Remembering Afghanistan

The hype surrounding the 9/11 Commission and Richard Clarke’s testimony is mostly superficial and overly partisan. Americans argue whether George W. Bush or Bill Clinton was the stronger president against terrorism, when in fact neither did anything to stop al Qaeda, and, more importantly, both of them supported the foolish policies in the Middle East – sanctions against Iraq, subsidies for Israel, stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia – which incited the terrorist blowback that took thousands of American lives on September 11.

Recent revelations have made some important realities clear to many Americans, however. Before September 11, the Bush Administration was apparently more concerned with the threat of rogue nations firing missiles at America than with Al Qaeda, and in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks the administration admittedly scrambled to find a way to blame 9/11 on Saddam, so as to carry out its ultimate goal of conquering Iraq, which Bush had wanted to do since he took office, and which his neoconservative buddies had wanted to do since the late 1990s.

The administration lied about a war on Iraq that did nothing to make us safer – as many of us were saying before the bombs hit Baghdad, and many more are realizing every day. A high White House official now admits the war was never meant primarily as a defense of the United States.

Unfortunately, there’s a whole world being forgotten by most people amidst all of these revelations – a world that these revelations help put into context. That world is called Afghanistan.

The vast majority of Americans supported the war on Afghanistan, more than supported the war on Iraq. They considered it a necessary, self-defensive retaliation to rid the world of the evil Taliban regime that harbored the monsters who had slaughtered so many innocents on 9/11, and to apprehend those monsters. About eight out of ten Americans thought the United States should go to war with Afghanistan, while the rest of the world largely opposed the idea.

But now we learn that even Bush and company did not consider it a high priority. They were always more concerned with Iraq than Afghanistan. Unable to get enough support to attack Iraq in the immediate wake of 9/11, under expectations to act forcefully and confidently, and possibly with some other ignoble motives in mind, Bush invaded Afghanistan as a politically viable stepping stone on the way to conquering Iraq. The president would eventually send many more troops and billions of dollars to Iraq than to Afghanistan, calling Iraq the “central front in the war on terror.”

Either Afghanistan was a logical target of war and regime change, in which case Bush has been neglecting it for the last two years so he could focus on Iraq, or the country was simply another innocent victim of U.S. aggression. Most Americans have stopped thinking about the invasion of Afghanistan, still assuming it was as justified as it was made out to be at the time, even as they are coming around to realize that Bush was incompetent against terrorism before 9/11 and deceitful about it afterwards.

We should not assume that the actions of the U.S. government immediately after 9/11 were any more honest and thoughtful than its actions in the two and a half years since. It was around the time the United States attacked Afghanistan that Congress passed the draconian Patriot Act. If the government abused its power so shortly after 9/11 in the domestic sphere, imagine the crimes in got away with abroad.

Bush bombed Afghanistan in October of 2001, killing as many civilians as died on September 11, according to the most extensive studies. The U.S. government says the estimates cannot be trusted, but it has attempted no estimate of its own (the Pentagon has better things to worry about than such petty details as civilian deaths). Within a year of the U.S. bombing, the Red Cross counted 127 civilian casualties from those infamous cluster bombs, of which U.S. forces dropped more than a thousand. As a result of the bombing, about a million Afghans had to leave their homes, and hundreds of thousands left the country. The fighting and chaos have continued to this day, and American soldiers are still dying.

A “Taliban spokesman” says Osama and his cohorts are still in Afghanistan, which would explain why the search for al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan has had such meager results recently. How fascinating that the U.S. government killed thousands to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban but the regime still has spokesmen. In a new attempt to catch bin Laden, the United States has just begun sending a new deployment of Marines to Afghanistan, bringing the American-led military presence there to about 15,000.

One might find it odd that the U.S. government has not apprehended Osama yet, which was supposedly the main reason it went into Afghanistan, but catching bin Laden and the terrorists was never a serious goal of the Bush Administration: when it had its best shots at neutralizing al Qaeda, it instead relied on untrustworthy allies, so as to protect U.S. troops from danger. The allies ended up taking bribes and letting the terrorists escape. Apparently, endangering U.S. troops to capture al Qaeda isn’t strategically sound, but invading and trying to tame Iraq is worth the lives of six hundred U.S. troops, and counting.

Donald Rumsfeld says it doesn’t even really matter if the United States catches bin Laden. He says even if the U.S. government does catch him, it would still need to apprehend the other leaders of al Qaeda. This goal seems unlikely to be achieved, however, since the terrorist group has been growing and reorganizing and is now more impervious to military attacks than ever. But we all know that the War on Terrorism is not about vanquishing al Qaeda; it is an all-out war on terrorism in general, characterized by the forceful toppling of any regime that the neoconservatives want to see gone.

Other writers have also given reasons why we need to remember Afghanistan: it was the first major campaign in the War on Terrorism, and we should learn from it as a model. This is a chilling prospect, since the rest of the War on Terrorism has been a tapestry of government failure and lies. Just as in Iraq, the United States has failed to keep order, secure democracy, or institute freedom in Afghanistan. Just as Congress irresponsibly authorized Bush to attack Iraq without the solemn deliberation involved in a formal Declaration of War, Congress also gave Bush carte blanche to attack Afghanistan without such a declaration. Just as the Bush Administration deceived the public about its true motivations on Iraq, its given reasons for pouncing on Afghanistan must now be taken with a grain of salt.

We must not forget Afghanistan – the thousands killed, the thousands who have lost loved ones, the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced and have lost their homes. We must not forget the U.S. soldiers and marines stationed there right now, being shot at, thousands of miles away from their families.

Most of all, we must not forget that even the most ostensibly justified responses to terrorism carried out by the U.S. government are usually ineffective and dangerous, and based on ulterior motives.

It’s a shame we can’t trust our political leaders to respond wisely and benevolently to real threats to American security. That should not surprise us, though, when it is their insane policies of aggression and support for foreign belligerents that have spawned these threats in the first place.

Author: Anthony Gregory

Anthony Gregory is a former research fellow at the Independent Institute.