11 Years after 9-11
By Matt Southworth on 09/10/2012 @ 10:40 PM
BREAKING: the U.S. is still at war in Afghanistan.
You might not realize it by listening to most candidates on the campaign trail. Last week’s Republican National Convention omitted almost any mention of the U.S. war in Afghanistan—save for Clint Eastwood calling for an immediate, complete withdrawal. In fact, as we mark the 11th anniversary of September 11, 2001, campaign rhetoric on U.S. foreign policy largely centers on the possibility of the next U.S. war—this time on Iran.
The years since 9/11 have been long and difficult—especially for the 1-2% of the population actively participating in the post-9/11 wars. Ask yourself this: are you more secure today than you were 12 years ago? I’ll come back to that.
Why not talk about the war? We’re told it’s because the war is not popular among the public. Indeed, recent polls indicate that 67% of people surveyed believe the U.S. war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. My independent, non-empirical surveys of friends and family indicate that 100% of people surveyed can’t explain why we’re still in Afghanistan—and that is with no margin of error, mind you.
Occasionally, the radio silence will break for stories like the one I recently heard on NPR about local Afghans in expressing frustration over the failure of Afghan and international forces to keep them safe from insurgents. One Afghan went as far as saying, regretfully, that the “Taliban government… was much better.” This opinion isn’t likely a majority opinion across all of Afghanistan, but it is likely held by many in the Pashtun dominant south—an area which has received considerable military aid and other resources in recent years. It makes one wonder if anything positive at all will come from the multi-billion dollar investment.
To be fair, President Obama did discuss Afghanistan this weekend when he told audiences on two consecutive days that all U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014—a departure from the current policy, which is more ambiguous. He has since dialed that rhetoric back. Publically, the administration has only committed to “steady drawdowns” until the end of 2014, at which point the U.S. will fully transition the responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
Yet given all of the turmoil in recent weeks between Afghans and their foreign trainers, that strategy seems to be in peril. It seems clear that some kind of U.S. military force will remain in Afghanistan for up to another decade. Given all that has been invested and lost, we should push back hard on the idea that another decade of war will somehow make things better in Afghanistan.
Uncertainty is the only certainty in Afghanistan these days. As I’ve said before, I fear the U.S. is pitting an internationally backed, trained and funded Afghan security force against an indigenous insurgency—well practiced, armed and funded after the last decade of war themselves—that has historically arisen to fight against foreign intervention. This cannot end well.
President Obama is expected to discuss Afghanistan during his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday. I suspect he will, just days before another 9/11 anniversary, discuss the killing of Osama bin Laden and the end of the war in Iraq. He will likely talk about ending the “surge,” a 30,000 troop increase announced in 2009, touting the tactical military “success.” I also expect President Obama to say challenges lie ahead in Afghanistan—and no doubt they do.
He won’t discuss all of the death and carnage suffered by Afghans, nor will he discuss how he plans to bring the U.S. war in Afghanistan to a close. Most importantly, and unfortunately, I don’t expect the president to ask two fundamental questions: what have we gained in the last decade, and what will two more years of war bring? In short, are we really safer now than we were 11 years ago?
Part of the answer depends on how one defines security. Absolute security is unattainable, whether you live in the United States or Afghanistan. So if absolute security isn’t the goal, what is?
After spending more than $2 trillion dollars on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, heart disease and cancer—not homicide and terrorism—are still the leading causes of death in the United States. Why so much fuss over the Affordable Healthcare Act and so little over the wars overseas which are set to drastically raise the debt and cost $4-6 trillion in the long term?
To me, security doesn’t start overseas; it starts here at home. Security is knowing that if you work hard, you will have a job to go to everyday. It means knowing your children can get a good education and go to college without facing mountains of debt. Security is being able to walk around your neighborhood at night without fear of being mugged—something that can’t be done in every Washington, DC neighborhood. Security means knowing that you don’t have to compromise your health because medical expenses are simply too daunting. To me, security means knowing we, the United States, play a positive role around the world, rather than a sinister, means to ends one that we seem to have adopted.
My deployment to Iraq in 2004 did none of these things. When this next anniversary of 9/11 comes to pass, think about how you’d define security. What makes you feel secure? I bet the bloated Pentagon budget and wars overseas won’t be as large a part of your security as some would have us all believe.