What does ending the war mean?

There’s been a lot of talk of accelerating the timeline to get out of Afghanistan. Even conservatives are openly talking about it.  I started thinking about what ending the war actually means. We don’t really have much history in terms of ending these conflicts. Well, the conflicts end, but the troops seem to stay. For example, we still have more than 52,000 troops stationed in Germany and 32,000 stationed in Japan. You might remember us beating both of those countries in a little conflict known as World War 2.

Somewhat more defensible are the almost 29,000 troops we still have in South Korea. But think about that for a minute. The Korean War ended in 1953, and WWII ended in 1945. There may be some sensible reason for a limited U.S. presence in South Korea right now. But 29,000 troops — almost half of what we have in Afghanistan — just to have on hand in case their lunatic northern neighbor ever gets its hands on a rocket that actually works? That seems to be a stretch. And through that lens let’s go back to the 52,000 — fifty-two thousand?! — troops in Germany? Who do they have upstairs? The Dutch? Denmark? Or are we still pretending that the single major Eurozone nation enjoying any kind of financial stability is itching to start itself an awesome new round of world wars? I guess we must be, because otherwise, over 75% of the number of troops required to carry on our one active/official international conflict looks like something between overkill and straight-up idiocy.

Last December, the last U.S troops left Iraq. So that’s at least one war that ended without us leaving tens of thousands of troops behind for one reason or another. Of course, that wasn’t for lack of trying. The plan was to leave a “small” force of maybe 10,000 troops for training and security purposes. They just couldn’t make a deal. That leads us to Afghanistan.

Currently, we have approximately 66,000 troops in Afghanistan. That’s down from a high of 100,000 during the so-called surge.  Each of those soldiers costs between $815,000 and $1.4 million per year to keep on the ground — only a tiny fraction of which goes to actual salary and benefits. Of course, that’s all good to the DoD — if it’s up to them, we’ll never leave.  When asked about troop levels in post war in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said:

It’s entirely premature to speculate on troop numbers in Afghanistan between now and the end of 2014 or beyond,” he said. “In September, we completed the full withdrawal of the 33,000 surge troops, and we will soon begin considering how we move forward on further troop level adjustments which will include planning for our post-2014 military and civilian presence in Afghanistan.”

Whenever I hear about all of this debt ceiling nonsense, I think about the fact that we have almost 11,000 troops stationed in Italy —  another of the axis powers we defeated around the Truman administration.  I assume we aren’t waiting for Mussolini’s corpse to reanimate and raise an army. I can’t think of a good reason for us to still be there.  Not in those numbers anyway.

I know it’s not quite as simple as just deciding to bring all of the troops home and then having it instantly done.  And even I can come up with some compelling reasons to have some troops stationed around the world.  But come on! They haven’t figured out exactly how many troops are going to be left in our latest war that never ends but we’re talking about cutting entitlements for seniors and the poor. Maybe if we weren’t subsidizing the armies of other countries abroad, we’d have more money for the things we need at home.

Categories: Politics Fix

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