As the US involvement in Afghanistan continues indefinitely, we must address why the war may never end. Unlike previous conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq, there is no popular movement against the Afghanistan war or other US interventions that comprise the “War on Terror.” That alone is reason enough for an administration to not order a withdrawal, as the war has not threatened the reelection chances of any President since it began in 2001. But that still doesn’t answer the question as to why the government chooses to keep troops stationed there.
A journalist named Steve Coll may provide that answer– he has previously written a book about US intervention in Afghanistan before 9/11 and is now publishing one about the current conflict. According to Coll, the main reason why former President Obama did not bring the troops home in 2014 as promised was due to the fact that there are still too many Taliban fighters and terrorists like Al Qaida and ISIS to justify a withdrawal. These militants kill many civilians in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is understandable that the military does not want to allow this to occur without acting. However, this is far from the full picture of what drives US intervention there and worldwide. As with US support of the Saudi bombardment of Yemen, it really comes down to money-what former President Eisenhower called the “Military Industrial Complex.” Eisenhower described in his 1961 farewell address how American industry didn’t cease weapons production after the end of the Korean War. Instead, unscrupulous businessmen saw that they could make an incredible amount of money by lobbying the US government to continue buying their arms and to engage in needless wars in order to justify their purchase. Eisenhower pointed out that “Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry…[now, w]e annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.” Today, 2,868,000 people work for the Department of Defense (that’s more people than any other employer in the country) and $700 billion is spent on defense. It is difficult now to imagine the days that Eisenhower described, when “American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well.” He acknowledged that in the post-WWII world, military readiness was paramount, while simultaneously warning the nation about the dangers of too many weapons.
The financial incentive for perpetuating wars really explains why the US continues to engage in warfare around the world and in Afghanistan long after the death of Osama bin Ladin, which was the stated reason for invading the country in the first place. Corrupt politicians essentially trade the lives of both our own troops and countless civilians who are killed in attacks like drone strikes in exchange for huge donations from lobbyists. In 2016, House Republicans received $5,900,000 from gun lobbyists. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan alone received $171,977. While House Democrats only received $106,000 in total, that doesn’t change the fact that support for a war is often bi-partisan-as shown by this list from 2002 of who in the Senate voted to authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq (looking at you, Hillary and Chuck) versus who didn’t.
For evidence of the lives are lost to this barbaric system of collusion, look again to the Iraq war. The exact number of civilians killed as a result of the invasion is not known for certain. One study provides a number of about 500,000 civilians and another article points to a much higher loss of 2.4 million people, many of whom died after the US withdrew in 2011. Even if none of these numbers are accurate, the fact remains that human lives are worth more than money. Even one death in a war that should never have been fought is one too many. And due to the creation of ISIS as an effect of the invasion, and the continued US campaign against them, more and more people will die or suffer in Iraq due to the war.
So how can the Military Industrial Complex be dismantled? Essentially, the American people need to make clear that they will no longer allow it to exist. Politicians who benefit from the system must not be reelected, and war must become recognized as something only to be done out of necessity, and never for profit. All government assistance to countries that commit violence against civilians, like Saudi Arabia, must cease immediately. Groups like the NRA should not have more power than the Geneva Convention. I’m not suggesting that the President withdraw all of our troops deployed in combat, but rather that he only condone and allow military action in circumstances where no diplomatic option is feasible. Where diplomacy is an option, the US Department of State works to help victims of government violence without calling for violence as a solution. One example would be Myanmar, where the State Dept. is providing humanitarian aid to people from Rakhine State who were forcefully displaced while putting diplomatic pressure on the government there. In any case, the current course is simply unacceptable.