The 'Hotel California' doctrine of US military intervention

It is easy to remember why the United States invaded Afghanistan.  Our country had just been attacked by terrorists based there.  The nation was united in a desire to protect itself from further attacks and bring the parties responsible to justice.

It's not so easy to remember whether the justification for the invasion was based on a broader policy, whether there was discussion at the time of what would constitute victory, or whether the invasion was an actual war in the traditional sense.  More to the point, it's unclear whether those questions have answers today, even as we exit Afghanistan.

I've read several articles written by people with a ton more knowledge than I have about whether our country should stay in Afghanistan or leave.  A lot of the writers had personal experience fighting in Afghanistan.  The opinions they offer differ, with some arguing to stay and others arguing to leave.  The positions of Trump and Biden seem to be aligned on the side of leave, which is remarkable, given how much else they disagree on.

As an average citizen, I supported the decision to invade.  Like most people, the attacks scared the daylights out of me, and I was riled up more than at any other time in my life.  I suspect that our leaders were at least in part reacting to the zeitgeist as much as, or possibly more than they were thinking about the end game.

At this point, I don't presume to know the correct answer to the stay or leave question, though I could make a solid argument for either course of action.  Stay: The situation in Afghanistan could quickly return to pre-9/11 conditions and again become a haven for terrorists plotting to attack us.  Leave: There's nothing more to do in Afghanistan that would justify expending more blood and treasure than we already have, and we need to rely on Homeland Security and the "Intelligence Community" to defend ourselves from future terrorist attacks.  You can add in arguments about the positive or negative impacts on Afghanis from either point of view.  On this count, most people would acknowledge that leaving is going to hurt the segment of the Afghani population who want to avoid a return to the tender mercies of the Taliban, including and especially women.

There's one question that does occur to me.  Why is the U.S. military still in countries that truly pose no threat, that have in fact become allies?  Germany, Japan, and South Korea come to mind, but the fact is that the U.S. military has bases all over the world.  I suspect that the reasoning varies case by case.  For example, even though South Korea is not a threat to the U.S., North Korea would likely invade South Korea but for our military presence there.  So good luck figuring out whether there is a broader, thought-out "doctrine" around this phenomenon.  My guess is that keeping our military in other countries that pose no threat to the U.S. is not so much a thought-out doctrine as it is a default in the absence of a stated doctrine.  In other words, it's a de facto doctrine.  Call it the "Hotel California" doctrine, as in the final lyrical line from that song: "You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave."

I suppose an expert might argue that on balance, it's better to stay in these places of former conflict in order to defend our interests and allies.  Should that be the case, it would be nice if someone in authority would say that out loud every so often.  As it stands, we're left in the dark on whether this is something that gets discussed by our leaders in a broad sense, or whether it's "Hotel California."

That brings us back to Afghanistan.  If we do leave, then I guess that means that the "interests and allies" requirement hasn't been satisfied, or perhaps not sufficiently.  Some expert should write an article on why Afghanistan doesn't meet the test in that regard.  The Afghanis deserve an explanation, as do U.S. citizens.

One thing in this whole confusing mess is clear to me.  The next time our country is in the process of figuring out whether to engage in a foreign military intervention, citizens should assume that if the intervention goes forward, we'll be there a very long time, perhaps in perpetuity.  That assumption should be a major factor in deciding, if not for our leaders, then at least for citizens.  Hopefully, we can be more informed of the long-term implications and avoid having our leaders swept along by a myopic martial zeitgeist.  "Hotel California" should just be a great pop-rock song, not a de facto doctrine.

Image via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

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