After 17 Years of War, Afghanistan Is All But Forgotten

Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz and the other neo-con wild boys who came to power with George W. Bush in 2001 all shared a vision. In their minds, they saw a cowed, conquered Iraq as the stepping stone to a wider conflict that would, in the righteous fullness of Republican time, lead to broad regional transformation and the enforced peace of empire, all of it lubricated by “liberated” Middle Eastern petroleum.

Using Iraq as a jump-off point, they would knock off regime after regime, running up the stars and stripes as they went, and then watch as peace and prosperity unfolded like a desert blossom. That cauldron of seemingly endless conflict would soon become a happy democratic paradise filled to bursting with McDonald’s customers tying the laces of their new Nike sneakers with fingers stained purple from voting. All the wild boys needed was a catalyst, a “new Pearl Harbor,” to get the ball rolling. When the Towers came down, they took their shot, and we were off to the races.

It has not worked out exactly as planned.

Sure, they got their endless wars, and their friends all got rich profiteering off them, and the folks back home think conservative Democrats are socialists and anarchists (or terrorists, or bomb-throwers, depending on who you talk to) because the political “debate” has been dragged so far to the right. Sure, the culture in general — after all these blood-drenched years – is entrenched in a war-worshipping, racist siege mentality, so detached from reality that Donald Trump actually became president … but the peace/freedom/democracy/free oil bit pretty much comprehensively failed to pan out.

Fifteen years after Bush widened the war his father started 27 years ago, Iraq is a shattered state. Neighboring Syria, which collapsed into chaos and violence after absorbing millions of refugees from Iraq, is an equally brutalized graveyard. Egypt and Libya are in varying states of social and economic disrepair. Saudi Arabia’s ongoing war in Yemen, waged with direct US assistance that began during the Obama administration, has turned that country into an abattoir where tens of thousands have died and millions face the immediate threat of starvation.

And then, of course, there is Afghanistan, the war almost everybody seems to have forgotten we are still fighting. That war — the longest ever fought in US history — will be old enough to vote next year, or it could enlist and get deployed to Afghanistan. It has taken the lives of nearly 4,000 coalition soldiers, roughly half of whom were US troops. Three US troops were killed on Tuesday, and two others the week before. More than 20,000 US troops have been wounded in combat.

More than 100,000 Afghan people have been killed, some 30,000 of them civilians. Within the last 10 days in Afghanistan, 55 civilians were killed and 94 wounded in a suicide bombing at a religious gathering. Two soldiers and three police officers were killed in separate incidents on the same day. On November 22, Taliban fighters summarily executed 11 local police officers and militia members. In the US, the rare headlines about Afghanistan range from grim (“17 Years In, Afghan War at a ‘Stalemate’”) to downright Orwellian (“Rise in US Deaths in Afghanistan Clouds Outlook for Peace”).

To date, the war in Afghanistan has cost more than $2 trillion, but that number does not account for the interest on the loans the US took out to pay for the thing in the first place. The conservative estimate for the cost of all the wars stands today at around $6 trillion, but even that figure is largely guesswork because these wars were financed off the books, and the Pentagon hasn’t been able to do simple math for a couple of generations.

Iraq, Afghanistan and now Yemen. The country is discouraged from talking about these wars. They’re generally left off the script by the TV news shows, because the right people — those wealthy bullet-mongers you’ll never meet — are still making money off the meat grinder hand over fist. That $6 trillion did not disappear; it moved to a few upscale addresses and then got shipped offshore, far away from the eyes of the IRS, because that’s The American Way, too.

It is virtually impossible to avoid becoming deeply cynical in the face of all this, but there are shards of light still piercing the smoke. On Wednesday, the US Senate threw a big brick through the White House windows by overwhelmingly approving debate on a bill that would end US military support for Saudi Arabia’s vicious war in Yemen.

Some 14 Republicans – including Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker and co-sponsor Mike Lee – joined Bernie Sanders and every Senate Democrat in voting to open debate, allowing it to pass by a margin of 63-37. This dramatic sea change on the part of the GOP was made possible by Donald Trump’s gruesome support for Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of that nation’s assassination of Washington Post journalist and fierce Yemen war critic Jamal Khashoggi. For Trump, the war money is more important than the murder, and that isn’t sitting well even within the cretin brigade that is the Senate’s Republican majority.

Voting to open debate on ending US support for the Yemen war is not nearly the same as actually voting to end it, and the bill to end it might seem to have small hope of passage given how little time this Congress will be in session. However, although a great many things will be changing in January, this needs to happen immediately. US involvement in one gruesome corner of the wider war we started must be brought to a close.

“Let us look each other in the eye,” writes Truthout’s Robert Naiman, “and commit that we will push by any and all legal and nonviolent means necessary to force as many votes as necessary in the Senate and the House before Congress adjourns for the year, in order to end the Yemen war and stop the famine. The United Nations and aid groups have said forcefully that there must be a sustained cease-fire right now, in order to get the people and resources into Yemen that are necessary to stop the famine. Not in January. Right now.”

Right now, before another 17 years pass and Yemen is forgotten along with Afghanistan, Iraq and so much else.