As the war in Afghanistan comes to a cataclysmic and horrific close, the sound bites have started to flow in and will likely continue for months, if not years. Joe Biden’s administration will likely live and die by his line, “The buck stops with me.” Republican Senator Rick Scott has publicly questioned Biden’s fitness for office. Most of this has been, and will continue to be, political theater.
But the one sound bite that needs to be made by every member of the federal government is simply this: “We’re sorry.”
The war in Afghanistan, as most of us know, began in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001. Congress passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) for the purpose of pursuing those who had perpetrated the attack on 9/11. On the face of it, this was a reasonable and understandable response. The country was attacked by a foreign entity, our law enforcement has no jurisdiction overseas, so we resorted to military force against a militant group. So, what on earth happened?
If one reads the 2001 AUMF, the language is remarkably broad for what appeared to be a singular, direct mission. It reads:
A plain text reading of the AUMF suggests that the best and, honestly, the only viable strategy would be heavy investigative and intelligence work, followed by precise missions carried about by special forces for the purposes of either arrest or elimination. A broad, loose, or even downright flippant reading, however, is what the country received.
The broad nature of the 2001 AUMF has led to a war with no clear mission, standard of victory (despite declaring “Mission Accomplished”), and a bureaucratic nightmare with little oversight, competing interests, and a staggering loss of blood and treasure. But rather than admitting its mistake, the US government doubled down on this idea of nation building in Afghanistan, manufacturing a series of lies, misinformation, and patriotic theater to maintain public support while distracting the country from the actual war.
In December of 2019, the Afghanistan Papers were released by several media outlets, finally exposing what so many had suspected: not only were we not winning in Afghanistan, but the war was likely unwinnable from its outset. Hundreds of testimonial records from senior military officers and officials from Afghanistan painted a picture of a conflict with no direction, no oversight, and a significant lack of understanding of the country we were hoping to rebuild in our image. When asked for comment, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, who recently released a blistering report on Afghanistan, simply said of the Afghanistan Papers, “the American people have been constantly lied to.” And therein lies the greatest crime of the last twenty years.
Something I learned when I was young was that lies have costs. Lies will cost you friends and family. Lies will cost you jobs and opportunities. Lies will cost you credibility, slowly eroding your public reputation. And it’s incredibly difficult to get any of it back. The lies of the war in Afghanistan go much further, however.
The lies of this war have cost the American people over $2 trillion in money that we simply do not have, saddling future generations with massive debt. The war has cost an estimated 241,000 lives, with that number continuing to rise during our withdrawal. This includes 71,344 civilians and 2,442 US service members.
Thousands upon thousands of loved one’s lives were spent on a cause without definition or meaning. And no one will be held responsible.
While everyone seeks someone to blame, whether it’s Trump or Biden, Obama or Bush, it’s necessary that you understand this simple fact: no one is blameless. When you remove your partisan blinders and step back to view the last twenty years, it becomes clear that this fraud has been perpetrated by the entire government. It has been a concerted effort in the most bipartisan fashion, with some of the most polarizing figures in history. No hands are clean, and no one should escape blame.
Ultimately, an apology would mean little to the families of the dead and injured. It would mean little to future generations who are watching the wealth of a nation squirreled away to private interests and corrupt foreign officials and individuals. And it would mean little to a nation that has lost much of its credibility in its foreign policy, military strength, and leadership. But an apology is demanded, nonetheless.
The US government must apologize to our veterans for failing to provide the necessary leadership, support, and direction to ensure a successful and worthwhile mission. It must apologize for failing to provide the necessary care to veterans, both physical and mental. It must apologize to the families of those killed in action and for being so casual, if not downright reckless with lives far too young for the horrors of war. It must apologize to the American people for two decades of lies and manipulation at the expense of our political cohesion and financial stability. And it must apologize to the people of Afghanistan for attempting to play God at the barrel of a gun in a world we do not understand.
I won’t hold my breath, as waiting for the government to perform this most basic act of humility would cost you all the years of your life with nothing in return. In the meantime, I will consider every member of the US government of the last twenty years responsible for this fraud, with a very few notable exceptions who opposed the war from its outset. And I beg of you, dear reader, to reject the partisan arguments of assigning blame to a few. There are no clean hands in this war.