Fred Kowal: The Endless War

Nov 21, 2017

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States undertook military action in Afghanistan, with the stated intent of removing the Taliban regime from power and apprehending or killing those responsible for planning the heinous strikes.

Congress authorized President George W. Bush to use military might to eliminate the terrorist threat to the U.S. This edict was criticized by some because of its open-ended nature. And therein lies the problem we face today.

Few Americans could have foreseen that 16 years and three presidents later, our nation would still be fighting a war that seems to have no end in sight. With President Trump set to step up our presence in Afghanistan, it is incumbent on all Americans to consider what our role in Afghanistan should be.

Is the best policy to increase by 4,000 the number of American servicewomen and men serving in that war-torn nation? And is it in our nation’s best interest to continue this war for another three decades, which our military leaders are indicating is a strong possibility? 

We must remember that the two most basic goals of the war have been achieved: The Taliban was removed from power and, most importantly, U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9-11 attacks, in 2012.

Indeed, President Barack Obama announced in 2014 that combat operations in Afghanistan had ceased, and that the Afghan people were ready to govern themselves. He further indicated that the U.S. would retain only an advisory role. Americans were assured that our military forces in Afghanistan would be reduced to a fraction of what they had been.

Two years before, Trump tweeted that the war was “a complete waste” and should end. In August, when he announced the deployment of more troops to Afghanistan, Trump denied that he is nation-building. Yet, it would appear that Trump has shifted his past position to one that supports a vague policy of eliminating the evil of terrorism everywhere.

Such a goal, without massive taxpayer support and a huge increase in troop levels, is simply unattainable. One would think that the Vietnam War would have been enough of a lesson to keep America from falling into the trap of a never-ending war. Apparently not. 

So, there will be further escalation, bringing human cost to Afghanistan and to America and its allies, and financial stress to the federal budget at a time when it is being slashed just about everywhere other than defense spending. Such a policy cries out for a closer examination and a greater demand from Congress for accountability. This war is being fought in our name.

More than 2,400 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan. We should thank our soldiers and their families for their sacrifices and honor their service. But we cannot ask them to fight a war with no clear goal or ultimate end.

And what of the cost? America has spent slightly more than $1 trillion—an incomprehensible figure—fighting in Afghanistan. With an unending commitment to this, the nation’s longest war, how big will that number grow? How deep will the impact be on education, health care, infrastructure, and taxes?

Afghanistan’s future lies with its people. America, along with the other NATO nations, should help lay that course. But, however that role takes shape, it’s time to bring our soldiers home.

Sixteen years is long enough. Not one more American soldier should be lost in this war. And if President Trump refuses to change course, then Congress should use its power to bring this war to an end. The American people must make themselves heard on this true “American carnage.”

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO. 

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