The 20 Years War: A Eulogy for The War in Afghanistan
2021 draws to an end, with many who felt it was a long, trying year probably relieved that it’s over. But something even longer and even worse ended just a couple months ago, although you would never guess by its sudden disappearance from the headlines. Just this past September, the US finally withdrew all of its remaining troops from Afghanistan after two prolonged decades of occupying the country and trying to pacify Taliban fighters. For a while, the story dominated the news, with the chaotic evacuation of American citizens and personnel from the country proving to be a rich, deep well for the crisis-hungry media to draw from. Attention was also called to the plight of the Afghan people, who suddenly found themselves at the mercy of the Islamist insurgents formerly kept at bay by American forces. And yet, just a couple months later, the harrowing images of helicopters buzzing out of Kabul and desperate refugees clinging to planes attempting take-off once likened to the fall of Saigon have already been forgotten, buried in yesterday’s papers along with the greater story of why we were in Afghanistan for as long as some of the men who fought there have been alive.
It might be hard to remember after the past 20 years, but we had a reason for going into Afghanistan: to bring Osama bin Laden and his fellow jihadists to justice for the terrorist attacks of 9/11. So valiantly committed we were to this goal that we stayed there 10 years after we snuffed the bastard - unarmed, sick, and, at this point, apparently marginalized by the rest of the Al Qaeda leadership - out. And in the country next door no less! Of course, this all could have been avoided if the Taliban (who, mind you, played no role whatsoever in 9/11 and in fact condemned the attacks after they happened) simply had the good sense to surrender their Saudi guest and turn him over to Uncle Sam. Instead, they had the nerve, the audacity to ask for proof of bin Laden’s guilt and the option to turn him over to an American-allied Muslim nation like Egypt or Saudi Arabia, with the implicit understanding that said nation would extradite him to the US immediately. Scott Horton documents this chicanery in his book Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan, adding:
“When the US refused these seemingly modest terms, the Taliban offered to turn bin Laden over to the government of Pakistan, again offering a solution that was no impediment to the U.S.’s ability to take custody within days…
This offer was reportedly ruined by Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharaff over the very thin excuse that Pakistan would be unable to guarantee bin Laden’s safety while he awaited trial. Finally just a few days after the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan began in early October , the Taliban promised to hand bin Laden over to any country other than the United States and without seeing evidence of his guilt.”
Our fearless leader George W. Bush - in his infinite wisdom and renowned political acumen - rejected this last offer in favor of a totally necessary war that lasted over 10 years after he left office.
But we couldn’t even do that right. Instead of fighting a narrow, targeted campaign against Al Qaeda, the war’s architects and overseers let it devolve into a neocolonial "civilizing mission" to rid Afghanistan of every last trace of the Taliban and transform the fractious, tribal-based society of the Afghans into a united, democratic nation-state. If that doesn’t strike you as an especially Herculean undertaking, then it might behoove you to note that uniting Afghanistan under one central authority is a task that the country’s own rulers - from the king Mohammad Zahir Shah to the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and even to the theocratic Taliban - have spent the past half-century or so trying and failing to do. Not that it mattered to the people who needed to hear it the most: surely the good Samaritans in the Pentagon and State Department could succeed where the monarchs, Marxists, and Muslim militants all fell short and make Afghanistan great again!
Naturally, such a utopian goal could only be achieved at a steep cost: $2.3 trillion, 6,247 dead Americans, and 168,307 dead Afghans (46,319 of which were civilians), per the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs’ Costs of War Project. That’s $2.3 trillion that could have gone back to taxpayers and over 170,000 human beings who would still be alive if not for this war, but just because we didn’t achieve said goal - what with the Taliban immediately springing back to power right after we left and all - doesn’t mean that we should regard it as a complete failure! We managed to accomplish many great things before cutting the cord and letting the country’s “democratic” government fend for itself, such as torturing and killing prisoners at Bagram Air Base, directing soldiers to ignore sexual abuse of children by Afghan military and police officials, and bombing a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders. Who cares if the bureaucrats and generals running the war told us a few fibs about the war’s mission and winnability: what matters is that they cared enough to try and give the American people a cause to believe in (a hopeless cause, yes, but a cause nevertheless!)
Now, loath as I am to say anything kind about Joe Biden, it’s a real credit to the president that he had both the wisdom and the courage to finally withdraw our remaining troops from this quagmire. Just as Donald Trump deserves credit for initiating the withdrawal process in the face of opposition from elements from within his own party and administration, Biden deserves credit for seeing it through to the end despite protests from his own cabinet. Chief among these dissenters were Secretary of State Antony Blinken, a long-time Biden confidante who “helped craft” the then-senator’s support for Bush’s Iraq War, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired four-star general and "former" member of the Board of Directors of Raytheon, which just happens to be one of the war's most prolific profiteers and stood to lose millions from its end. One wonders why Biden decided to surround himself with such hawks in the first place - and shudders to think about the fact that they remain in a position to push policy in a more costly and dangerous direction - but we can at least sigh with relief that, for the time being, he was bold enough to disregard their ill counsel and do what his predecessors failed to do.
Needless to say, the empire struck back, with professional warmongers like Bill Kristol, Lindsey Graham, and Hillary Clinton as well as their mouthpieces in the media howling in rage at the decision to pull the plug on this generation’s Vietnam. Sure, many included token references to the blood and treasure extracted from Americans to fight their war (less so to the even more terrible toll it took on the Afghan people), but these were buried beneath concern trolling about the botched manner in which the withdrawal was carried out and it “not being time” to leave yet. It goes without saying that no date or method of withdrawal would ever be acceptable to what the late Justin Raimondo called the War Party, but so repeated and regurgitated were these and other inane criticisms across TV and social media that Biden’s approval rating hit a net negative for the first time in his presidency. Not for bombing Syria without congressional approval, not for failing to revive the Iran deal like he promised to do on the campaign trail, not for continuing to arm Saudi Arabia after announcing a halt to support for its murderous war against Yemen, but for finally ending the longest war in American history. So shrill and so amplified were these bad-faith criticisms that even Ron Paul, arguably the most influential anti-war politician of our time, felt compelled to come to Biden’s defense, correctly laying blame for the disaster at the feet of the bipartisan war machine rather than the man who revoked Charlamagne Tha God's Black card.
In his libretto for the chamber opera Hydrogen Jukebox, the legendary Beat poet Allen Ginsberg asks:
“Who’s the enemy, year after year,
War after war, who’s the enemy?
What’s the weapon, battle after battle,
What’s the news, defeat after defeat?”
Recorded in the final years of the Cold War, Ginsberg’s words could just as easily double as questions probably fluttering around Washington today. Indeed, undeterred by its humiliating failure to make one of the poorest countries on Earth bow to its dictates after two decades of warfare and bloodshed, the Deep State has started hunting for a new, "worthier" foe in its never-ending quest to vanquish “the enemy”, whoever that might be. Chances of restoring the Iran deal are increasingly in jeopardy, and the Biden administration has begun signaling its willingness to consider taking “other” (read: military) measures against Tehran. Tensions are also flaring up with China over Taiwan and AUKUS, an unprecedented military alliance between the US, the UK, and Australia that Beijing fears could box it in. And storm clouds are once again brewing over Europe, with calls to arm Ukraine and send troops to defend that country against a potential Russian invasion threatening to plunge the continent - if not the world - into catastrophe. If we are to find a way out of these treacherous times, Americans must take John Quincy Adams' warning against venturing abroad "in search of monsters to destroy” to heart so that when the War Party tries to launch its next ill-conceived adventure, we can stop it dead in its tracks and avoid unleashing another war, the greatest monster of all.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the views of the Libertarian Party of Orange County.
Reggie Peralta is a native of Santa Ana and UCLA graduate with a BA in Political Science. In addition to helping out as Blog Editor for the Libertarian Party of Orange County, he has volunteered and written content for local arts and cultural organizations like The Frida Cinema, Makara Center for the Arts, and LibroMobile.