I’ll admit that I’m a bit shocked by the reaction to the news this morning. I opened Twitter to see everyone going ballistic over the latest moronic and self-incriminating Trump tweet (although I will say that today’s was quite a doozy). Amazon absorbing Whole Foods into its conquest for global domination is taking up a significant amount of bandwidth too. As is the Russian military’s claim that they are the 4,678th person to kill ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (a report seemingly comes out every other month that someone has killed him—Baghdadi has died more times than anyone in human history). Today is certainly a big news day, but I’m a bit shocked at how quickly this item from last night has been swept under the rug.
Four thousand American men and women are being deployed to a warzone that has claimed a seemingly infinite amount of lives throughout human history. And for what? Sure, terrorist attacks are no doubt being planned inside its borders. But that rings true for Pakistan. For Saudi Arabia. For Belgium. For America itself. The fact is that the greatest terror threats to the Western world typically reside inside our own borders.
Also, read that tweet again. Who is sending troops into one of the biggest clusterfucks in the history of mankind? Not the commander-in-chief, but the Pentagon. That is because our president has abdicated one of his chief responsibilities in order to spend more time whining on Twitter. Military men and women are some of the most prideful people on Earth, and retreat is a difficult thing to accept for a group of commanders with the greatest resources in the world at their fingertips. The military industrial complex ensures that the army is never bereft of options. This is the lesson we have failed to learn from Vietnam.
America has tricked itself into believing that we are not at war. Well, not conventional war. Barack Obama’s dramatic escalation of drone warfare has been well-documented, but we seem to believe that this means that American troops are no longer in harm’s way. This is false. As of April 2016, we had around 5,000 soldiers in Iraq. Later that year we sent another 600 to help retake Mosul from ISIS. When Donald Trump took office, the United States had 15,000 troops deployed across Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan—and now that number has reached nearly 20,000.
Where is the outrage? Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton mainly because he voted against the Iraq War and she didn’t. Donald Trump was elected in large part because of his isolationist stances. Bernie Sanders gained a bunch of momentum with his promise to pull America back from the world stage and focus more on domestic politics. By all accounts, we should be infuriated at this latest decision to escalate our endless war in an eternally war-torn country. But we’re not.
Because we’re hypocrites. Americans don’t pay attention to the international stage, and that is exemplified in our attitudes towards the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a hopeless endeavor, and multiple empires, throughout history, have learned that the hard way. However, when it comes to public opinion, our attitudes don’t match reality. In 2014, 75% of Americans said that the Iraq War was not worth the costs. In 2015, 54% of Americans believed that the United States has not made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan. These two figures are a logical contradiction. These wars are intrinsically linked, and by all accounts, both have been quagmires—yet Americans only wholly disapprove of one.
I believe that this is because it reveals an uncomfortable truth about the American people: we like war. We know that the media goes nuts for it, but we are not much different. The Iraq War was an unadulterated imbroglio, and the outcry against it dominated press coverage for the better part of a decade, which had a direct influence on public opinion. However, Afghanistan became a much less publicized war the moment we invaded Iraq, and our general attitudes about war direct our beliefs on that theater more so than any specific knowledge of what exactly we are doing there.
And what are we doing in Afghanistan? Why are we escalating a conflict that has already lasted twice as long as the Vietnam War? The Pentagon has remained unsurprisingly mum on this subject, but Daulat Waziri, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s defense ministry, said that “the United States knows we are in the fight against terrorism. We want to finish this war in Afghanistan with the help of the NATO alliance.”
How do we finish the war in Afghanistan? What does victory look like? Who rules a peaceful Afghanistan? How do we end terrorism? These are questions that have not been answered in over a decade of bloodshed. I know that we are all jaded by America’s seemingly endless War on Terror, but this is not normal even by our hyper-imperial standards. The longest war in U.S. history prior to Afghanistan came in the Phillippines during the early 1900s, and that lasted 14 years. We are approaching year 16 in Afghanistan with no end in sight and no concrete explanation of what “victory” looks like.
When you go to a casino to play poker, there is a strictly enforced rule that people who are not playing in the hand cannot comment on the action. This is because it’s far easier to read what is going on when you are not personally involved, as you are able to remove emotion and personal bias from your conclusion. The American system was devised so that a civilian government would oversee the military to ensure that we do not get bogged down in wars that cannot be won. Our chief civilian commander has abdicated his responsibility to manage our armed forces, but don’t blame Donald Trump—he’s just following the lead of the populace that elected him.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.