In Afghanistan, People Died for No Good Reason

And keeping the troops there won't change that.

Last week a remarkable exchange about the future role of the U.S. military in Afghanistan took place on the MSNBC program Andrea Mitchell Reports. In a discussion of the U.S. government’s uncertain negotiations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the continued presence of U.S. troops beyond 2014, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, pointed out that, between the Karzai talks and the negotiations with Afghanistan’s next-door neighbor Iran, the Obama administration has a daunting task.

Part of the administration’s objective, Engel said, is

to protect the legacy of America’s longest war. For a lot of the soldiers we’ve been speaking to, this is personal. They’ve come here time and time again. They’ve invested so much. They’ve put their family lives on hold. They’ve lost friends here. So the collapse of Afghanistan would be in a certain way a personal affront to what they have done. So you also have to keep the investment, personal and otherwise, that the United States has put into military into this conflict — and that’s also part of this calculation.

To which the show’s host, Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Mitchell, replied, “That’s probably the most important part of the calculation.”

Seriously? The most important part of the calculation as to whether the U.S. military will continue to occupy Afghanistan is what American military personnel have lost in the past 12 years? In the business world, that’s called throwing good money after bad. In economics, it’s known as sunk costs. The past is gone. Any action is future-oriented. The right question is, What would be the consequences of continued military occupation? Additional killing and dying will not bring back the dead or restore lost time, nor will it make the losses worthwhile.

Engel and Mitchell of course are not policymakers, but they are faithful conduits for the thinking of the ruling elite. So this exchange is not to be taken lightly.

Since the U.S. invasion in 2001, the Associated Press reports, at least 2,153 American military personnel have been killed. Asia scholar Juan Cole reports that 19,415 Americans were “wounded in Afghanistan badly enough to go to hospital.”

Afghan casualty data are harder to come by, and in recent years most casualties have apparently been inflicted by Taliban insurgents. Yet journalists Bob Dreyfuss and Nick Turse write, “But it’s an unassailable fact that many of those killed by anti-government forces would almost certainly be alive had the United States never invaded. And the victims of US forces and other foreign troops number in the many thousands.”

What good is there to show for that loss and shattering of life? Nothing. Afghanistan remains a violent place, nominally ruled by a corrupt and repressive propped-up government that will remain precarious no matter how long the U.S. military stays. President Karzai regularly gets bags of CIA cash, the illegal drug trade thrives with official connivance, and stoning is about to be introduced as the penalty for adultery.

The Taliban, which reigned before the U.S. invasion and still is conducting an unrelenting insurgency, was never a threat to the American people. (The U.S. government was on its side after the Soviets invaded the country.) The organization that was a threat, al-Qaeda, did not plot the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan and has since spun off affiliates in Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, and the Arabian Peninsula. Moreover, the threat was a direct consequence of decades of U.S. intervention in the Muslim world. If there had been no American empire, there would have been no 9/11 attacks, nor would there have been any of the acts committed by al-Qaeda against the U.S. government before 2001.

What this means is that the sacrifices of America’s military personnel — not to mention the war crimes committed against the Afghan people — were for no good reason whatever. It would be wrong, however, to say they were for no reason at all. Many Americans in and out of government have garnered immense wealth and power thanks to U.S. policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. War is a racket.

American forces should be withdrawn at once, for the sake both of the Afghan people and of the U.S. personnel, who are abused by America’s rulers. We can only hope that Karzai refuses to sign a new agreement with the Obama administration, so that this long nightmare can come to an end.

This column originally appeared in the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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  • Nazdrakke||

    We can only hope that Karzai refuses to sign a new agreement with the Obama administration, so that this long nightmare can come to an end.

    Or we can hope they all die in the same fire. There are no good guys to pull for there.

  • Capt. Rimmer||

    Trillions evaporated. Constitution eviscerated. I know who my enemies are.

  • SQRLSY One||

    We have to stay, we MUST!!! To help the GOOD drug producers and dealers over there, the Stanstanstanstanistan-Government-Almighty-approved drug producers and dealers, like Karzai’s brother for example, against the BAD / ILLEGAL drug producers and dealers!!!

  • SQRLSY One||

    Peace? PEACE, you say!?!?! We can’t do THAT, who would glorify the troops and employ the arms-makers??!?! Not to mention, what would justify Government Almighty, would diminish…
    Scienfoology Sermon

    You have heard it said, that “blessed are the peacemakers”. But verily Government Almighty doth sayeth unto thou, “Blessed are the war-makers, for they increase DoD-related employment in selected Congressional districts.”
    You have heard it said, that “blessed are those who get slapped upside the head by the “no good deed goes unpunished” syndrome. But verily Government Almighty doth sayeth unto thou, “Blessed are those who put their fingers to the winds, and read them correctly. Good luck with that, and, read my lips, no new taxes.”

  • SQRLSY One||

    You have heard it said, that “blessed are the poor in spirit”. But verily Government Almighty doth sayeth unto thou, “Blessed are the self-assured, for their glib sound bites make them electable”.
    You have heard it said, that “blessed are those who mourn”. But verily Government Almighty doth sayeth unto thou, “Blessed are the prosecutors who delight in evil, for they shall be able to confiscate the proceeds”.
    ... said, that “blessed are the meek”. But verily Government Almighty doth sayeth unto thou, “Blessed are the arrogant, ‘cause it’s their way or the highway, and because up yours, that’s why.”
    You have heard it said, that “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for what’s right”. But verily Government Almighty doth sayeth unto thou, “Blessed are those who advance my political doctrine and dogma, because, darn it, I’m right and you’re wrong; you elected me, so do what I say.”
    ... said, that “blessed are those who show mercy”. But verily Government Almighty doth sayeth unto thou, “Blessed are those who support zero-tolerance laws, and state voters who legalize pot can suffer the wrath of the feds, while getting taxed out the wazoo to bring democracy and freedom to foreign lands.”
    You have heard it said, that “blessed are those who are pure in heart”. But verily Government Almighty doth sayeth unto thou, “Blessed are those who are against terrorism, and if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

  • ||

    Nothing would glorify the troops more than to cut our losses and leave. Why must we send troops to die on a fool's errand? Where is the glory in that?

  • Brian||

    So the collapse of Afghanistan would be in a certain way a personal affront to what they have done. So you also have to keep the investment, personal and otherwise, that the United States has put into military into this conflict — and that’s also part of this calculation.

    Really? I thought the military were public servants, serving tax payers. Now, it seems the other way around?

    Since when does the military corner the market on how the US should conduct foreign war? I thought the ostensible ideal was democratic decision making. Go figure.

  • ||

    I'm in the military. I wanted to serve the people and still do. Now that I do not know who I serve I am ready to take a big risk in switching careers. If all I stay in for is to serve myself, then that is best done in the private sector.

    I just wish there was some way we could stop this fiasco.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Hi Ianthefish, Good luck with a new civilian career if you chose it! (Which I would encourage, truth be told.) They “snookered” me into the “glorious” military life many-many years ago, too… So, my condolences to you. If the Stanstanstanstanistan debacle bothers you and / or some of your buddies, maybe we all could just think, “Well, we gave the Stanstanstanistanians a good chance, they blew it (many years ago by now!), we made an honest attempt, sometimes the good guys lose… and leave.” Sad to say, of course, the troops don’t get the decision to say, “It is WAY PAST quitting time!” Not for all of them collectively, for sure… For you as an individual, you can still leave! Go for it! If you harbor any illusions about the military leadership having any loyalty to you, in return for your loyalty to them, I would ask you to read http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013.....se-sexual/ and see what happened to Eric Thomas. –Thanks for your having served! -SQRLSy One

  • SQRLSY One||

    The best link with the most details about the military having no loyalty for Eric Thomas.... http://www3.gazette.com/projec.....t-program/

  • Tamfang||

    Honest commerce *is* serving the people.

  • ||

    I thank you, Mr. Richman, for speaking out. I thank all who do. This "bilateral security agreement" is a fool's errand. I am likely to not reenlist because of this.

    Please, Please, Please,
    More like this. For the love of GOD people, more like this. I beseech anyone who can to write to your representatives; Tell them that this is not the will of the American people. A government For and By the People should not forsake them.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    The problem with our presence in Afghanistan is that it has the appearance of lending support to whatever jumped-up local thug runs the government. We could, of course, impose our own form of government, and make Afghanistan a colony. Many people would have conniptions, so there is that in its favor, and the history of post-colonial Africa strongly suggests that the modern prejudice against colonialism is mistaken. Or we could have, once, invaded, decapitated the government both figuratively and literally, and then left, saying "That's what happens when somebody annoys us, and there's more where that came from."

    The problem with withdrawing from Afghanistan NOW is that it sends the wrong message. It could be spun by the Jihadis as a victory. There may be no good way out, though, and in the absence of a good way, any old way will do.

    From now on we should either invade, wreck the place, and leave, or invade and take over. Either way we need to start telling the U.N. and assorted other international bodies that, until such time as the terrorist orbs start keeping their sides of bargains, we are no longer engaging in diplomacy with them. Those that annoy us we will, sooner or later, swat. Those that avoid annoying us can be as barbarous as they please, on their own.

  • wareagle||

    so you expect our glorious leaders to learn from things they do. You're new here, aren't you?

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    NO, I'v been here for a while. And I don't really expect our Dear Leaders to learn from their mistakes. But I have higher standards for the writers of REASON., and while I don't necessarily disagree with them that staying NOW is a mistake, they often come across as believers in the "violence never solves anything" bushwa.

    Because we didn't keep the object lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan smile, wee are going to get attacked again. And at some point we will, as a people, lose our tempers. When that happens you can kiss Mecca and the Kaaba goodbye. You can probably also kiss goodbye to the days when Imperial America was a straw-man metaphor resorted to by the intellectually lazy. Won't bother me much; I'm 50. I'll dies of old age before the initial rush of prosperity ends and the parade of nuts like Caligula begins.

  • Jon Lester||

    In the case of central Asia, we should leave it to the CSTO member states, because it's their neighborhood. If Afghanistan again finds itself occupied by troops from former Soviet republics, it won't be our fault, and it shouldn't matter to us or our "values," because the country is only relatively "free" when compared to the Taliban period. The average Afghan's experience probably isn't much different now than it was under Najibullah.

  • OneOut||

    We're not leaving Afghanistan. If you lay that country out on a flat map you can't help but notice that a straight line can be drawn through it that is the proposed route for a major oil pipeline that TOP MEN say is necessary for FREEDOM and DEMOCRACY to prevail against our enemies who hate us because of our freedoms. ( they should be hating us less and less every year if that is true ).

    The fact that through fracking and opening gubmint lands to drilling could make us independent of the need to import oil from that part of the world matters not. Because TOP MEN.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Well, there's always the option of getting the oil from the Islamic countries, because the sooner they run dry, the sooner we can let them fade back into total 13th century barbarism.

  • ||

    The organization that was a threat, al-Qaeda, did not plot the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan

    [citation needed]

    That defies literally every version of recorded events that didn't originate in Loose Change. Which, contrary to what Richman would have you believe, is a fiction film (though not a porno, it should be stressed; Richman beating off to it notwithstanding).

    Moreover, the threat was a direct consequence of decades of U.S. intervention in the Muslim world.

    ZOMG! TEH BLOWBACK!

    But wait, that doesn't square all that well with:

    (The U.S. government was on its [the Taliban's] side after the Soviets invaded the country.)

    So... Al Qaeda, which had, and has, nothing to do with Afghanistan, is royally and justifiably pissed off about US intervention... in Afghanistan... against the Russians... or something.

    It's important if you're going to write historical fiction to keep your plotlines consistent.

  • ||

    That defies literally every version of recorded events that didn't originate in Loose Change.

    Operation Bojinka

    It's important if you're going to write historical fiction to keep your plotlines consistent.

    It was pretty consistent. Al Qaeda is/was the threat and garnered power after the US intervention in Afghanistan and didn't appreciably exist beforehand. By the time we returned, Al Qaeda had grown/spread considerably.

    If you think we should continue to fight for stability in Afghanistan or continue to pursue Al Qaeda wherever they may hide, just say so.

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  • buybuydandavis||

    "Moreover, the threat was a direct consequence of decades of U.S. intervention in the Muslim world. If there had been no American empire, there would have been no 9/11 attacks, "

    That's true to the extent that being a successful superpower that *is not Islamic* makes us a target of Islamist Supremacists. That could still have been true if we had never sent a single soldier, bullet, or bomb to the Middle East.

  • Vx38||

    This guy Richman is a serious nut job. He is allergic to facts. I'm as opposed to our basing troops in Afghanistan as anyone but that doesn't give Richman the right to make up history. Al queda was based there and they did attack the us. They also were totally supported by the Taliban which completely justified us going in and blowing the place to smithereens. But as another commentator mentioned at that point we should have left.

    As long as Reason publishes such lazy phony writing by complete morons like this Richman guy I won't give them a dime and I'd advise you to do the same. It's crackpots like him who give libertarianism a bad name in the general public. Time to do some housecleaning.

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