Wednesday, September 21, 2016

15 Years Into Afghan War, Americans Would Rather Not Talk About It - The Interpreter

The United States will soon mark 15 full years of war in Afghanistan, but you wouldn’t know it from the political discourse.

Democrats and Republicans seem to have something of a rare, if unspoken, truce on the subject. Even amid deepening partisan polarization, with the most frivolous issues seized for political gain, no one seems eager to discuss a war that is still costing American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

This year’s presidential campaign, in which mass deportations and the NATO alliance are on the table, has hardly touched it. When Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump squared off at a recent televised forum on national security issues, they were surrounded by an audience of veterans, many of whom had fought in Afghanistan, but the war barely came up.

And though the election has grown most heated over terrorism and immigration, the candidates showed rare restraint on Monday, when the police arrested an Afghan-born American citizen, Ahmad Khan Rahami, on suspicion of planting bombs in Manhattan and New Jersey.

Mr. Trump’s response was typically harsh and Mrs. Clinton’s typically detailed, but neither had much to say about Afghanistan. That is a conspicuous and newfound prudence for both candidates, who have been eager to discuss Syria and Iraq immediately after terrorist attacks linked to those countries.

Whether or not investigators find connections between these bombings and American action in Afghanistan, it is increasingly apparent that America’s public and policy makers alike would rather not address their faraway, largely failed war.

Neither party has an incentive to call attention to this bipartisan failure. Neither has a better policy to offer. And neither sees any political gain in raising it. Voters, entering their fourth consecutive presidential election with the United States at war, seem happy to pretend that the Afghan war, which has killed more than 2,300 American service members, doesn’t exist.

For decades, leaders portrayed Afghanistan as a beautiful but lawless land to which the United States would bring order and American values, somewhat similar to the old Western frontier. Their adventure began in 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded and the United States armed Afghan rebels. President Ronald Reagan called this “a compelling moral responsibility of all free people” and a battle for “the human spirit.” Rebel leaders were romanticized and taken on tours of American churches, according to “The Looming Tower,” a book by the journalist Lawrence Wright.

Those rebels turned against one another in a long civil war that gave rise to the Taliban. Americans were then sold on invading Afghanistan in 2001, to bring the Sept. 11 attackers and their accomplices to justice. The Taliban government quickly fell, raising a question that became obvious only after it was raised: Now what? What should take the Taliban’s place, and how to make it stick despite the group’s continued support?

Iraq quickly distracted attention and resources from the Afghanistan question until 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president while promising to end the former and win the latter. Afghanistan became the good war. Americans were sold on promoting democracy and, later, on saving the women — an ambition captured by a 2010 Time magazine cover showing an Afghan woman who had been mutilated by Taliban officers.

But practice did not match the ideals. Seeking allies where it could, the United States often directly empowered warlords whose corruption, drug trafficking and violence seemed little better than the Taliban’s. Drones proliferated overhead and airstrikes killed civilians on the ground, provoking anguished debate at home. Pakistan, at once Washington’s closest and least reliable ally in the war, played both sides. - More, NYT

15 Years Into Afghan War, Americans Would Rather Not Talk About It


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