Reflections on Afghanistan

For a sober perspective on the “endless” Afghan War, see General Joseph Votel’s op-ed article in the New York Times (Dec. 12).  He writes:  “The war has exacted an overwhelming cost: 1,892 American military personnel killed in action and 20,529 wounded, about a trillion dollars spend, the psychological and emotional impact on veterans and their families, and similar material and human costs to our allies. And there is the devastating cost paid by the people of Afghanistan: Of the 147,000 killed in the war since 2001, more than 38,000 have been civilians. This long war must end.”
General Votel, the commander of U.S. Central Command in Southwest Asia from March 2016 to March 2019, says that the objective now “should be a comprehensive and enduring ceasefire…. We should end this one by pursuing the difficult and sometimes messy political and diplomatic process that includes talking, finding compromise and setting conditions to forge new relationships.”  Had the George W. Bush administration taken the same approach in the fall of 2001, the war would have never taken place.  Bush, you may recall, refuse to negotiate, demanding that the Taliban government hand over Osama bin Laden.
This was one problem, but the bigger problem was that the U.S. defined the Taliban as an enemy, a terrorist state, and engaged in a regime-change intervention.  As Army General Douglas Lute recently said, “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing.”
The Bush administration, confident that military force was the right tool to reshape Afghanistan, tried to establish a strong central government in a decentralized, tribal based society in which Americans did not speak the language or understand the customs.  Imperial hubris reigned as the U.S. armed their client government to the teeth, fueling 18 years of civil war.  What a tragic waste.
Notwithstanding the publication of the “Afghanistan Papers” in the Washington Post, Congress passed a military spending bill funneling more money than ever into the Pentagon, $738 billion.  The bill contained authorization for a new Space Force despite the fact that the U.S. is a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which forbids the “establishment of military bases, installations and fortifications, the testing of any type of weapons and the conduct of military manoeuvres on celestial bodies.”  The final bill, which the House passed by a 377-48 vote, jettisons three valuable components of the original House bill:  a ban on placing suspects in detention facilities at Guantanamo; the prohibition of certain weapons to Saudi Arabia (which is conducting a vicious war in Yemen); and, most of all, a requirement that the president must seek Congressional approval before taking any military action against Iran.