It’s been almost 10 years since the United States decided to wage a war on terror by launching air strikes in Afghanistan. Back then, most Americans would be hard pressed to find that country on an un-labeled map.
Today, nearly a decade later– after losing 1,581 U.S. troops, and spending in excess of $440 billion on Operation Enduring Freedom — most Americans would still be hard-pressed to find Afghanistan with or without a map.
Rebel, rebel, you’ve torn your dress . . .
Unlike the ongoing war in Iraq, Operation Enduring Freedom has been somewhat more politically palatable, a bit easier to digest and certainly understandable, given the horrific events that transpired on a bright and clear Tuesday morning in September 2001.
In the days and weeks following Sept. 11, Americans were increasingly ready for revenge. We wanted Osama bin Laden’s head on a stick.
Nobody had to sell us on this war. We had all the justification we needed.
Rebel, rebel, your face is a mess . . .
Many of those who otherwise could be consistently counted upon to criticize use of U.S. military forces remained either silent or ambiguous during the ramp-up of Operation Enduring Freedom. Others became suddenly hawkish on the subject of the Afghan War.
You love bands when they’re playing hard. You want more, and you want it fast
Consider, for a moment, the remarks made by presidential candidate Barack Obama nearly seven years after the war had started.
“The greatest threat to that security lies in the tribal regions of Pakistan, where terrorists train and insurgents strike into Afghanistan. We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as President, I won’t. We need a stronger and sustained partnership between Afghanistan, Pakistan and NATO to secure the border, to take out terrorist camps, and to crack down on cross-border insurgents. We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.” (July 15, 2008)
But as the war on terror continues taking its toll on the pocketbooks and the psyche of the American public, support for Operation Enduring Freedom is waning.
An Associated Press poll conducted shortly after the war began in October 2001, showed that nearly 94 percent of Americans supported the war on terror. By August 2009, support for the ongoing war in Afghanistan dropped to less than 50 percent.
As we approach the dreaded 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the war on terror seems again at a crossroads. Events of the last few days do not bode well for those who say that Operation Enduring Freedom should continue.
On Friday, Aug. 5, following several weeks of an especially divisive Congressional debate regarding America’s burgeoning debt, Standard & Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the United States government.
Less than 24 hours later, America suffered its deadliest single loss in the decade-old war when a Chinook helicopter carrying members of the elite U.S. Navy Seal Team Six was shot down in Afghanistan. Thirty-one U.S. soldiers, seven Afghan commandos and an interpreter were killed. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, Saturday’s loss of coalition forces renewed pessimism among the Afghan people about the possibility of ever diminishing the Taliban’s cling to power.
Here at home, as we begin the dog days of August, Americans seemed subdued.
Perhaps the reality of the war and its cost are finally starting to sink in.
Only weeks earlier, we celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden, thumping our chests with nationalistic pride. It seemed as if our mission was drawing to a close. As a friend of mine said several weeks ago, “You don’t fuck with U.S. Navy Seals.”
We had our revenge.
Or did we?
From my perspective, the objectives of the so-called War on Terror are as murky and as hard to explain as the bottom of . . .well, I don’t know.
Fighting a War on Terror is like fighting a War on Poverty, a War on Drugs or a War on Jealousy.
Noble in its intentions, perhaps . . . but never-ending.
Although I was only 11 years old, I can still recall watching as American military forces and civilian personnel were evacuated from a Saigon rooftop in April 1975. The Vietnam War was finally coming to a close.
I remained a political and news junkie through my adolescence and into my adulthood. I cheered for the Afghan insurgents who stood up to the mighty forces of the Soviet Union. The Russians invaded their southern neighbor on Christmas Eve 1979. Not quite 10 years later, the battle-weary and nearly bankrupt Russians withdrew without victory.
The words of George Santayana come to mind. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to fulfill it.”
But maybe Mr. Santayana’s other well-known quotation is more appropriate. “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”