Ten years into one of our two wars in the Middle East, American leaders are mostly mum about the conflict's major failures.
Friday marked the 10-year anniversary of America's war in Afghanistan, a moment you probably haven't heard much about in the news. Eight years after the Bush administration said it had ended "major combat activity" in Afghanistan, and four months after Obama said the United States had achieved most of its goals there, American and coalition soldiers are still being killed. But you wouldn't know it from the behavior of most of America's politicians.
President Obama chose to not hold a public event in honor of our 10 years at war. He released a statement, and is spending part of today visiting wounded servicemen and women at Walter Reed, but there was no major public speech to note that about 1,700 American troops have been killed in battles with Afghani insurgents since 2001 (four American servicemen have been killed this month alone). Obama would like to keep the nation focused on the economy, the lack of jobs, and the upcoming 2012 election, not a war that he has promised will end in 2014.
Despite the president's silence, Republican candidates hoping to replace him in the next election jumped at the opportunity to talk about Afghanistan, though mostly in whispers instead of shouts. Ron Paul premiered a new TV ad in which he promises to not act "as the world's policeman." In a speech at the Citadel, Mitt Romney outlined some of his foreign policy proposals while saying we needed to begin a new "American Century," one in which America leads the entire free world.
What every American official refuses to do is honestly and loudly announce that Afghanistan is, in many ways, a total failure. Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president, told the BBC this weekend that the nation's leaders have done "terribly badly" in providing security to the Afghan people. And in a report released quietly by the White House, the administration acknowledged that the citizens of Afghanistan are losing faith in the coalition forces, and that the Afghan National Army might not be ready to take the reins come 2014. Beyond that, corruption in Karzai's government constantly haunts Afghans: "Afghans reported overwhelmingly, at 87 percent, that government corruption affects their daily lives," the White House report says.
I recall reading a story once of an Israeli citizen traveling through America circa 2006. Asked what he found most surprising or interesting about the States, the Israeli said he was shocked to discover that unless a person actively sought out specific information, he'd never know America was in the midst of two wars. The news didn't cover the conflicts consistently, nor did U.S. citizens talk about them. Nobody shopped or behaved differently in order to support the war effort like they did during World War II, and the major anti-war protests of the Vietnam Era are mostly nonexistent. Ten years into Afghanistan, the reality is this: Kids and adults from across America are dying in the Middle East almost daily, yet most Americans have pretty much forgotten about them. The casualty of Afghanistan we never mention is our acknowledgment that it even exists.