According to a recent Stimson Center study, America’s Global War on Terror has cost the taxpayer about $2.8 trillion since 2002. This, of course, does not even begin to factor in the very real human costs. These come in the form of American soldiers and contractors killed and wounded overseas.
These costs also come in the form of Afghans and Iraqis, amongst others, who have been killed in droves and have no choice but to live in a war zone. Many pundits have argued that the easiest exit is to kill our way out. That has been demonstrated to be imprudent and ineffective. One can cop out by blaming politicians for tying one hand behind our military’s back, but expending both blood and treasure has gotten us nowhere closer to victory.
Some wars, especially counterinsurgencies, require long duration commitments. If America was committed to such a strategy, it would mandate the deployment of American troops for decades, maybe a fifty-year span—that’s what is necessary to re-engineer a culture from the ground up and then welcome it into the modern world. However, we have not committed to any such long-term strategy. There is no plan, no end game, just deployments into infinity with a blind hope that the political landscape in the Middle East will miraculously change, offering a Hail Mary to our military that will allow it to claim victory and withdrawal.
Deploying soldiers in this manner may not technically be illegal, given the stipulation of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed after 9/11, however, it is unethical and immoral to send our soldiers into war zones without a clearly defined mission or any objectives to accomplish. Amorphous goals like stabilizing the region or defeating terrorism aren’t enough. Sending soldiers to carry out strategic deterrents in Germany, Poland, Japan, or South Korea is one thing. Sending them to fight in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan to the purpose of “marking time” because we lack bold transformational leadership in Washington D.C. is another.