For retired combat officer Erik Edstrom, it took less than two months to realize that America’s war in Afghanistan was a complete disaster.
“When it comes to negative-sum financial profligacy,” Edstrom writes in Politico, “no event in American history rivals the War on Terror.” The more the United States contributes in soldiers, taxpayer dollars, opportunity costs and global reputation, the more the United States continues to lose. And at approximately $910 billion, the total operating costs of the war in Afghanistan exceed the costs of the Civil War, World War I, and the Korean War combined. And yet, the Taliban today is stronger than it was in 2001.
This year, President Biden announced the end. He acknowledged a truth that Edstrom and many others accepted long ago: “The war was unwinnable and no amount of men or money would ever change that.”
Why did it take so long?
The reason America has been fighting a self-defeating, multi-trillion dollar war for two decades, Edstrom writes, is because “America is perfectly designed to fight self-defeating, multi trillion-dollar conflicts. We are, as a country, hard-wired for it.”
Why? “When it comes to our military,” Edstrom explains, “the mantra of the public has become: Thank, don’t think. To most Americans, insulated from its effects, war is elevator music.”
To Edstrom, it’s easy to see how we became insulated. Fewer U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan than in Vietnam, meaning fewer American families have sought justification for their loved one’s ultimate sacrifice. “With fewer soldier deaths,” Edstrom writes, “comes less political pressure for change.” The absence of a draft has played a role too: “‘Without a draft,’ writes the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), ‘99 percent of the nation had no skin in the game, preferring to subcontract it out to a professionalized military cadre so civilians could ignore it.’” We never felt the pain in our wallets, either, because the federal government hid the financial costs of the war by funding it through debt rather than through tax hikes. “Deferring war costs into the future reduces public awareness of those costs and reduces the likelihood that citizens will sue for peace,” Edstrom explains.
Still, the public has been complicit in allowing our troops to be sent into a war that everyone knew to be costly and self-defeating, “while simultaneously maintaining the audacious idea that, in doing so, they ‘support the troops.’”
“That is not patriotism,” Edstrom concludes. “That is betrayal.”
Read the full piece here.