When, After All, It Was You and Me: Spreading Blame Where It Belongs for the War in Afghanistan

Those of us who opposed invading Afghanistan in 2001 were few, with overwhelming public support for bombing the shit out of the Taliban for harboring 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and possibly supporting al-Qaeda (they really don't have the same goals). Or that's what we were told. When I said that I opposed the war two decades ago, I was looked at like a goddamn traitor. I've said multiple times that the 9/11 attacks were crimes, not acts of war. What's the difference? Scores of soldiers from the Japanese military were involved in attacking Pearl Harbor. 19 deranged fundamentalist dickholes, exploited by cave-dwelling zealots who sure as fuck weren't doing a suicide mission themselves, were directly involved in taking down the Twin Towers, hitting the Pentagon, and losing a fight over Pennsylvania. A couple of decent metal detectors and an extra frisk or two would have ended the whole thing. As I've said often, 9/11 was a James Bond villain plot where James Bond didn't defuse the bomb in time. 

I remember clearly (and wrote about this in 2004) when then-comedian and political writer Al Franken interviewed Boston Globe columnist James Carroll on his Air America show (yeah, that was a lifetime ago). Carroll shocked Franken by stating that he thought the invasion of Afghanistan had been a huge fuckup, just like the invasion of Iraq. Franken said the thing that most on the left still say (and, to be honest, I've said once or twice): we had the Taliban on the run and the Iraq War was a massive distraction from accomplishing the mission in Afghanistan. Carroll stood firm that it was all a complete clusterfuck we had no business fighting. Franken left it at a kind of agree-to-disagree stage because Carroll was right, as was Rep. Barbara Lee, the sole vote in Congress against the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the blank check given to President Bush (and all presidents after) to wage war, as were the tiny percentage of us who opposed the war on the grounds that it's a fucking war against a nation that didn't, as a nation, attack us, that, at worst, was harboring a criminal that it was willing to hand over to a neutral country. (No, really.)

There are mountains of blame to go around for the failure of the United States to stand an army and a stable government in a place that, in its best times, had a couple of cities that were islands of progress amid a rocky land of ignorance and poverty, in a nation where opium and heroin make up a big share of the GDP (at least 10%), which the Taliban has been controlling. And while we could date the blame back to the fucking British attempting to make it another goddamn colony or perhaps blame the United States for arming the mujahideen against the Soviet Union for stupid Cold War reasons (or, you know, the USSR for backing the assassination of the Afghan president and a coup in 1978), so much of blame for the war started in 2001 clearly and obviously rests with the vile George W. Bush and his cabal of neocons with imperial hard-ons who wanted to fuck countries into freedom without their consent. 

It's tempting to leave it there. But I can't because that lets others off the hook. And I'm not talking about Obama and Trump. No, I'm talking about the bloodthirsty American public who, for years after the attacks of September 11, wanted to keep murdering people overseas in order to satiate an impossible desire for vengeance. And I get it, I get it. I can remember right after the attack thinking, "Someone was really fucking dumb for deciding to poke the fucking bear." I can remember feeling the desire to fucking waste some motherfuckers in the name of the dead. Fuck, I had family that barely got away from the collapse of the towers. That's only human to wanna fuck shit up. What's also human is to take a moment and think, "Okay, yeah, lizard brain can take over but what if it didn't?"

Almost everyone let their lizard brain run rampant. Polls from September 2001 and for nearly a year after showed 85-94% support for going to war in Afghanistan. One November 2001 poll asked, "How long would you be willing to use combat forces to deal with the problem of terrorism -- less than one year, one to two years, three to five years, or more than five years if it takes that long?" 63% said more than five years, with 10% saying up to 5 years. The support for extended war in Afghanistan crossed party lines, ideological lines, generational lines, all the fucking lines. 

You wanted war. You already hated the Taliban for how they were making life a living hell for women because of their bullshit adherence to bullshit Sharia law. You wanted al-Qaeda destroyed because you were told, over and over, that 9/11 changed everything. You wanted blood. And you can sit there and try to say you didn't want this, but, really, c'mon, the best you can do is that sometime five or seven years after the war's start, you finally started to think, "Whoa, this is way fucked up." 

Or maybe it was even longer. In June 2009, a Pew Research poll showed that 57% of Americans, including 45% of Democrats, still thought that we should stay in Afghanistan. 76% said that it would be a "major threat" to the U.S. if the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan. By September 2009, the support for the war would finally drop to 50% and it continued downward. The surge in troops that President Obama did (against then Vice President Joe Biden's advice), with the accompanying rise in American casualties in the war, seemed to turn the tide, with support, already dropping, bottoming out for Democrats. 

Clearly, if we're judging things by public support, we should have gotten the fuck out of Afghanistan in 2009 and not stayed for another dozen years before facing the inevitable. But the American public bears the burden of fighting this war that was misguided from the start. Americans needed pounds of flesh, needed to get repaid for the murder of Americans with multiple degrees of interest on that debt. 

I wish we had been wrong, those of us who opposed the war. I wish we had set up a glorious oasis of democracy and freedom, with schools, with alternate crops for the poppy farmers, with modernization of the nation. Yeah, that's my Western mindset at work, sure, but when it comes to the horror that Afghan women in particular are facing, well, fuck it. 

This is a tragedy. It was never not going to be a tragedy. Yes, President Biden was brave to decide this was a mistake and it was time to stop making it, even if the speed at which Afghanistan fell was breathtaking (and truly telling). We should be letting in refugees by the tens of thousands, at least those Afghans who helped our troops during this disaster, if not thousands upon thousands more. We couldn't shoot our way to peace. We poured in money and killed so many people and had so many killed. And still we promised more than we could ever deliver. Let's at least own our role in ruining their lives.

(Note: Of course, the real villains here are the Taliban. Fuck those delusional incel motherfuckers.)

(Note: If you want to know what the Afghans were thinking in the first decade of the war, check out this report.)