“America Wages War Like the World’s Biggest NGO”

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ISAF Photo / SSgt Bradley Lail

U.S. troops try to hide from Afghan dust near Kandahar as a helicopter lands nearby.

You don’t want your military described as an “NGO” — that stands for non-governmental organization, like the Red Cross or Doctors Without Borders. It’s just one of the criticisms lobbed by Mark Steyn about how the nation is fighting, or not, in Afghanistan, in the latest issue of the conservative National Review. He argues that while the U.S. tends to be forward-leaning when it comes to getting into wars, it’s also forward-leaning when it comes to getting out. We simply don’t have the will to win, he says.

That’s true, as far as it goes, of course. Democratic governments who ask their civilians to sacrifice their offspring for never-ending wars – and their offsprings’ offsprings’ earnings to pay for it a generation or two down the road — shouldn’t be surprised. It’s part of the tapestry of American history. It’s just interesting when these arguments, long made on the left, start coming from the right as well.

Steyn, author of America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, takes a pretty apocalyptic view of the global scene. He fears Islamic fundamentalism could be coming soon to the United States. One place to turn back that tide, he believes, is Afghanistan. But he doesn’t like the apparent return-on-investment:

…the most lavishly funded armed forces on the planet, of a country that outspends China, Britain, France, Russia, and all second-rank powers combined and accounts single-handedly for over 40 percent of global military spending, can’t win any wars…Inbred goatherds with fertilizer…seem to grasp a central truth – that behind the nukes and the cruise missiles and the body armor, we don’t mean it. And they do.

He adds:

America wages war like the world’s biggest NGO – a do-gooding non-profit for which armed conflict is not the sharp end of a nation-state’s interest but an act of global stewardship. It’s war as the ultimate NPR fund drive: For a pledge of $12 billion, we’ll open a schoolhouse in Kandahar and a women’s-health clinic in Shah Joy and give everyone a copy of Three Cups of Tea. Six months after the last NATO soldier leaves, there will be no women at the women’s-health clinic and no schoolgirls at the schoolhouse. We came, we spent, we left no trace.

He frets that such an outcome will lead to the “very palpable evolution of America’s soldiery into yet another victim group. Victims of what? Of a political class and a broader national culture that knows how to start wars but not how to win them.”

That’s the real national-security scandal.