“The American people are weary of war without victory. Nowhere is this more evident than the war in Afghanistan. The longest war in American history: 17 years,” President Donald Trump said in a speech on August 21st, piquing the interest of anti-war Americans across the political spectrum.
Trump continued, however, openly admitting to flip-flopping on the issue of foreign intervention and promising to increase troop count in the contentious nation. When examining the historical record, it’s clear to most Americans the outdated policy of added force is not the appropriate solution to Afghanistan and the terrorism problem.
On campus, though, the difference of opinion is stark. “At this point, I’m going to trust the administration. They know more than I do,” Dr. Paul Moreno said regarding Trump’s decision to broaden the war effort.
As a professor of U.S. constitutional history, Dr. Moreno also believes there are no legal issues with the administration’s decision, describing the power of a post-9/11 president to respond to an attack upon the United States as “unquestioned” and “not requiring a declaration of war.” While this is true, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the two factions in question, present remarkably low levels of danger. It’s been nearly 16 years since al-Qaeda allegedly attacked the U.S. and the Taliban has never threatened the American homeland. The two parties also have vastly different goals and objectives. Al-Qaeda is a militant group that has dedicated itself to opposing the United States in any way possible. On the other hand, the Taliban is a party of conservative Islamic fundamentalists vying for control of their home country.
“I think the ultimate goal should be… regime change [of the Taliban],” Dr. Moreno said. He also suggests “installing a government that is at least not a threat to the United States.” This idea represents an enduring and pervasive misunderstanding among many Americans.
The Taliban has never made a legitimate threat to this country and even condemned the 9/11 attacks the day after they occurred. The only indictment leveled against the Taliban is that they were “harboring terrorists” — an accusation that’s applicable to plenty of countries. The only violence against the United States committed by the Taliban came after its aggression in the Taliban’s own sovereign nation.
Trump also attributed a big part of the strategy overhaul to “a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions.” He gave vague descriptions of those conditions, articulating their “clear definition” as “attacking our enemies” along with “crushing al-Qaeda” and “preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan.”
A policy this ambiguous has dangerous implications. The lack of a clear goal can cause the U.S. to overstay even more than it already has, exacerbating the terrorism dilemma.
Another fundamental aspect of this issue is understanding the nature of terrorism. Why do terrorists hate the United States? The answer is not as obscure as one might think. In 2004, George Bush commissioned his Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, to produce an analysis of the issue. Rumsfeld reported on his findings: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies.”
“American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.” He further explains how U.S. support for tyrannies in the region like Saudi Arabia and the general failure of war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have also contributed to the systemic hatred.
Americans simply need to listen to the Muslim community’s message. When al-Qaeda declared war on the west, Osama bin-Laden outlined three key grievances against the United States: its perpetual occupation of the lands of Islam, the consequential deaths of many Muslims civilians, and our unquestioned support of Israel regardless of the atrocities they commit.
In a 2004 speech to the American people, bin-Laden spoke of “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.” He’s been fairly successful, too. Estimates have put 21st century war efforts in the Middle East upwards of $10 trillion, factoring in troop healthcare expenses, veteran aid, and interest on war loans. These wars have caused America’s deficit expansion and national debt crisis.
In the same speech, bin-Laden makes a powerful statement, offering advice that the U.S. would be wise to heed. “Your security is in your own hands. Every state that doesn’t play with our security has automatically guaranteed its own.”
Additional troops are not the answer to Afghanistan. If the United States is looking to defeat Islamic extremism, it only needs to pay attention to the glaring evidence: our intervention and violence moves peaceful Muslims towards radicalism. If the U.S. continues to escalate wars in the middle east, it will be greeted with still greater opposition.
Cal Abbo is a freshman studying the liberal arts.