The story went largely unnoticed, what with the coronavirus and the Democratic primary race and the latest celebrity scandals, but President Donald Trump has announced an end within 14 months to the longest war America ever fought.
American troops have been fighting in Afghanistan since shortly after the deadly terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, yet it’s gone largely unnoticed. The war was launched with bipartisan support and widespread public approval, as Afghanistan’s sternly Islamic Taliban government was giving sanctuary to the al-Qaeda terror group that had so viciously attacked America, and a relative handful of badass Special Forces quickly toppled the Taliban government with help from some formidable Islamic but anti-Taliban Afghan militias that American intelligence agencies had wisely built a relationship with. Casualties were relatively low by the brutal standards of war, elections were held for a new government, and over 19 long years of propping up that government the troop deployments were relatively light and casualties were relatively low by war standards. There were mass shootings in places all across America that were deadlier, so it wasn’t front page news.
A war in Iraq that was less clearly tied to the Sept. 11 attacks proved far more controversial, and Afghanistan became the “good war” that even the most peacenik Democratic politicians didn’t dare criticize. The Iraq war started with the “shock and awe” of the full might of America’s military quickly toppling the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, then holding elections for a new government, but propping up that attempt at democracy in the Islamic world turned out to be costlier than expected, and even after a “surge” of American forces largely pacified the country the effort was widely unpopular.
President Barack Obama supported the war in Afghanistan but ran on his from-the-start opposition to the Iraq War, and after sending more troops to Iraq he kept a campaign promise in 2011 by withdrawing all forces from the country. A rise of such radical Islamist groups as the Islamic State soon followed in the region, and troops were sent back to various countries in the region to fight against that. Trump has now claimed victory in that fight, because the Islamic State has lost its territory even if it retains its terrorism capabilities, and he’s happily ceding the region to the Russians and Iranians. He’s declaring victory in Afghanistan, too, as he agrees to a deal that seems likely to put the Taliban back in charge of the country.
According to the deal the Taliban promises a cease-fire with the Afghan government that has so far been propped up by the American military, and that even if does wind up in charge again it won’t have anything to do with with the likes of al-Qaeda. There’s no reason to believe this, and much reason to doubt it, but Trump is keeping a campaign promise to end America’s endless Middle East wars, and he’s already calling it the best deal ever. He’s also said that if the Taliban reneges we’ll be back with shock and awe like nobody has ever seen, and even if he loses to any old Democrat that’s what we expect will eventually happen.
At this point both parties want America to withdraw from its leading role in global affairs, and it’s harder than ever to make the case for these seemingly endless wars. We’re well past draft age and don’t have any moral standard to say this, but even after so many years we think there’s something to be said for American resolve. The radical Islamist portion of the Islamic world has been decimated by a couple of unpopular wars and such unpopular legislation as the Patriot Act, and despite public opinion we’d like to keep up the good fight.
— Bud Norman