I write this on Sept.11, 2009, eight years after the attacks on American soil that changed the world. I read on this date how many of our congressional representatives, our allied leaders and our own public are tiring of the war in Afghanistan. Too costly in terms of national treasure and political capitol needed to remedy the U.S. health system, members of congress complain.
The American people see it more clearly … in terms more clear: The cost in the lives of our military members. Any war has costs, but what determines when the goal to be achieved is not worth the effort, lives and money expended? I do not have a one-size-fits-all answer, but I would suggest that there are clear reasons to pursue nothing less than the death of the Taliban in Afghanistan at the least. .
In determining the cost of the war in Afghanistan (1,299 coalition deaths as of Sept. 4) we should, we must, remember that we began it with 3,000 dead on Sept. 11 2001. Dead from a gruesome act of terrorism on U.S. soil enacted by al-Qaida and supported by their Taliban allies. We lost 1,700 in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor yet that attack resulted in a three and a half year war costing 300,000 American lives. It was determined to be a necessary war, a war that had to be fought, and one that must be won. Is Afghanistan less so? Many believe it is…many with the political authority granted to them by the American people to end it.
I truly believe that the willingness to begin the process of Afghanistan’s abandonment is much affected by public frustration with two wars: Afghanistan and its larger, but less sinister sibling, Iraq. Let’s be honest here: Iraq is a war of choice and had nothing to do with the Taliban. The Bush administration chose to attack Saddam Hussein’s regime based on what many believe were questionable motives, and did it without first subduing the Taliban in Afghanistan. I agree with that assessment, and suggest that this was an egregious error, politically and militarily.
But when discussing Afghanistan, Iraq is not a matter of academic debate. It is central, because the public “battle fatigue” from that conflict, that war of choice, is having a direct effect on a war of necessity.
Dear reader, Afghanistan must be won! I sympathize with the agonizing decisions our national leaders must make in committing America’s youth to face a ruthless and blood thirsty adversary. But what are the alternatives? Do we allow the Islamic radical murderers of 3,000 people on American soil to prevail in Afghanistan, the country from which their schemes were hatched and directed? Do we allow them such a moral victory over the most powerful military force on earth, a victory that doubtless will provide the misguided grounds they need to increase recruitment and launch even greater carnage? Do we allow them to continue spreading their moral, cultural and religious poison from a safe haven that just happens to be adjacent to a nuclear armed Pakistan with very serious troubles of its own with the Taliban? I cannot believe that the answer could possibly be yes. But it may just come about.
President Barack Obama is willing, at least for now, to do what it takes to do serious damage to the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan. As difficult as these decisions are, he is willing to increase troop levels and escalate their participation, but he is being opposed by members of his own party and leaders of our allies in this endeavor that warn there will likely be no more troop increases. In fact, many of our international partners are bailing out. Does anyone think that the Taliban are not watching this debate and will do what is necessary in terms of their own blood to increase American casualties and force the public outcry that will make us leave? And despite the well intentioned but terribly misguided faith that somehow we can actually train an Afghan army willing and able to take on the Taliban, can we even imagine the consequences of our departure?
We have marked yet another anniversary of the worst attack on U.S. soil in the nation’s history with solemn ceremonies and remembrances. That is how it should be, but please let’s remember that 9/11 means something central to the collective American psyche. It is, or should be, more than ritual. We all know where we were when the towers fell. We all remember the grief and anger of that day now eight years past. Now let’s remember we still have some grave unfinished business. Complacency is not an option.
We cannot allow the mistake of starting the wrong war in Iraq to cause us to lose the right one in Afghanistan.
Grover E. “Gene” Myers is a senior consultant with ABS Consulting in Arlington, Va. He is also a retired Air Force officer and free lance writer with extensive experience in military doctrine and has numerous published articles on politico-military issues.