In a recent article, Gen. David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon voiced their support forPresident Obama’s announcement to maintain an increased U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan through 2017. A lot of the familiar rhetoric abounds — statements that Afghanistan “needs help” and that the situation is “not hopeless, but it is serious” combine to produce a non-specific threat narrative. But the authors offer only one real argument for staying: “the right approach is for Obama to protect our investment in Afghanistan.”
In other words, we should stay because of sunk costs. In 1985, Arkes and Blumer published a study titled The Psychology of Sunk Cost that addressed the idea of the sunk cost effect. It had roots in several other theories to include Kahneman and Taversky’s 1979 Prospect Theory, of which there are two applicable parts — prospect theory’s value function, and thecertainty effect. The value function presents the idea of an investor deep in loss perceiving the prospect of relative gain (even if still achieving a net loss in the end) as far outweighing the risk of increased cost (and further loss). An example is given of the increased popularity of long shots at the race track during the final race of the day. The second part is thecertainty effect, noting that a choice between a certain loss (completely pulling out of Afghanistan leading to its presumptive total collapse) and a long shot (the Afghan government becoming self-sustaining sometime in the very, very distant future) favors the latter.
...The hardest aspect in shedding the sunk cost fallacy is the seeming irreverence of not “honoring” the sacrifices of our dead and wounded. We need to tread lightly on the ground of our fallen comrades. But I believe the “sunk cost” view actually dishonors their sacrifice, because it converts them into a kind of political-emotional “currency” that is used to gain argumentative advantage. This often comes in the form of declaring whether their sacrifice was or will be “in vain” or not based on a subjective determination of outcome. Matt Cavanaugh, Jim Gourley, and Dan Berschinski all have recently wrestled with addressing this complex and sensitive topic. For now, suffice it to say that the consideration of hazarding further American lives deserves the utmost gravity, but the hard truth that manyhave died does not and cannot justify whether more should die.
My assessment is that such an outcome is not achievable without the loss of more of our people than is worth it. Hence, I believe it is time for us to leave Afghanistan, undeluded by the hope that we can somehow recover the unrecoverable.
Van Wyk argues for the complete withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. To him the future costs of staying aren't worth the prize. Squandering lives and treasure on lost causes is for the French Foreign Legion. Without that, the Legion might not have any songs.
Canada needs to stop serving as America's Foreign Legion. No more wars unless we know, going in, that we have the ability and the will to win them. No more wars without end. No more doubling down on bad bets. Enough.