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Why Are We in Afghanistan?

By Colleen Kelly Johnston
Opinion | January 8, 2011

WICHITA, Kan. - Here are some of the good, the worse and the worst reasons, or excuses, for our occupation of Afghanistan.

"This will not end well," George Will, the conservative columnist wrote early on after we lapped our war in Iraq over into Afghanistan. As political predictions go, it was right on. As a matter of fact, it is not even close to ending. Despite President Obama's promises hopes and commitments, Secretary of Defense Gates this week sent in 1400 more troops.

I cringe when I see another announcement of an American soldier, sailor or Marine killed over there or another man from the supporting NATO countries who has died. I always remember the Wartime Prayer found in Eleanor Roosevelt's papers: "Dear Lord, lest I continue my complacent way, help me to remember that somewhere, somehow out there, a man (or woman) died for me today. As long as there be war, I then must ask and answer, 'Am I worth dying for?'"

Politicos have stated their reasons for the last seven years. Why are we there? At first, it was retaliation for 9/11. We should "get the people who attacked us," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. It may be the one reason that Americans understand and do accept and perhaps that's why Obama calls it the necessary war.

Striking at al-Qaida made sense in a way that invading Iraq never did. But to all intelligence reports, al-Qaida has moved into Pakistan. Should we now move into Pakistan? No, we can't do that. They are our allies. And that was a reason for going into Afghanistan, not a reason for still being there.

Americans who do not listen to regular news reports and who latch onto the first reason they heard respond, "To get Osama." But, again, everyone agrees that he is somewhere in Pakistan if he is still alive. And we've already said we can't go there. Besides the US committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pakistan again just this week. But we are not carrying the war forth into Pakistan.

Richard Reeves, journalist and literary lion wrote, "We did not finish the job against al-Qaida in Afghanistan."

"We did not develop new capabilities to defeat a new enemy, or launch a comprehensive strategy to dry up the terrorists' base of support," Obama said during his campaign. We have been trying but we have failed. That's too bad, but the growth of terrorism and a multiplication of terrorist havens have made the job more complex and Afghanistan irrelevant.

President George W. Bush said we carried the war into Afghanistan, "to spread democracy." The Brits tried to spread democracy in the Middle East for years and failed. The Russians invaded trying to spread communism but failed and left with all the grace that the US did from Vietnam.

Who says that the Afghans want democracy? The only Afghans who benefit from United States presence in the Middle East are women. Girls are being educated and trained to know their rights, as long as male Muslims allow it when the US isn't looking.

We have been on the plains and in their rugged mountains for seven years now, almost as long as the Soviets were there. We went to punish Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida for the bombing of the World Trade Center -- and we have certainly had some success diminishing that organization, even as others are arising, some because we are engaged in that part of the world. But remember - bin Laden and his people are not Afghans; they are Saudi Arabians and Egyptians.

There are few people of any wit or intelligence who believe there is any honor or honesty in the current Afghani government. Their central government only affects the small region around Kabul; it is almost totally ineffective outside of that small region. Outside of Kabul the people live in a 13th century theocracy under the helm of warlords and drug lords. As ex-Senator Fritz Hollings said, "(we) are not going to teach warlords to like democracy and grow cotton instead of poppies."

So the relevant questions now are: Who are we fighting? Why? And they are still unanswered.


3 Comments

Ms. Johnston makes some valid points, however has several facts wrong. The war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, 2001. That means we have been in Afghanistan for more than 10 years now not 7. Also Ms. Johnston states that the war in Iraq spilled over into Afghanistan. Again she should check her facts. The war in Iraq began on March 19, 2003. Therefore if there was any "spilling over" it was the other way around. I apologize for being nit picky, but the right and their pundits are known for playing very lose with facts. I hold the progressive thinkers to a higher standard.


Colleen--Thanks for saying what needs saying over and over. I've been thinking about writing something about these never-ending wars and what people get out of them. It occurs that we live in a city that benefits a great deal from servicing the government's war machine. While I hate for the status of women to revert to what it was when the Taliban ruled things in Afghanistan (our doing, by the way), I also think those women have an obligation to fight for their own rights. Otherwise, they will never have lasting equality.


"The only Afghans who benefit from United States presence in the Middle East are women..."

...so - 50% of the population, then. Bad argument in favor of not being there. Then again, nobody appointed us the global enforcer of womens' rights, and I don't think many people would like the price tag.


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