What might each of those 2,300 killed have done with another 60 years on Earth? Could homelessness in America have been ended for a generation if $1 trillion were invested in that effort? Which public and private tasks could have been accomplished domestically by the more than 775,000 humans deployed to Afghanistan during the conflict?
Read more: Everyone knew we were losing in Afghanistan
Despite everything, Afghanistan has not secured a stable democracy, assured women’s rights, protected the lives of Afghan civilians, strengthened America’s hand against regional rivals, defeated the Taliban, or established a central government or security force that can survive U.S. departure. Given how the war turned out, America would have been better off not going at all, especially given that anti-war options never precluded hunting Osama bin Laden, as U.S. Special Forces did later even as he hid in Pakistan outside a war zone.
Americans ought to be upset at the officials responsible for this historic debacle and everyone complicit in hiding the truth about it from the citizenry. As John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, told the Post, “The American people have constantly been lied to.” All who lied deserve public censure.
But those responsible for the war in Afghanistan aren’t just the U.S. officials who presided over the war effort or the Congress that approved it by overwhelming margins. Most Americans favored war in an unfamiliar country, knowing that the authorization to use force was expansive, that what victory entailed was never defined, that the U.S. government has lied to the public frequently during past conflicts, and that the Vietnam War lasted years longer than most anticipated when the fighting there began.
It is tempting to blame Washington elites, or the deep state, or the military-industrial complex for America’s misbegotten Afghanistan policy. And I, among others, have been critical of all those forces. But as a 21-year-old who favored the Afghan War when it began, I was among the majority who believed that the anti-war leftists of 2001 were wrong in their dire warnings of quagmire. So I am painfully aware that the American masses, almost the entire populist right, the center-left, and Bush-era elites joined forces in supporting the war in Afghanistan, while a tiny faction of anti-capitalists, paleoconservatives, and libertarians opposed it.
Some anti-war signs held aloft at small protests included unhelpful comparisons of George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler and mistaken assertions that racism had motivated the intervention.
But the dismissive response to those anti-war protesters extended to more reasonable claims, some of which proved prescient. An illustrative example, published at The American Prospect on October 2, 2001, took aim at a sarcastic protest sign that declared Rush In, Think Later.