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Before We Remember, Let us Not Forget to Question

May 25, 2010

They say 9-11 will be for my generation what Pearl Harbor was for my grandparents. September 11th, 2001: a day that will live in infamy. I do remember where I was–walking into gym class senior year of high school. I remember looking on, confused. The first plane that struck the north Twin Tower seemed like a tragic accident. Then, out of no where, a second plane struck; I found myself breathless.

As we remember the sacrifices of others on Memorial Day, let us not forget to question why the U.S. marched into Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place; especially because the cost of these two major, simultaneous theater wars will, as of May 30th, reach a combined sum of $1 trillion — that’s $1,000,000,000,000.

On September 11th, 2001, 19 men from Saudi Arabia, under the auspices of al Qaeda, attacked the United States of America. Al Qaeda, which operated in over 90 countries at the time-consequently not Iraq in 2001 or 2003-headquartered itself in Afghanistan.  Rather than utilize the global intelligence network and international courts to bring the criminals responsible for the acts of terrorism to justice, on October 7th, 2001 the Bush administration attacked Afghanistan nearly unilaterally–Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) had commenced.

Shortly there after, the Bush administration fixed the case against Iraq. In his 2002 State of the Union Address, President Bush labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea–not al Qaeda–the “axis of evil.” By March of 2003, the U.S. launched a full scale invasion of Iraq–dubbed Operation Iraq Freedom (OIF)–under the false pretense of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Saddam’s ties to al Qaeda.

Seven years later, as OIF slowly reaches its end, leaving behind some 30-50,000 residual forces and the world’s largest embassy, OEF  seems to be gearing up significantly.  Long considered by Washington think tanks and politicos alike to be the neglected central front in the “War on Terror,” Afghanistan is getting its due. Or is it?

Memorial Day for me is about remembering that the Bush administration lied to the American public about Iraq and neglected Afghanistan–which needed development assistance, not a military occupation–to the point of disarray.

According to President Obama, who now owns the Afghanistan war, our mission is to “disrupt, dismantle and destroy” al Qaeda and prevent terrorist safe havens. With the DoD’s admission that there are less than 100 members of al Qaeda operating in Afghanistan and General David Petraeus acknowledging that even with 400,000 native speaking soldiers, the U.S still could not secure all of Afghanistan, perhaps it is time the U.S. change course away from the military led strategy.

Why has President Obama escalated the war after each of last two strategic reviews, which directly contradicted the advice he was receiving from nonmilitary  (but former military) advisors on the ground? Why is the government using the U.S. military in Afghanistan to nation build? Why does the military insist on weakening the Taliban before allowing them to come to the table-a move which will only embolden other actors and send the U.S. several steps backwards politically?  Most importantly: why are the people asking these questions in Congress continually marginalized and ignored?

The situation in Afghanistan is dire, but not hopeless. The U.S. will be in the country for at least the next four or five decades, if it ever leaves at all. Let us hope–and work–for this presence to be a nonmilitary, Afghan led civil development presence.

I will spend this Memorial Day reflecting and questioning. To take action with me after the holiday, urge your Congressperson to support H.R. 5015, which calls for an exit strategy and flexible time table for withdrawal–we owe it to those who’ve given their lives, limbs and mental stability.

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