Having ignored the Founders on war, U.S. forces will return to Afghanistan unless Americans begin to think for themselves

One of the few things all the Founders agreed on was that the conduct of America’s very few necessary wars would be the responsibility of the national government, with the assistance of state militias. (NB: By the way, has anyone found the Constitutional amendment negating the 2nd Amendment’s guarantee of state militias? Me neither.) And it is important to note that when the Founders spoke of war, they all spoke — Federalists and the increasingly relevant anti-Federalists alike — of unavoidable “defensive wars,” none of them envisioned unnecessary offensive wars, on this their silence is deafening.

On reflection, this makes perfect sense. The national government alone could provide the leadership, resources, and direction needed in wartime. The Founders also believed that if wars had to be fought, they had to be won and had to be won quickly. Why? First, because any war their America would fight would be a matter of life and death; if you lose, you die as a nation, therefore winning is the only option no matter the cost. Second, the Founders knew that all wars but especially long wars frayed public support for the government, headed the country toward bankruptcy, and opened the door wide for the Executive Branch to expand its powers, constrict civil liberties, and take the first strides along the high road to tyranny. Therefore, not only victory but speedy victory were key essentials of American war-making.

If they were able to look down the long road from 1787 to 2013 and see U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, the Founders, I believe, would be raising their wigs to scratch their heads and wonder how such an easy task could have been botched so badly, and at such a tremendous cost in lives, treasure, national prestige and influence, and civil liberties at home. Attacked by al-Qaeda on 9/11, and multiple times before that, the goal, as the Founders would have seen it, was to destroy as quickly as possible those who attacked America, their allies, and their supporters, and immediately return home. The Founders hated war, but they were largely Old Testament men who when forced to fight brought to their waging of a necessary war a very clear eye-for-an-eye methodology. This is true even for Jefferson if you gauge his maniacal hatred for Britain; his genuine, enthusiastic, and never recanted applause for the Jacobins’ charnel house; and his bloodthirstiness toward the Barbary pirates.

In several of my recent writings, I have been chastised — to say the least — for speaking of the Founders and those Protestant ministers and English republicans who instructed the Founders’ minds, as if they still had relevance today. Well, I suppose my answer to that could be lengthy and snarling — I am too prone to invective, I do love it and the rancorous debate it engenders — but in this case, reality suffices.

  • After 13 years of war in Afghanistan, the United States of America is withdrawing, utterly defeated in what was a necessary war. Not one of our war aims has been accomplished: The Taliban is stronger than ever and will retake national power, probably after a civil war; al-Qaeda, quite clearly, is flourishing on several continents and its influence is growing in Europe and North America, Syria is the Gulf Arab-funded seedbed that is growing the warriors who will bring havoc to those locales; bin Laden died a complete success and his legend remains vibrant and motivating; and Pakistan is destabilized and in a few years will be the first nuclear-armed Sunni Islamist state.
  • After 13 years of war in Afghanistan, every U.S. soldier, Marine, airman, or sailor who died there amounts to a life deliberately wasted by his or her government. Every one of them who was maimed there was crippled without reason. No war aim was achieved; America is broke and its leaders are eager to deepen that fatal abyss of debt; America is more vulnerable to al-Qaeda and its allies in more places in the world — including places with natural resources on which much of our economy depends — than it was in 2001; and the end of the ongoing war we still have with the Islamists — one they started and will press relentlessly — is so far over the horizon that it cannot be sensed let alone seen.
  • And, after 13 years of war in Afghanistan, the willingness of American people to fight a war they must win to survive as a nation is, to say the least, flagging; really, they seem to have no understanding of that reality. Moreover, the 1st and, especially, the 4th Amendments of their Constitution have been shredded; their last two presidents have skillfully exploited the wartime environment to make and amend laws by decree and to make the Executive Branch the clear enemy of all Americans’ civil liberties; and their government and its military now stand as a laughing stocks, unable to stop ruinous over-spending; unable to defeat Islamists often armed with less-than-modern weapons, and absolutely unable to influence a mentally unbalanced Afghan leader dressed in cape leftover from a 1930’s Hollywood adventure film.

Afghanistan has been an unmitigated disaster for the United States that has left it extraordinarily more vulnerable to the al-Qaeda-led Islamists. But the foregoing is not a recommendation to continue to fight there. I have argued repeatedly and rather strongly since the national government announced its intention to lose in Afghanistan in 2010 that we should pull out immediately and not spend another life or another dollar there. Waging and winning the Afghan war a quick and easy task botched beyond recall by leaders — political, military, media, and clerical — whose knowledge, talent, patriotism, and, yes, intentions must now be considered suspect. (NB: If any reader wants to see how easy it was to predict what would happen in Afghanistan and avoid it, see my Imperial Hubris, pp. 47-58. Written in 2001-2002, those pages are exactly on the mark; are based on materials available in most public libraries; and are the work of a man who Republicans and Democrats alike have described as a dunce, an America-hater, an appeaser, a fat dufus, an anti-Semite, and a bigot. I prefer the adjectives honest, commonsensical, and, dare I say, America First.)

While getting out of Afghanistan — totally, not leaving behind 10,000 troops in soon-to-be surrounded and attacked fire-bases — is the right thing to do for U.S. interests and our worn-out military, Americans must recognize that this is an intermission, not the end of the play. The national government’s failure to follow the Founders’ advice for war-making has left our Islamist enemy intact and growing, and Afghanistan, two or three years after we have fled, will have returned to its 2001 status as the world’s premier base for the training, funding, and deployment of Islamist mujahideen to insurgencies around the world, and for the planning of attacks on the United States and its allies.

When all is said and done, Americans must ignore the theories and lies of presidents, pundits, and generals. If they think for themselves and read their nation’s history, Americans will know that their country is far worse off today than it was in 2001; their Islamist enemies are much stronger and more widely deployed around the world; their taxes are much higher and growing; and their civil liberties are far fewer. With such preparation and study, they also will not be surprised when the current situation markedly deteriorates in the years ahead and yields a new era that will be marked by significant attacks and combat in North America. When this occurs, U.S. land forces will be fighting at home and will return to Afghanistan — and perhaps before then be sent to Africa and the Levant — to do the job the politicians prevented them from doing between 2001 and 2014, namely, defeat the Islamists utterly.

Unless Americans read and understand their history, and begin to elect men and women willing — nay, eager — to abide by the Founders’ advice and the Constitution they wrote, this will be their future: wars abroad and increasingly war at home. And as always, these wars will be unnecessary wars that our political elites cultivate by ignoring the Founders’ advice and intervening in the affairs of other nations and peoples.

Author: Michael F. Scheuer

Michael F. Scheuer worked at the CIA as an intelligence officer for 22 years. He was the first chief of its Osama bin Laden unit, and helped create its rendition program, which he ran for 40 months. He is an American blogger, historian, foreign policy critic, and political analyst.