Was getting out of Afghanistan the right thing to do? For sure, and President Biden is to be applauded for that. Was our exit perfectly executed? Not so much. Ending wars you do not win is a messy process.
After 20 years of war, it took just 10 days for Afghanistan to fall to the Taliban. The takeover was expected, the rapidity was not. The Taliban seized its first provincial capital on Aug. 6. Just 10 days later, by Aug. 15, the Taliban were poised to take control of Kabul. By August 31st the U.S. military was gone, three months beyond the Trump deadline but meeting the Biden deadline.
We still have some messy but important evacuations to take care of — a real challenge — but at the end our twenty year misadventure into nation-building the Taliban of 2001 were replaced by the Taliban of 2021.
I am pondering several important questions: how did we enter this war, why did we stay, how much did it cost, where did the money go and can we learn from it?
We entered Afghanistan after 9/11 to crush the Taliban as a way to get at Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. It was not a formally declared war. The last time Congress declared war, a requirement of our Constitution, was on December 8, 1941, against Japan after Pearl Harbor and on December 11 against Germany. More on that later.
We accomplished our initial objectives fairly rapidly as bin Laden fled Afghanistan. It took us a decade to find him and take him out in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. After bin Laden left Afghanistan, the U.S. stayed to facilitate pursuing him and to nation-build with particular concern for Afghan women and others who sought modernity. Those objectives were substantially accomplished for twenty years, but only so long as they were propped up by the presence of U.S. troops.
This latest American misadventure in spreading democracy had failed once again at an enormous cost in blood and treasure. We suffered 2,448 American military deaths and 20,719 American military injuries, most in battle and some by accident.
And, what did America’s longest war cost us? Over $2¼ trillion or $300 million per day for 20 years. Before addressing where that money went for twenty years, let’s note where it didn’t go — not for needed domestic infrastructure and not to improve the economic situation of America’s middle class at a time when the rich and corporations got gigantic tax cuts and the middle class fell further and further behind.
It did support our military, but also supported the 18,000 private military contractors who were still on the ground in Afghanistan in April of 2021, but gone by July. When the federal financial spigot was turned off, these folks quickly disappeared.
Yes, President Biden deserves credit for ending this war and is also responsible for the poorly planned execution of the evacuation. But, the President doesn’t bear the blame alone. This was the culmination of seven decades of abdication of Constitutional responsibility by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, who have allowed the executive branch to pursue wars without declaration by the Congress.
Since World War II ended with unconditional surrenders by August of 1945, Congress has not declared another war, although in reality we have been at war since 1950, 71 years ago. There have been 19 "Undeclared Wars" since then: Korea, Vietnam; Cuba, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Persian Gulf, Kuwait and Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq twice, Libya, Afghanistan again, and Syria.
Perhaps it is time for us to have learned that President Eisenhower, a former general, was right when he warned us in 1961 to guard against the excesses of the “military industrial complex.” The coincidence of $2.5 billion in lobbying and $285 million in campaign contributions by military contracting companies over the last twenty years and Congress’ abdication of its supervisory and declaratory responsibilities is a lesson for us all.
We, the people, need to exercise our responsibility and vote out all in Congress who buy into this 70-year charade of war-making without war-declaring. That could be something positive coming from this unfortunate ending to our longest “war.”
Elton W. "Mick" Ringsak of Butte was a presidential appointee, serving as Region 8 SBA Administrator, and has been a small business owner. He is a Vietnam veteran and a retired major in the U.S. Army.