Happy New Year, Afghanistan

Will the U.S.'s longest war teach it the right lesson?

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Noorullah Shirzada / AFP / Getty Images

A suicide bomber blew up this vehicle, killing a U.S. serviceman in a nearby convoy in Kabul on Dec. 27.

Upon the occasion of the new year, Afghanistan and the United States have yet to nail down a U.S. troop presence beyond 2014, and the American people have concluded that the 12-year-long war in Afghanistan is not only the nation’s longest but also its least popular.

The two data points are linked. Soldiers who think about such things—and most don’t—will acknowledge that long wars and democracies don’t mix.

When the war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001, most Pentagon officials said privately that it would be over in a year or two; some estimated six months. Double that duration for Iraq, launched 18 months later on Mar. 19, 2003. The Taliban and Saddam Hussein were ousted shortly after U.S. troops arrived. What did we do following their ouster that has been worth the added cost in U.S. blood and treasure?

Many families of fallen troops feel their loved one died for something, but they’re not sure precisely what. Many don’t think it was to keep their families safe back home, where, statistically speaking, your chance of dying from malaria is greater than being killed in an Islamic terrorist attack. (If you want to believe that it was those very wars that kept attacks so low, welcome to the military-industrial superiority complex.)

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, we ended up with failed efforts to build better nations in far-off lands that we barely understood. So wired on the adrenaline rush of war we never acknowledged that we have flubbed the running our own nation as we deployed to tell others how to run theirs. If you can’t balance a budget, you can’t build a nation.

There is something perverse the way these wars were fought. They were launched by Ivy Leaguers and their foreign-policy acolytes but waged by kids from land-grant universities and Sunbelt high schools. Sure, that’s not completely accurate, but as they say with nuclear weapons, close enough.

Meanwhile, 300 million disengaged Americans shopped as nearly 7,000 troops dropped. Congress grumbled, but seeing as it didn’t have the constitutional guts to debate and declare war, it was merely a guilty bystander. The unfinished wars will likely cost U.S. taxpayers $3 trillion, once all costs are calculated.

This is no way for a great nation to act. There’s a reason the Constitution mandates that only the Congress can declare war. We’re either all in or all out. Anything short of that too often leaves us tasting the bitter bile of our own making, as many will do this New Year’s.

Even with 47,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, you hear chatter about the possibility of dispatching U.S. troops to Syria, to central Africa, to Iran.

It took 30 years for the nation to launch a war as stupid as Vietnam. We could do worse than to ensure it takes at least that long before we do it again.

Think of it as a New Year’s irresolution.

13 comments
Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

Thank you for that, Mark. Wars are stupid to everyone but to the emotionally invested and to the war profiteers.

"War is a racket. . .the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives."

-- MajGen  Smedley D. Butler, USMC, double recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, 1935

BillDonnelly
BillDonnelly

We should be supporting India, the world's largest democracy.  They have been ready, able and willing to handle the Pakistan problem for years.  They have the ability and drive to handle any other middle eastern country, or groups within those countries,  who's people wish to force their religious view.

BillDonnelly
BillDonnelly

The lesson should be..not all people and countries want to be run like the USA.  After 10 years of running through Viet Nam's jungle we lost.  They are doing well under a communist government, manufacturing everything for us. Many Asian countries and cultures have worked as communities for the betterment of their group for thousands of years.   Community = Communism.

Same in the middle east..I was happy when we invaded Iraq to "free the people"  I was shocked to find out the the prevalent religion dictates that they are not to be "free" but follow the dictates of their clergy and that they had religious enforcers to see that they do.  Presently, religious wars are all over the middle east.  We stopped killing people for their religious beliefs hundreds of years ago.  Should we be referees in that nonsense?

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

The right lesson is if you do not have the gumption and determination to finish a fight do not start one. We are being played like suckers by Karzai, him receiving money from us and from Iran. Karzai dictating the terms to us and not the other way around, he owes his miserable existence to the Americans.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

The initial assault using indigenous tribes to scramble the Taliban was completely justified and appropriate.  It should have ended there other than hunting down binLaden.  Iraq was completely senseless and inappropriate in every way.   

MrObvious
MrObvious

Will history? Afghanistan is known for two things; Only being conquered by the Mongols and the ruin of countless other empires. 

I wonder if anyone reads history books.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@BillDonnellyIf India were "ready, able and willing to handle the Pakistan problem" (it isn't) then why did India refuse President Karzai's military shopping list on his recent visit to India?



Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

@BillDonnellyThe US didn't invade Iraq to free the people, but because of nuclear weapons that were there, somewhere, according to the geniuses in Washington. Freeing people doesn't even make the list, anywhere.



ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@formerlyjamesThat was not how Hillary Clinton, John Kerry saw the Iraq situation. Even Bill Clinton saw it differently. Problem is people want to place it on Bush forgetting that Bush would not have ordered an invasion if Congress did not approved and if George Tenet, Bill Clinton CIAs Director told him it was a slam dunk. But it all water under the bridge now,.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

Another thought occurred to me that the the time of mindless effort in Afghanistan can be extended by the time spent muddling against Russia in the '80s.

DeaconGray
DeaconGray

@MrObvious You are right. Afghan's take the long view of wars. It is not so important to win the initial battles, but to ultimately win the war.

tom.litton
tom.litton

@MrObviousMaybe the taliban will turn against pakistan the way al-qaeda turned against us.