Today, our country passes an important anniversary, which (unlike the 9-11 anniversary) will be largely ignored by politicians and the White House. We have now been in Afghanistan for ten years. That’s right, ten years. We have had 2 million troops in the country and lost roughly 1,700 lives. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet, the President and other politicians would prefer to have the anniversary pass without much notice for good reason. It has been a disaster and it is not improving. In the meantime, the public is heavily opposed to our presence in the country. In the meantime, a general has used the anniversary to assure the American people we are now halfway to meeting our goals.
We have now been in Afghanistan longer than any prior war from the Revolutionary War to World War II to Vietnam. Yet, the American people are still unsure why we are there while their leaders shutdown vital educational, scientific, environmental and social programs for lack of funding at home. Polls show 6 out of 10 people want us out of Afghanistan, but it does not seem to matter. This year alone Afghanistan will cost over $116 billion. President Obama has set a date of 2013, which will guarantee more loss of life and money in this ill-conceived war.
The reasons for going into Afghanistan were credible after the Taliban gave Bin Laden shelter, but many of us questioned the need for a full-scale invasion. Even if such an invasion were needed, many of us opposed remaining in the country that has spent hundreds of years in bloody civil wars and conflict. From the outset, our objectives were dangerously ill-defined. If we were hunting Bin Laden, it seemed akin to Blackjack Pershing chasing Pancho Villa with the U.S. Army in Mexico — an unlikely goal. When the Bush Administration did trap Bin Laden in Tora Bora, it proceeded to allow him to escape.
If we were there to fight Al Qaeda, it contradicted the statements of the Bush Administration that the terror group would have to be fought in a variety of countries and forced the U.S. to effectively occupy and run a shattered country.
If it was to create a new democracy, it was a fool’s errand because this country was heavily steeped in fundamentalist Islamic practices and deeply divided along clan and regional lines.
Nevertheless, once we invaded, no politician wanted to take responsibility for pulling out and claiming anything other than victory. So we have continued to lose lives and spend billions while the country descended into grotesque corruption (here) and hardens its religious-based laws against women and minorities. To try to achieve any level of peace, we are now trying to hand over parts of the country to the Taliban and extremist religious groups.
Our invasion on Oct. 7, 2001 was loosely defined as “denying a safe haven for Al Qaeda,” though we knew the group was working around the world and that terrorist groups tend to move more freely than a regular army. Bush then pushed us into a war in Iraq based on false intelligence and claims. That war is also continuing and has claimed nearly 4,500 U.S. lives. Both wars have resulted in tens of thousands of wounded military personnel.
Afghan leaders repeatedly have called for us to leave the country. The corrupt president of the country has repeatedly called the West an enemy, stripped women of protections, expressed a desire to be with the Taliban, and sought to tax even the aid to his country.
It is a rather sad anniversary. But the saddest aspect is the desire of our leaders to ignore it. Ending the war made little sense for politicians in either party who wanted to avoid accusations of being soft or defeatist. The result is a conflict that history will likely record as either a folly or a failure — a tragic example of how politicians are often quick to start wars but often lack the character or conscience to end them.
Of course, the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks was an irresistible temptation for politicians who fell over each other to get to the front of public events and photo ops. Even ten years later, politicians relished the opportunity to give tough-on-terror speeches and proclaim their hawkish records on terror. In contrast, the Afghanistan war is a subject no one wants to talk about. We keep it out of sight and out of mind — like a trunk in the attic. We will mark the anniversary with a collective shrug and move along.
Well, here is to the anniversary. Ten years and going strong.