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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Editorial: As we extend our stay in Afghanistan, the ghosts of Bush and Cheney linger

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. firmly and confidently planted itself in the Middle East beginning with Afghanistan in late 2001. At the time, there were few who would have publicly disagreed with this course of action, but then again, how could they? The nation had just been attacked on a scale that had never been seen before and has yet to be matched. We were hurt, and, perhaps more than anything else, we were scared. Not to go after the men who had hurt us so deeply would have been a decision rooted in fear and cowardice.

Fourteen years, two presidents, 40,000 deaths and $715 billion later, and here we are: still no closer to stabilizing the Middle East. Thursday, in a major reversal of policy, President Obama announced the U.S. would be renewing its commitment to maintaining a significant military presence in Afghanistan past 2017 rather than terminating it as originally planned.

It doesn’t take a geopolitical strategist to understand why Obama, his advisers and the Afghan government would want U.S. military forces to stay in the country. Not only is Afghanistan suffering internal turmoil with the Taliban’s re-consolidation of power, but also the threat of the Islamic State group — which has already assumed a degree of control in Nangarhar Province, one of 34 provinces in Afghanistan — looms ever present.

In an ideal world, we could leave the Middle East without having to look over our shoulders every so often as we made our way home. In an even more ideal world, the military response to the 9/11 attacks would have been measured and well coordinated rather than reactionary and short-sighted. But we have to live with the cards we’re dealt, even if we’re the ones who dealt them in the first place.

Our geopolitical reality is one wherein the U.S. has effectively trapped itself in an unwinnable war against an unstoppable ideology. Our intrusive presence in the Middle East has mobilized and informed a generation of young men and women who attribute the awfulness of their lives to the existence of Western culture and military powers. And if we’re going to talk about this honestly, they’re not entirely wrong to jump to that conclusion. Misery breeds anger, and if there is one thing that has enabled the Islamic State’s continued existence, it is the raw, gushing anger that has infected the Middle East.

Like it or not, we are going to be in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. Fourteen years later, the rash decisions of the Bush and Cheney administration have presented our government with an impossible choice: Do we leave the Middle East alone to consume itself in the hope the ripple effects won’t be too harsh, or do we allow more Americans to die and maintain some kind of say in the quagmire we helped create? The answer, painful as it may be, is obvious.

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