Americans marked a somber anniversary this week.
After 17 years, the memories of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are understandably seared into our memories. Another upcoming anniversary should give us pause as well.
Next month will mark 17 years since the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in U.S. history. I was in 6th grade when the planes hit those buildings, and I’ve now lived more than half my life during the Afghanistan War. Americans who were not yet born when New York and Washington, D.C. were attacked can now enlist in the military as 17-year-olds with parental permission.
Few would second guess the motivations behind the United States entering Afghanistan, or doubt American service people have fought honorably. But after the better part of two decades, our objectives have either been achieved or proven unachievable.
Afghanistan is my generation’s forgotten war. The United States continues to spend $45 billion per year and maintains some 14,000 troops there. Those men and women seem to occupy no space in our national consciousness.
The whole ordeal has been a political and humanitarian disaster, claiming 2,372 U.S. military lives. That includes at least 31 Iowans, according to a database maintained by the Des Moines Register. More than 100,000 civilians have died in Afghanistan and Pakistan due to the conflict, according to multiple independent estimates, with most deaths attributed to anti-U. S. forces.
And it has been a bipartisan endeavor. The war started under overwhelming bipartisan support with a 420 to 1 vote in the U.S. House, under President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama surged troop levels, then let them dwindle. President Donald Trump surged again, though not to nearly the same level as Obama.
The Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress in 2001 has since been invoked at least 37 times in more than a dozen countries, according to the Congressional Research Service. Most those countries had nothing to do with Sept. 11.
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For all our efforts, Afghanistan is no safe place for American interests. It is consistently ranked among the most politically corrupt territories on earth. Capitalism and democracy have not taken hold there, and the Taliban continues to control significant portions of the country.
The iconic journalist Hunter S. Thompson wrote a column in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks, prophesying the terrible tragedy would lead us to a generation of war.
“The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives,” Thompson wrote in a column published by ESPN.
Thompson sadly was right about peace in his time — he died in 2005, only a few years into the war on terror — but there still is hope for peace in our time. 17 years is long enough. End the war.
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