The rush for the exits in Afghanistan and Iraq

James Purschwitz, U.S. Marine Corps

British army Sgt. Scott Roxborough, with Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, Mercian Regiment, talks with Afghan men during a civil affairs patrol in the Nawa district of the Helmand province of Afghanistan Aug. 4, 2009.

Article Highlights

  • Would #GOP candidates reverse Obama's headlong rush out of #Iraq and #Afghanistan?

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  • GOP candidates must chart courses in #Iraq and #Afghanistan that avoids open-ended promises to establish Western democracies

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  • Republicans must avoid Obama's false choice on #Iraq and #Afghanistan

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This is part of an ongoing series preparing for the AEI/CNN/Heritage National Security & Foreign Policy GOP presidential debate on November 22.

Serious Republican candidates should be able to agree that as president, they will reverse the Obama administration’s headlong rush for the exits in Afghanistan and Iraq. The nature of the wound Obama has inflicted on American national security is clear: after helping establish a viable ally in Iraq, we are leaving no significant presence, and just as our forces are reestablishing order and putting the Taliban on the run in Afghanistan, we are leaving before the gains can be solidified. We will be giving our enemies an undeserved gift: Iran will have the opportunity to expand its influence further into Iraq, while the Taliban and al Qaeda will move in where we withdraw in Afghanistan.

But what should the candidates propose as the role for U.S. troops in both countries, other than stubbornness or a knee-jerk opposition to all things Obama? The Republican candidates can chart a course in both countries that avoids expensive and open-ended promises to establish Western-style democracies. Instead, they can focus on two more limited, but equally valuable, missions: protecting Iraq and Afghanistan from foreign security threats and guaranteeing power-sharing deals between rival groups inside both countries. I make the case in a recent scholarly article, “Fixing Failed States,” that smaller independent nations can survive and avoid the fate of failed states when larger states or the international system provides their security and access to trade. I also argue that larger countries like the United States can help stabilize these countries when they prevent a cycle of violence and distrust by enforcing deals between various ethnic and religious groups within a state.

Republican candidates for president could aim for these more modest missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would require fewer troops than we have seen at the height of the surges but would go far in helping both nations maintain stable economic and political systems. They can avoid Obama’s false choice between large troop deployments or a complete exit and instead propose a policy that would maintain a responsible role for the United States and keep both countries as allies, making sure that the wars of the last 10 years have not been in vain.

John Yoo is a visiting scholar at AEI

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