The California Democratic Party has called for defunding the Afghanistan War, apparently the first state party to do so – in the war’s seventeenth year. At their San Diego convention last weekend, California Democrats adopted a platform advocating “ending air strikes in Afghanistan, ... a timetable for the withdrawal of all American military forces and military contractors” and opposing “further appropriations for such operations except those necessary for safe and orderly withdrawal of our troops.”
Now the hard part – persuading the state’s congressional delegation to actually stop voting continued funding for a war that cannot be won; a war that creates more enemies than it eliminates, now confronting enemies – like ISIS – that didn’t even exist before the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan; a war that is a boondoggle whose final costs will run to the trillions of dollars; a war whose bombing campaign, according to the U.N., killed more civilians last year than at any time since they started tallying the dead in 2009.
Viewers of Ken Burns’s recent PBS Vietnam War series may have experienced a sort of deja vu in reverse when they encountered the ever-receding “light at the end of the tunnel” theme that persisted throughout that war’s torturous history. Here too, we have continuously been assured that this war could be won. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even asserted that it was already won when he announced that major combat operations were over in May of 2003, although Lieutenant General Dan McNeill, then commanding “coalition forces,” did acknowledge there “were regions that were "a little bit messy."
"With only one House member having voted against the original Authorization of the Use of Military Force under which the war is conducted – Barbara Lee of Oakland – and with Democratic President Barack Obama having for eight years pursued what he once called the “good war,” Democratic war opposition has largely been muted."
So messy that in 2008, his successor, General David D. McKiernan felt compelled to insist “we are not losing in Afghanistan.” In 2010, commander General David Petraeus declared our strategy “fundamentally sound.” In 2013, commander General John Allen expressed “optimism and a very real sense of knowing that we will be victorious.” His successor, General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. spoke of “the inevitability of our success.”
And now President Donald Trump, in many ways the perfect leader for this venture since facts are largely irrelevant to him – as are his own past statements. Although he called for an end to this war in 2013, he has now sent more troops back into the country, which will bring their numbers to about 15,000. (Hard numbers are hard to come by these days – our military command recently decided to stop releasing information about the situation of the Afghan army.) Bombing levels have doubled under his administration.
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Where some breakthrough to realism was achieved last year when past NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridis actually admitted that “We will never ‘win’ militarily in Afghanistan, nor can we kill our way to success,” Trump now rejects negotiations and says, “We don’t want to talk to the Taliban.” This despite the fact that our own government acknowledges that “43 percent of Afghanistan’s districts are either under Taliban control or being contested,” a figure one must assume is, if anything, on the low side.
So here we go again – General John M. Nicholson, current commander of what’s officially called Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan (the seventeenth general to hold this post), now declares, “With the policy decision announced by President Trump, the Taliban can't win. It sets the conditions to get to a peaceful resolution of this conflict.” The problem, as he sees it is that "We only had 140,000 troops for a period of about 18 months in a 16-year war ... we drew down too far, too fast." The goal now is to bring Afghanistan to "a manageable level of violence." He thinks this will take about five years. A stalemate is assured – in the war’s twenty second year!
But beyond the cyclical happy talk lies a deeper problem – the lack of sustained serious opposition in Congress – among Democrats as well as Republicans. With only one House member having voted against the original Authorization of the Use of Military Force under which the war is conducted – Barbara Lee of Oakland – and with Democratic President Barack Obama having for eight years pursued what he once called the “good war,” Democratic war opposition has largely been muted.
Why are we still in Afghanistan? At this point, as in the Vietnam War, those dying as a result of American military actions appear to be serving the interest of maintaining American “credibility” – in other words, saving face for America’s political leaders, who do not wish to be responsible for recognizing the obvious and admitting that this war needs to end – immediately.
As far back as 2013, CNN reported a national poll showing “the country's longest military conflict arguably its most unpopular one as well.” What has been lacking has been prominent voices calling for an actual end to this – and voting that way. The California Democratic Party has broken the silence – but this won’t matter unless our representatives in Washington will heed their party’s call.