NOTHSTINE: A deeper discussion on Afghanistan

FILE PHOTO: The caisson and casket are seen in procession before a burial service for U.S. Army Sergeant First Class Matthew McClintock

In a 1939 radio broadcast, Winston Churchill called Russia “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” It is a crafty phrase that has frequently been used to describe the country of Afghanistan too. After 16 years of war in Afghanistan, more are starting to ask: Why are we still there? To what end? After all, close to a trillion dollars has been spent on America’s longest war, and more importantly, it has cost the lives of 2,400 of our best citizens. Rep. Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, who no longer toes the line on much of anything, introduced his own bill in March to defund the war, calling on Congress, at the very least, to debate and clarify the mission.”Speaker Ryan, he can initiate this today if he wanted to,” Jones declared in a May 24 press conference. He notes that the last time Congress has had a “legitimate” debate on the conflict in Afghanistan was 2001. “He doesn’t seem to want to take the responsibility of the blood that comes from my soldiers and Marines dying in a country that will never change, no matter what you do,” Jones added in admonishing Speaker Paul Ryan.If Jones has strong words for Ryan, he also has strong words for himself. Jones, of course, had a well-publicized change of heart for his lockstep support for war, specifically saying of Iraq: “I helped kill 4,000 Americans, and I will go to my grave regretting that.” Regardless of your views on America’s recent conflicts or Jones, his deeply sincere apologies are a marked contrast from the debased political blaming games practiced by most national politicians in both parties during America’s War on Terror. Just by watching videos of Jones, one can clearly see the enormous weight he carries for the lives that were lost.As Jones and others note, one of the key arguments against Afghanistan is that it’s a “graveyard of empires.” Meaning, to engage in conflict in that region is to expedite national decline or fragmentation through an overextension of forces, as the Soviet invasion in 1979 and British invasion in the 19th century can well attest.But many experts call the “graveyard of empires” reputation only a popularized myth. Luke Coffey of the Heritage Foundation recently pointed out much of the progress made in Afghanistan. “No major terrorist attack originating from Afghanistan has been successful in the United States since 2001,” wrote Coffey. Al Qaeda is increasingly isolated and the Islamic State is in an ever-weaker position in Afghanistan. The Taliban, while exerting more influence and control, is still a “shadow of its former self today, controlling about 9 percent of the population, per the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.Anybody paying attention to Afghanistan knows that American military casualties have dwindled in the region too. And Secretary of Defense James Mattis briefed lawmakers Monday night saying he would offer Trump options for success. “There will be no turning a blind eye to it, we’ve got to determine what level of support is necessary.”For a nation that is $20 trillion in debt, spending $43 billion annually seems to justify serious debate going forward. While it is not a part of Jones’s bill, a few lawmakers who side with him suggest a surcharge tax to pay for the conflict. For them, at least more Americans would feel some sense of sacrifice. One of the harshest indictments against the conflict in Afghanistan is that so few Americans pay any attention to what is happening there. And as Jones and others point out, the conflict serves as an invaluable reminder to the danger of open-ended appropriations for the use of force.The nation lost three more soldiers Saturday, including the life of Cpl. Dillon C. Baldridge, 22, of Youngsville, North Carolina. He was due to return home at the end of July. Vice President Mike Pence stood watch over the return of his remains Monday. “Five U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan by so-called friendly fire. What are we doing?” tweeted Trump in 2014.” It’s a great question and one we must better answer, especially for the families that sacrifice too much.
Ray Nothstine is a member of the North State Journal’s editorial board, separate from the news staff. Unlike other newspapers, the North State Journal does not publish unsigned editorials; the author or authors of every editorial, letter, op-ed, and column is prominently displayed. To submit a letter or op-ed, see our submission guidelines.