Was it all in vain? That provocative question was addressed by my first guest in an essay he co-authored for USA Today.
Writing with former Kentucky Senate Candidate Amy McGrath, Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and director of research in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution argued that those Americans who fought in Afghanistan exhibited valor and dignity and made a major and positive difference for U.S. Security.
I agree. And it’s an important distinction to note as we are now amid a messy withdrawal and just three weeks from the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Soon we will again reflect on those momentous events and the contribution of the 2,443 Americans who died fighting in Afghanistan and the more than 20,000 who were injured there.
Was their sacrifice all in vain? No way.
Justice demanded a response after 19 hijackers unleashed an unprovoked attack that killed 3,000 innocent Americans. The United States was wholly justified in hunting down those responsible … and their enablers. That’s why we went to Afghanistan and the men and women who answered their nation’s call were responding to a noble purpose.
To the extent mistakes were made – and they were – that doesn’t bear on service and sacrifice of those who were boots on the ground. It wasn’t they who decided that instead of law enforcement we would end up responding with a proverbial shotgun blast.
In this country, we have civilian control over our military. The rank and file had no say in whether we would turn deserved retribution into yet another effort to instill democracy based on the flawed premise that electing leaders cures all ills. And those who wore the uniform of our nation while overseas weren’t the ones who perpetrated the folly that then took us to Iraq.
Think about those you know who went to Afghanistan, often for several tours of duty. They rightly believed they were there to avenge the losses of 9/11… and in that mission, they succeeded.
Now and in the future, history will judge our political leaders spanning both parties and four administrations for the current events in Afghanistan. But the way we should regard those who answered the bell requires no similar deliberation. What a miscarriage it would be if any of them thought what we are now witnessing is a reflection of their service. It is not. Case closed.
So now it’s time to look forward to all those short, mid, and long-term problems resulting from the carnage of our hasty exit. Decisions need to be made about the scope of our operation, who to save, how to protect against admitting criminals and terrorists to the U.S., what to do with the myriad of weapons we left behind, and how to ensure we never repeat the many mistakes that are part of our legacy in Afghanistan.