The growing debate on our continued involvement in the Middle East after 9/11 has long since crossed the boundaries of bipartisan politics. With arguments for and against resonating from both sides, the question remains concerning the will of the American people and a showdown is looming about the case for returning home.
After 2010, the war in Afghanistan became the longest war in US history, a statistic which becomes a tacit attempt to rile us into a frenzy when the 58,209 casualties of Vietnam overshadow the death toll of 2,229 in Afghanistan, as of last Thanksgiving. The media hounded the war in Southeast Asia relentlessly until we pulled out, but with a Democrat in office we are not being splashed with the blood of our fallen soldiers on a nightly basis because it would make Obama look bad, and as a result we have become desensitized to the numbers. In some ways the very expanse of time that we have been there makes it a non-issue to the public mindset, causing polls to hover in place since December 2010.
Unlike with Vietnam, because we have a professional army we respect our troops enough to determine what they are willing to die for, and whether truth or 9/11 propaganda, the original purpose of our mission in the Middle East has not changed. Arguments against the war suggest that we should have left shortly after 2001 when the Taliban escaped into Pakistan and the CIA successfully cut off their funding from Saudi Arabia, that the attempt to modernize a fourth world tribal nation into even a third world basketcase like Iraq was terribly myopic, running the risk of becoming the true quagmire in a place that is known as the “graveyard of empires.” Despite invasions from the Greeks under Alexander, the Mongols, the British, and the Russians, the area was never pacified for long and it was never out of the hands of the mountain tribes who continue to defend the area as home.
Arguments pushing this showdown for a decision about the war remind us that we went in under certain pretexts that we cannot abandon as political semantics. We may not be able to advance their civilization, but we protected their women and daughters and provided them with the opportunity for education, something that we cannot shrug our shoulders about, since virtually no one has determined our presence in the pejorative sense to be an occupation. We have spent our time building up the infrastructure of their country, something that will be lost if we decide to leave. They wanted us there, and they still want us to remain, and their corrupt politicians have had no problem pocketing our money while we try to be the humanitarians that we are.
Either way, Afghanistan is no longer needed as a staging point against possible invasions of Iran or Pakistan, should their nuclear technology be threatened by extremists to the point of requiring action. We have plenty of aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf to mollify that detraction. Still, on Wednesday General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the lead American commander in Afghanistan, testified for the Senate Armed Services Committee that Al Qaeda might regroup and be capable of planning another 9/11 attack.
The result of leaving Iraq has given us irrefutable evidence of our value in the region, since 2013 was the deadliest year in the last five, with violence escalating in recent months and more than 900 people killed across the country in January alone. Even if we no longer need Afghanistan as a jumping point from which to stage potential strategic missions, drone or otherwise, and the country itself is never going to be pulled into the modern age just because of our continued presence, the question standing for the American people is whether or not we care enough about the women and children of the Middle East to remain there.
According to retired General Dr. Robert Scales, the reason that Afghanistan became a problem for us after the Russians was because of the power vacuum left behind. Historically speaking, this was entirely our fault, as we were the ones who invested much of the 1980s to aiding the Afghans against their Communist aggressors, who were known to be responsible for about a million deaths. Leaving the country completely would result in precisely the same vacuum, according to the retired General, and whatever blood we have spilled already becomes the very justification to stay rather than to toss aside the honor of our sacrifice. If we originally went in claiming that it was about the spread of democracy, the freedom of those who have no voice must still be worth fighting for, and we cannot overlook the chance that we could be setting ourselves up for another 9/11 by leaving. We will see if the American people agree with the General as this showdown looms.
By Elijah Stephens