Afghanistan: The Mayflower Exit Strategy

 By: J. Scott Smith

On May 23, 2013 President Barack Obama declared the War on Terror was ending, stating, “We must define our effort not as a boundless ‘Global War on Terror,’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.” The president went on to state, “So that’s the current threat: Lethal yet less capable al-Qaida affiliates.”  One has to question what President Obama means by ending the “boundless ‘Global War on Terror’” while potentially signing a pact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan through 2024.

Thankfully, President Karzai has refused to sign the agreement after a recent drone strike killed Afghan civilians. President Karzai subsequently requested that President Obama apologize for the attack (which General Joseph Dunford did). Nonetheless, President Karzai has essentially tabled the agreement for his successor, which will be decided after the April 5th elections.  Rather than waiting for President Karzai to change his mind, I believe the U.S. should pull out all of its troops from Afghanistan immediately using guile, deception, and a bunch of Mayflower moving trucks.mayflowertruck copy

One of the constant refrains and dominant narratives when the United States becomes involved in armed conflict is to stay the course no matter how awful or misguided our military intervention is so that our “soldiers don’t die in vain.” Take 2012 presidential hopeful Rick Santorum:

Every American wants our brave men and women home safely, but we cannot let those who’ve given the last full measure die in vain by abandoning the gains we’ve made thus far. We must be squarely focused on succeeding in Afghanistan rather than on politically motivated troop withdrawals.

Or John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations stating:

If we withdraw from Afghanistan according to the president’s schedule in 2014 that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are going to take back over again and this human sacrifice we’ve made 2,000 Americans dead will have been completely wasted.

My problem with these statements is that I feel there is never a clear sense of what “winning” in Afghanistan looks like. You could take former CIA director Leon Panetta’s description of it:

Winning in Afghanistan is having a country that is stable enough to ensure that there is no safehaven for Al Qaeda or for a militant Taliban that welcomes Al Qaeda…Our purpose, our whole mission there, is to make sure that Al Qaeda never finds another safehaven from which to attack this country. That’s the fundamental goal of why the United States is there. And the measure of success for us is: do you have an Afghanistan that is stable enough to make sure that never happens.

Yeesh, that sounds like John McCain saying that we’re going to be in Iraq for 100 years. The biggest problem with Panetta’s statement is that you’re fighting a nation-less enemy.  Al Qaeda operates in Yemen, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq. So we’re to say, “Listen they might have that Al Qaeda in Syria, but we got Afghanistan on lockdown son!” I reject the notion we should stay the course in Afghanistan while we devise a credible theory as to why we’re still there. I mean, at least the Confederates had a theory during the Civil War, albeit a terribly misguided deductive one. As Jefferson Davis lamented, “If the Confederacy fails, there should be written on its tombstone: Died of a theory.”  In Afghanistan, there’s a weird inductive approach going on which seems to sound like, “We’ll leave as soon as we figure out why we’re still here in the first place.”

My plan solves the “soldiers don’t die in vain” narrative and since this is nominally a sports website, we’ll use Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay’s Mayflower exit strategy.  We go into Afghanistan next week, load up all of our troops and equipment on a bunch of Mayflower trucks in the middle of the night, drive them into C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes and fly them out. Don’t worry about anyone noticing, when was the last time you saw Afghanistan coverage on the front page of any news organization? (Go on, check them: CNN, Fox News, NBC News). Once the planes land, President Obama gives a speech from the West Wing of the White House saying, “WE WON!!!” It might look like this! Seriously, who’s to say we didn’t win? It’s unfortunate that President Obama did not do just that after Osama bin Laden was killed, because when are we going to get another definitive win in Afghanistan (Er Pakistan) like that? Committing to Afghanistan till 2024 is like Seattle committing $240 million to Robinson Cano till 2023: You’re never going to win.

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Dr. Smith is a professor of communication at Christopher Newport University. 

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