On Aug. 31, the war in Afghanistan came to an end. President Biden stated in his speech that the evacuation was an “extraordinary success,” and continued on by saying the U.S. was “ready when . . . [the Afghanistan] government collaps[ed].”
We all know the truth, though — the evacuation was anything but an “extraordinary success,” and the U.S. was anything but prepared for the Taliban to take control so soon. I could go on about the mistakes Biden made in the evacuation from Afghanistan, all the things that made it chaotic, messy, and far from a success. I could also go on about the mistakes former presidents Trump and Obama made when it came to the war in Afghanistan. However, I would rather talk about the man and the administration that started this war, using the grief and fear of the people to push this war forward for the next two decades.
Yes, I’m talking about former President Bush and his administration.
When 9/11 happened, Bush called for a ‘War on Terror’ and began to hunt for Osama bin Laden, leader of the terrorist group al-Qaeda, which launched the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This ‘War on Terror’ was about justice and vengeance for the innocent lives lost on that day; as such, the focus of this war should have been about bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
There should have also been an understanding that terrorism does not belong to one country; it is everywhere. A war on terror would mean fighting on multiple fronts. However, when people think about the War on Terror, they don’t think about the many countries we are stationed at to fight against terrorism. Instead, only two countries — Afghanistan and Iraq — tend to pop up in our heads.
Why such a big focus on those two countries?
The U.S. focused on Afghanistan due to the Taliban allowing al-Qaeda to be stationed in their country, and the focus on Iraq was due to their supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction (which, by the way, were never found — making this claim a lie). In an effort to bring down the Taliban, the U.S., under the Bush administration, carried out drone strikes on the country to bring it down. In fact, the Taliban even offered to hand over Osama bin Laden so he could stand trial, but it would be to a third party. The offer was rejected, however, as the Bush administration intended to make sure that the Taliban would no longer house terrorists in Afghanistan. In other words, the Bush administration would prefer to capture and deal with bin Laden directly while dismantling the Taliban as a show of strength instead of letting go of their pride and actually bringing bin Laden to justice when they had the chance.
In December 2001, intelligence pointed towards bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora, but it was not the U.S. troops who led an assault against al-Qaeda there. Instead, Afghan militias fought against al-Qaeda militants in Tora Bora.
Whatever the reason, the U.S. did not take the chance at capturing the man who orchestrated the attacks against this country resulting in the deaths of thousands. This decision allowed Osama bin Laden to escape from Tora Bora, not to be found until a decade later in Pakistan, where he was killed by a team of Navy SEALs. That same month, the Taliban regime also came to an end, which was nothing more than a “consolation prize” for allowing bin Laden to escape according to David Frum, a former speechwriter for Bush in 2001 and 2002.
The mission in Afghanistan was clear: find Osama bin Laden and have him face justice for his crimes against the United States.
With bin Laden’s escape, however, Bush needed another reason for the U.S. to stay in Afghanistan (and not go after bin Laden in Pakistan). This reason became reconstructing the country and implementing a “western-style democratic political system,” which sounds a lot like colonialist ideology and a disregard for the culture of the Afghan people. Once the Taliban fell, the U.S. should have allowed the U.N. to take charge of the situation and instead turn the focus on finding bin Laden no matter where he was (even if it was in an ally country).
That didn’t happen.
In 2003, the Pentagon announced that major combat was over in Afghanistan. If that was the case, then why were there 20,000 troops in the country in 2004? If the focus was really to reconstruct the country, then shouldn’t there be less troops? What was the real reason for this if not to continue bringing war and death to the country?
It is no surprise that the U.S. government lacks transparency with its citizens when it comes to war and a whole lot of other things. Look at what they initially said about the Vietnam War, for example (supposedly, we were winning), only for their lies to be uncovered to the public. I’m not sure anyone can really understand just what the true intentions were behind every major decision in the war in Afghanistan. Bush began a war with the aim being to bring an end to terrorism and capturing bin Laden. The reality is terrorism can’t be ended permanently, but we can take steps to bring down terrorist organizations and stop them from growing bigger.
Like I said before, terrorism is everywhere, and with the Taliban overthrown, the U.S. could focus on further driving al-Qaeda to the ground and on identifying other terrorist organizations. As for bin Laden, the U.S. lost two chances within three months of having him brought to justice. Major combat might have been over in 2003, but it’s clear Bush and his administration wanted to continue to have control over Afghanistan. At that point, the war in Afghanistan could not have been about the attacks on 9/11 anymore — most likely, it was Bush trying to save his reputation and not lose any more respect after losing bin Laden and having no other reason to stay after the Taliban fell.
The ones who suffered the most from this war were the Afghan people themselves. For two decades, the Afghan people were no longer under the control of the Taliban; women and girls were able to go to school and work. However, during those two decades, they were stuck with the U.S. military and caught in the crossfire of our war.
According to the Washington Post, 2,352 U.S. soldiers (perhaps even more) have died, while 47,245 Afghan civilians (again possibly even more) have died in the conflict. The Bush administration gave a big talk about putting in place a Western-style democratic political system, but instead placed a corruptive government over Afghanistan (pot meet kettle).
Not to mention, money that the U.S. sent over to Afghanistan mostly found its way into the pockets of military contractors, warlords, etc., while the Afghan people were practically neglected, especially in the rural areas. This isn’t reconstructing a country. What the Bush administration and subsequent administrations did was take over a country and force Western political ideals on the people.
Of course, the oil in Afghanistan was certainly a benefit as well. Let’s not also forget that former Vice President Cheney used to be the CEO of Halliburton, which serves “major, national, and independent oil and natural gas companies throughout the world.” Now, the people in Afghanistan are once again under Taliban rule and suffering the consequences of the U.S.’s mistakes.
As for the people back home, what do we get out of this war now that it’s over? Debt. In his 2002 State of the Union address, former President Bush stated, “It costs a lot to fight this war. We have spent more than a billion dollars a month — over $30 million a day. . . . Afghanistan proved that expensive precision weapons defeat the enemy and spare innocent lives, and we need more of them.”
What an incredible lie that last part is! Innocent lives have not been spared, and yet we spent so much money under the guise that it did while defeating our targets.
Since the war on Afghanistan started, the U.S. has spent a total of $2.2 trillion, and, by 2050, the cost of interest on the war debt alone could reach $6.5 trillion. Not to mention, the war on Afghanistan can be considered a factor that led to the recession which happened under Bush, as explained by Professor Thomas Oatley of Tulane University to the Washington Post. According to Bush, “while the price of freedom and security is high, it is never too high. Whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay.”
Except, I’m not sure if the majority of Americans feel this way, considering that it was our taxpayer dollars that funded this war, and it will be our taxpayer dollars that will pay for the debt resulting from this war. That was $2.2 trillion that could have gone to anywhere else like healthcare, education, or prison reform. From what I hear, the Social Security retirement fund could have used some of that money as well.
The war on Afghanistan ended in a similar way to the Vietnam War: without a U.S. win. Perhaps, a U.S. win wasn’t in the cards from the start. After all, it never seemed like the U.S. had a clear goal in continuing this war, especially since the Taliban was overthrown at the time and bin Laden was later found and killed. The way this war ended was messy and horrendous. We could lay the blame at either Trump or Biden’s feet. However, we shouldn’t forget the one person who started it all, whether for good reasons or bad: President Bush.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Reuters