It is ironic that it took the quixotic chair of the Republican Party to make one of the most realistic assessments of the eight-year American war in Afghanistan.
After blaming President Obama for "choosing" this war, Michael Steele stated: "If he is such a student of history has he not understood that, you know, that's the one thing you don't do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right? Because everyone who's tried, over a thousand years of history has failed."
While he can legitimately complain that Obama has kept us in Afghanistan, he cannot honestly say that "This was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in." Those statements are patently untrue.
When the Taliban were hiding Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan after 9/11, the United States went into Afghanistan to attempt to find bin Laden and his al-Qaida operatives to obtain justice for the 2,976 people who were murdered on that day.
Michael Steele has made so many gaffes that there are grumblings in the party to replace him. However, with mid-term elections around the corner, Republicans do not need this distraction, so they just try to deflect his statements and offer mild criticism. Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been critical about the latest Afghan remarks, but both fell short of asking for his resignation. They were critical because they, like many Republicans, still support this war and do not want President Obama to set a timeline to withdraw.
Perhaps this latest gaffe and the recent firing of Gen. McCrystal will raise our awareness of what is happening in the war in Afghanistan and may galvanize a movement to rethink our purpose there. While I personally opposed the war in Iraq from Day 1 and wrote letters to our senators and members of Congress explaining my objections, I supported our entry into Afghanistan to search for Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida terrorists who were being supported and hidden by the Taliban. But we lost bin Laden in Tora Bora and then began to get mired in a long, bitter struggle between competing tribes and warlords, a struggle which mirrors the ones between factions that have occurred in that country for thousands of years.
Leon Panetta, the head of the CIA, recently reported that there are fewer than 100 al-Qaida operatives in Afghanistan. Most, including Osama bin Laden, have apparently fled to Pakistan and other countries, from Somalia to Germany. So now should we invade Germany and Somalia?
For once, Michael Steele had it right when he said that a land war in Afghanistan is doomed to fail. We can look back to recent history when the Afghanistan War took its toll on the Soviet Union. Their long, unsuccessful invasion of Afghanistan was a blow to their standing in the world and was one of the major factors that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union and the subsequent economic chaos that followed.
We have been at war for more than eight years in Afghanistan, longer than we were in Vietnam. Americans should be getting answers to some questions about the prosecution of this war. What is the purpose of the war in Afghanistan? Does our presence in that country really make us safer? Now that bin Laden is no longer in Afghanistan, why are we there? Does it take 100,000 American troops to go after 100 al-Qaida operatives? Since the war will cost $105 billion dollars this fiscal year, is it reasonable to spend over $1 billion for each of the 100 al-Qaida members? Do we even know who our real enemy is in Afghanistan?
On July 7, NATO forces killed five Afghan soldiers, mistaking them for insurgents. Later that week, an Afghan soldier killed three British soldiers and wounded four others. These occurrences are all too common.
In a recent Newsweek article, Jonathan Alter said, "The country simply cannot afford a trillion-dollar commitment to nation building." We have now spent more than $1 trillion dollars on our Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. We are building schools, hospitals and infrastructure there, much of which is soon destroyed after it is completed, if it is completed.
We should spend those dollars to rebuild our own nation. Rebuilding and repairing our own decaying infrastructure could create jobs that would have to stay in this country.
Sadly, we have brought literally millions of American dollars by the truckload to Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of providing for security and rebuilding those countries, many of those dollars fill up the pockets of corrupt politicians and contractors.
The two wars have cost us dearly in dollars, but even more dramatic is the toll on the lives of Americans. Our troops have had devastating losses — lives lost, limbs missing, not to mention the traumatic stress on troops and families. The costs in dollars and in negative effects on troops are already staggering. They will continue to increase the longer we keep spending $8 billion per month on those wars.
Wars are easy to start, not so easy to end. But there is a time when a realistic assessment of our involvement must be recognized and addressed. And that time is now.