We have become completely numb to our forever war in Afghanistan. It is the longest war in American history, and it barely makes the front pages anymore—despite the fact that the Taliban is getting stronger by the day.
Tuesday marked the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. You can enlist in the army at age 17. Which means that babies born after the September 11th tragedy can now fight in the war launched in its name. If that doesn't break your brain even a little bit, your brain is already broken.
As of July 27, 2018, 2,372 American military members have died in Afghanistan. Another 20,320 have been wounded. Civilian deaths are notoriously difficult to track, especially since our military is loath to admit their failures on this front, but a rough estimate pegs the total civilian deaths in Afghanistan at over 31,000. And for what? What is the mission in Afghanistan? Why are we still there?
Well, The Washington Post covered the Marines' new depressing mission earlier this year: taking back territory we previously won. Per WaPo:
The air campaign, paired with additional U.S. military advising, has helped stop the disintegration of security, but it has meant sending U.S. troops back to regions where they once engaged in direct combat with the Taliban during a surge in 2009.
Trump has promised repeatedly that the United States will win in Afghanistan, but what that means is unclear. U.S. commanders say that the most likely path to declaring victory is reaching a political settlement with the Taliban. But the insurgents had control or influence in 56 percent of Afghanistan's 407 districts as of last fall, according to a U.S. military assessment. In fall 2016, the government controlled 72 percent.
A 17-year-old enlisting in the fight against the Taliban is doing so to literally repeat the battles of the past. Afghanistan is the picture of how the military industrial complex exchanges blood for dollars, as the thousands of lives lost have largely been in the name of $1 trillion funneled into the pockets of those funding the conflict (the Veteran's Administration has spent $54.2 billion, otherwise, the rest of that trillion-dollar chunk has gone towards war efforts). Defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have seen their stock prices rise by over 800% since the war began. As I wrote on this year's anniversary of 9/11, that infamous day is perhaps the greatest thing to ever happen to the business of defense contractors. We are performing human sacrifice at the altar of the almighty dollar, and we have become dangerously numb to it. Not to mention, we are almost certainly creating more enemies than we kill with each day we fight these aimless wars.
This is how empires fall. They spread themselves thin by launching imperialist wars in the name of nothing other than imperialist goals which enrich a select few at the expense of the many. Our founding fathers created a civilian government with a civilian commander-in-chief because they wanted to create a check on the military. Given that Barack Obama and George W. Bush each conducted a fairly similar foreign policy, it’s safe to say that we have eschewed that power, and have handed control of the military over to the generals and the defense contractors who build their weapons. There is a depressing disconnect between those who fight our wars and those who coordinate them. Per United States Army Veteran Joe Quinn in the New York Times:
In Afghanistan, after an Afghan police officer demanded money from me at gunpoint to get through a checkpoint, I learned of the Kabul government’s widespread corruption. I learned that spending $68 billion on Afghan forces doesn’t buy the essential ingredients of a fighting force: loyalty, courage and integrity. I learned that most generals would always ask for more money, more troops, more time — and more war. It’s like asking Tom Brady what he wants to do on Sunday.
I learned that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. For the past 17 years in Afghanistan, we’ve tried everything: a light footprint, a big footprint, conventional war, counterinsurgency, counter-corruption, surges, drawdowns.
Our American national character punishes those who “give up.” Giving up is viewed as the height of weakness, because the supposition is that there is nothing Americans can’t do. Giving up is supposedly failure, but what do our efforts in Afghanistan point to anything other than abject failure? We have lost thousands of American lives to a mission that the Marines admit is now a repetition of one we already fought. We say that our goal is a political agreement with the Taliban, but they have yet to come to the table for that discussion, and with their recent gains, they have little incentive to acquiesce to our demands.
“Giving up” on the war in Afghanistan is the only logical choice at this point, yet it is a pipe dream. We have a president who loves conflict and who is willing to hand unilateral control over to generals, who “always ask for more money, more troops, more time — and more war.” It seems more likely that we will spend another 17 years in Afghanistan than not. This lede from Jeff Schogol in his piece titled, “Afghanistan, 17 Years Later: This Is What Winning Looks Like” in Task & Purpose is gutting:
The distance between Resolute Support headquarters and the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul can’t be more than 50 feet, yet it is too dangerous to walk across the street from one to the other.
Some of this is on us—the citizens who are supposed to be stewarding this government. Congress has authority to rein in this endless war, and despite broad majorities of us who are in favor of them doing so, it’s not an effective issue to campaign on at all. Our reverence for the troops simply does not extend to the ballot box. The backlog at the VA that may have killed up to 307,000 veterans is not an issue that decided many votes of those not directly connected to the military. The 17-year war in Afghanistan is not something that motivates us to punish legislators for refusing to do their sworn duty. As much as we complain about how financial interests like the military industrial complex have invaded our politics, at the end of the day, politicians need our votes, and we have not exercised that power—choosing instead to embrace the same kind of apathy that led to the downfall of countless empires before us.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.