2,000 Deaths Later, Americans Have Put Afghanistan Behind Them
Today, The New York Times makes note that we have now officially passed a new milestone in the nearly eleven year long Afghanistan War with the death of the 2,000th American casualty, accompanying the article itself, which I recommend to everyone, is an interactive infographic detailing the name of every single casualty and the circumstances under which they died. That’s 2,000 Americans over the course of the 3,973 days since American military action first began in the wake of the September 11th attacks. Looking around, it’s hard to see what we’ve accomplished over there. Yes, al Qaeda has been decimated, but that largely occurred within the first several years of the war. Osama bin Laden is dead, but it turned out that he was living in Pakistan this whole time. Indeed, Pakistan has been the location where several top level al Qaeda members have been captured, including the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. In the meantime, our forces have increased not because we’re fighting against al Qaeda, but because we’re engaged in what seems more and more like a foolish and doomed nation building endeavor. At this point, the President has set forth a strategy for withdrawal of American troops and the handing over of power to the Afghans, and there don’t seem to be very many people who are objecting to the end of what has become an exhausting war.
Domestically, the war has pretty much dropped off the radar. Media coverage of events in Afghanistan has been minimal to say the least, and it seems like the only time that Afghanistan makes the news is when there’s a tragedy or a visit by a high ranking American official. The day-to-day events of the war, though, are pretty much off the radar. Additionally, there’s been very little discussion of the war by either of the Presidential candidates, a fact that Investor Business Daily’s Andrew Malcom is the latest to take notice of:
We’ve had 100,000 troops fighting and dying and bleeding in Afghanistan. About 2,000 Americans have perished there since 9/11.
It took 108 months for those U.S. fatalities to reach 1,000. It’s taken only 27 months under Iraq-war opponent Obama to surpass 2,000 deaths.
In the 233 days of 2012 so far, 238 Americans have died.
That includes 33 in the first 21 days of August.
Last month was the deadliest in nearly a year. More than three dozen allied troops, mostly Americans, have died at the hands of alleged Afghan allies recently. How is that possible?
Shouldn’t we maybe be talking about this ongoing war in Afghanistan just a smidge more than whether venture capitalists cause cancer or how really happy Obama is to be wherever he is at the moment? Seriously!
Glenn Reynolds suggests that we’re not talking about the war because there’s a Democrat in the White House, but the truth of the matter is that there wasn’t much “debate” or news coverage about Afghanistan during the Bush Administration either:
The study started in 2007. In that year, Afghanistan — which was a relatively low-grade conflict at the time, with many fewer allied causalities — accounted for only 1 percent of the nation’s news coverage. The same held true in 2008. The coverage picked up markedly at the end of 2009, when Mr. Obama conducted a lengthy review of Afghanistan strategy, but still added up to only 5 percent for the year.
Four or 5 percent “may be the baseline, at least for now, no matter what the strategic stakes are, or even as U.S. involvement ratchets up,” Mr. Jurkowitz said.
This year, Mr. Jurkowitz estimated, roughly half of the coverage of Afghanistan actually emanated from the war zone. That suggests that “without a major Washington policy debate or strategy review ongoing, that Afghanistan remains a story that gets modest coverage,” he said.
We’ve been ignoring Afghanistan for a long time now, then. Indeed, the only reason that the war came up during the 2008 election was because then Senator Obama cited as the war that American should have been fighting during the Bush years instead diverting our attention with the mission in Iraq. So, it really doesn’t have anything to do with who’s in the office. Instead, as I suggested earlier this month, the main reason that the candidates aren’t talking about Afghanistan is because the public doesn’t want to hear about it:
[I]t strikes me that most Americans don’t really want to hear very much about Afghanistan. For years now, polling has indicated that the public has soured on the war and wants American troops to leave the country as soon as possible. Back in March,support for the war itself hit an all-time low. More importantly, over the past year the President has outlined the plan for a draw down of troops that will have most if not all American troops out of the country by 2014. Most recently, he signed a new agreement with President Karzai that defines the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan going forward, and provides for the Afghans to take over most of the tasks being performed by American and NATO forces today. A month before that, the U.S. handed control of night raids over to Afghan authorities after complaints from civilians and the Afghan government over the practice.
The war is, in other words, winding down.
In some sense, one wonders what there is left to talk about. If President Obama is re-elected his withdrawal plan will most definitely go forward. If Mitt Romney is elected, it strikes me that it will be hard for him to reverse course on the plan Obama has put in place. For one thing, major elements of the withdrawal will already have occurred before he took office, and once troops are gone it’s unlikely that they’ll be coming back. For another, the Afghans are unlikely to agree to give back on the hand over of control issues once we’re a year away from the the 2014 withdrawal date.
The only people who really think that the 2014 withdrawal date is a bad idea are inside the Republican Party, but they’re not going to be the ones making the decisions if Mitt Romney ends up winning election. By that point, the odds that Romney will really be able to reverse course on the President’s policies is pretty low. At the end of the day, we are winding our commitment in Afghanistan down both because it’s the right decision for our country and because that’s what the American people want, indeed what they have wanted for years now. Given that, and since the American public the American people overwhelmingly supports the President’s draw down plan, what’s left for the candidates to debate? Not much that I can see.