“While post-9/11 veterans are more supportive than the general public, just one-third (34%) say that, given the costs and benefits to the U.S., the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have both been worth fighting.”
—Pew Research Center, “War and Sacrifice in the Post-9/11 Era ,” Oct. 2011
Is it a rule of the age of the War on Terror(ism) that no armed conflict the U.S. enters ever really ends? Is that what the Defense Department was signaling when it came up with the name Operation Enduring Freedom ?
With all the attention this week to Occupy Wall Street  and, sadly, the death of Steve Jobs , it was almost possible to not notice the tenth anniversary of the U.S. war in Afghanistan that began on Oct. 7, 2001. But, as we said this past September 11 , we’re not forgetting.
This war has been the longest in American history for over a year: the milestone was passed  in June 2010 when the war entered its 104th month. U.S. involvement in Vietnam is reckoned at 103 months long. U.S. participation in World War II was only 44 months. The Afghan war is now in its 120th month, and the Obama White House and Pentagon see our forces there well into 2014 and beyond.
A majority of the American public has long said this war is not worth fighting. A Pew Research Center poll in June  found 56% of Americans—an all-time high—want the U.S. to pull troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible. Veterans are usually the segment of the population most supportive of military engagements, but a new Pew Research poll , “War and Sacrifice in the Post-9/11 Era,” finds that only one-third of post-9/11 veterans say that, “given the costs and benefits to the U.S., the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have both been worth fighting.” Only one-third of veterans.
And what is Congress doing? What are we telling Congress to do? How do we get their attention? Do they ever read their mail?
The White House issued a quiet statement  (no graphic pictures of burned or bloody shredded bodies of nineteen-year-olds) noting the sacrifice of some 1,700 American service members in this war, to “honor the memory of the nearly 1,800 American patriots, and many coalition and Afghan partners, who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan for our shared security and freedom.” The statement hits all the right notes, if you believe in that kind of thing.
End It Now. Quietly. Steadily. Reinforce the Diplomatic Corps.
What we believe is that the war in Afghanistan is not one that can ever be won. The best that can be done is not through arms but through quiet steady accelerated withdrawal of armed forces and the intelligent application of diplomacy along the lines the late Richard Holbrooke  was attempting. Try to forge agreements or alliances between the numerous tribes and ethnic groups and factions within them to provide for their living together with as little violence as possible. Accept the necessity of some diplomatic presence and some foreign aid, with as little interference as possible from neighboring interests (Pakistani, Iranian).
A precise prescription for a diplomatic resolution is beyond our pay grade, to put it lightly—and for all we know it may not be possible even for a diplomat / peace broker of Richard Holbrooke ’s or George Mitchell ’s capabilities—but we do know the costly military operation is unaffordable for a nation as cash-strapped by under-taxation of its wealthy individuals and effectively non-taxation of its corporations. (Far from the traditional approach of raising taxes during wartime, the Republican-driven U.S. government has been slashing revenues since the Afghan war began.) The United States has already spent some $462 billion in the Afghanistan war, more than 1,700 soldiers have died , and over 14,000 have been wounded in action. The war is approaching a half trillion dollars —a figure that would surely be higher had not the Bush administration siphoned off a great proportion of U.S. “resources” toward the invasion of Iraq from 2003 until they were redirected back to Afghanistan by President Obama in 2009. The war in Iraq has cost $800 billion  by the time you read this. And already the Iraq war alone is estimated by Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz to eventually cost the U.S. $3 trillion.
The present Obama plan announced in June  is to wind down the Afghan war by 2014, when the U.S. role will change “from combat to support.” But what does “wind down” mean? How many soldiers will still be stationed there? How many are presently in Iraq? How many military contractors will still be in Afghanistan and Iraq by 2014, and at what cost? The projected reductions will only bring us back to the roughly 65,000 troops that were stationed in Afghanistan when Obama announced the surge. As we pointed out in June,
we still have 85,000 active duty  military personnel stationed in Iraq at a monthly cost of about $4 billion. For that matter, U.S. military personnel  number some 50,000 in Germany, 35,000 in Japan, and 25,000 in South Korea. How long does the government intend to keep this going? (“Obama’s Troop Drawdown Is Little, Late, But a Start ,” 6/23/11)
Everything But War Is on the Chopping Block, Including “the Blessings of Freedom and Security”?
Every day members of Congress, most often Republicans but often Democrats too, and allegedly serious economists and members of conservative think tanks and policy groups, say with a straight face that the budget deficit is so deep and threatening to the nation’s well-being that Washington can no longer continue its “out-of-control spending.” Therefore social benefits such as Social Security and Medicare, unemployment benefits and health care and education programs must all be “on the table,” by which they mean the chopping block.
The Obama statement  concludes with these fine-sounding words: “. . . as we reflect on ten years of war and look ahead to a future of peace, Michelle and I call upon all Americans to show our gratitude and support for our fellow citizens who risk their lives so that we can enjoy the blessings of freedom and security.”
The “blessings of freedom and security”? Increasingly little of the American population even believes in such anymore. Look at the Occupy Wall Street signs —they’re in cities all over America now. Businesses are not hiring, and the federal government is paralyzed by deliberate partisan gridlock. They tell us there is no money to invest in this country anymore. We must first draw down the deficit—the deficit caused by the tax breaks to the wealthy that cannot be ended and by the endless wars. This is a lie, and we and thousands of others are trying to change the discourse from one of scarcity to one of possibility if only the nation changes its priorities. Speaking to Rachel Maddow, author Naomi Klein  praises the “organizing genius” of the “We Are the 99% ” slogan and taking the protest to Wall Street, “the source of maximal abundance,” to put the lie to the discourse of scarcity. “It’s not a scarcity problem,” she says, “it’s a distribution problem.”
So, with at least 15 million unemployed, countless millions under-employed, and millions more having given up even looking for a job, how’s that “blessings of freedom and security” thing workin’ out for us? Think we can do better?
Want contact info  for representatives in Washington, D.C.? Let ’em hear from you. Run for office. Take to the streets. Or all of the above.
Photo credits: top photo by Tim Hetherington : American soldier resting in a bunker, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, Sept. 16, 2007. “America in Distress” photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images. 60 Centre Street, New York City, Oct. 5, 2011.
See the links to veterans’ and peace groups on our “Anti-War” blogroll (lower right column).