is $975 billion in overseas contingency operations dedicated specifically to the war.  During 2001-14, Operation Iraqi Freedom cost $815 billion.  In addition, the base budget for the Department of Defense increased about $250 billion and the Veterans Affairs budget increased by more than $50 billion since 2001.

A Brown University study estimated the direct cost of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria between 2001 and 2016 at about $3.6 trillion.  Adding in money appropriated for war spending and on homeland security for 2017-19, the total surpasses $5 trillion (includes future obligations of $1 trillion through 2053 for veterans medical and disability costs, as well as interest on borrowing for wars).

Should the United States continue to deploy over 100,000 troops and spend hundreds of billions of dollars to stabilize Europe and East Asia?  A case can be made that the U.S. has benefitted from a stable global economic order.  A case can also be made that fewer troops in Germany, Japan, and South Korea could also do the job.

In contrast, the Middle East and Afghanistan lack the stability of Europe, Japan, and South Korea.  Without a major U.S. presence, the Taliban might be able to take over Afghanistan, an aggressive Iran could threaten Iraq and other Arab countries, and ISIS could resurface.

But it can also be asked if thousands of casualties and the expenditure of trillions of dollars since 2001 have brought security, stability, democracy, and prosperity to these countries.  Those who served in political, diplomatic, or military office in the Bush and Obama years are generally opposed to even minor withdrawals of U.S. troops.  Apart from President Trump, antiwar activists, and  those who believe the money should be spent on domestic programs, there are few influential interests advocating a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Middle East and Afghanistan.  They are no match for the Diplomatic, Military, Industrial, Political Complex.

The Diplomatic, Military, Industrial, Political Complex

Before naming names, let’s start with an overview.  The Project on Government Oversight has documented that as many as 380 high-ranking Defense Department Officials and officers over the past decade have left government to become lobbyists, corporate board members, and defense contractor consultants.  The list includes 25 four-star generals, 9 admirals, 43 three-star lieutenant generals and 23 vice admirals.  A quarter went to work for the top five defense contractors (Boeing, General Dynamics, United Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman).

Former Defense Department officials and officers are only a part of the DMIPC.  Prominent consulting groups generally support continued involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan.  

Let’s take a look.  (Rather than list all the important names affiliated with each group, I think you would benefit from the research exercise of looking up each group, examining the scope of their global operations and personnel, and letting the information sink in.  I’m not being lazy.)

Albright Stonebridge Group.  ASG was founded by former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and merged with Stonebridge international.  Its heavy hitters include the former U.S. Commerce Secretary, former foreign ministers from Spain, Germany, and Portugal, and a former Swedish Minister of Finance.

Kissinger Associates, Inc.  It’s a Who’s Who of the powerful and influential.

The Cohen Group.  TCG was founded by former U.S. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen.  Its staff and counselors come from the White House, the departments of State, Defense, and Commerce, and Congress.

Rice Hadley Gates.  RHG was founded by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and former Assistant to the President for National Security Stephen Hadley.

The Clinton Foundation.

Members of Congress generally support large defense appropriations and military bases in their districts to provide jobs and income for their constituents.

Several important think tanks concentrate on defense and foreign affairs.  The majority of their experts do not support withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Several of my military and diplomatic Hoover colleagues serve on the boards of directors of top defense contractors and are principals and counselors of global consulting groups.  Do not construe this post as criticism of their activities.  These individuals can bring their vast experience and expertise to bear upon important matters of foreign policy and national security.

My point is that they and their employers have little incentive to support reduced military expenditure and involvement in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, East Asia, and other real and potential trouble spots.

It takes a major shock (e.g., Kent State) to reverse military policy.  Any major shock that occurs in the near future is likely to strengthen the argument for continued or even increased U.S. military involvement in geostrategically important regions. Iran, Russia, and China loom on the horizon.

1 comment :

SaigonSte said...

The author's main point that the military and political elite is resistant to withdrawal from Afghanistan and the middle east is a good one. That small sector of society are resistant to being wrong and misguided -- which is what staying in Afghanistan has been all along. The President was elected on the promise to get out us out of Afghanistan - he has a mandate from the people, the elites are repeatedly letting him, and us, down.

The military elites are taught who believe quagmire is acceptable or at least preferable to withdrawal. The anti war movement was killed when we eliminated the draft and moved to a professional military. All we have left is populism, and tea partyers.

Afghanistan is like fly paper, the more you move around the more you get stuck. We have aligned with two major tribes in a tribal country. Eighteen years later we find our-self's able to operate only in the areas traditionally controlled by those two tribal groups. If we stay 100 more years in Afghanistan those will still be the areas where it is safe for our troopers.

For a lasting peace the US and allies should not just talk to Taliban but all local players: the Pashtuns, Balochistanis, Tajik, Uzbek, Turkmen, Nuristani. Each of those tribes should all have their own safe and secure homelands. The power vacuum will be gone, no bad guy training grounds, we are all safer.

Last point is Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism - the new Prince of Saudi seems a lot more reform minded than anyone before him. If he is allowed to consolidate power he is a hope to stamp out Wahhabism or at least get it under control. It is the foundation of the Taliban a friendly Prince is a safer middle east.

There is hope for Afghanistan - both foreign powers need to leave - Taliban and USA + Allies. Leave the country for the tribes. And the think tankers real, productive jobs.