The war we have nearly forgotten
As we mark the eighth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan, our country is embarking on a high-stakes debate about whether and how to continue waging this war.
To my knowledge, never before in American history has such an important and long-lasting war received so little public attention. It is true that we have had many substantial distractions—the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, our energy problems, the economic crisis, the health care debate—that all deserve our attention; yet, we should not have let this war fall so deeply out of our public consciousness.
This lack of attention is particularly striking on campus. With no draft to worry about, it is easy for us as college students to forget that Americans our own age are fighting overseas, particularly because many, though not all, of us come from communities where enlisting in the military is rare.
I personally believe that we should increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. I think that our struggle against Islamic fundamentalism is an essential fight to preserve and spread the values we cherish—values like democracy, equality for women and respect for human life—and I think winning the war in Afghanistan is crucial to the success of this struggle. I think we must prevent Afghanistan from relapsing into a haven for Al Qaeda and ensure that insurgents do not destabilize nuclear-armed Pakistan. I do not think we can succeed without an increased troop presence.
Yet what really matters is not my own position but that we engage in a broad public discussion before we proceed. If we do commit more troops to Afghanistan, we will be embroiled in conflict there for many years to come, we will spend a great deal more money in the process, and many more American soldiers will die. This means that our generation of policymakers will have to continue dealing with the war’s consequences.
I think the war in Afghanistan’s importance justifies its costs. I believe, however, that we owe it to ourselves to know what we are taking on. Furthermore, we cannot ask more Americans to risk their lives on our behalf without seriously evaluating the reasons why.
There are many plausible reasons why we have essentially ignored this debate so far. It is unexciting, hard to understand and concerns a country halfway across the world. It does not have the immediacy of midterms or extracurricular pursuits and for those who at least follow national politics, it lacks the drama of the health care debate or an election.
I hardly expect Brookings Quad to erupt into an anti-war protest anytime soon, and I know that our potential to affect the outcome of this debate is limited. Yet our limitations should not excuse our inaction.
We can call our members of Congress or contact the White House with comments. We can educate ourselves through dialogue on campus. We can reward influential national media outlets for covering the issue by watching or reading such coverage, especially online where news outlets can track views per article.
Whatever the actions we take, we must start by paying more attention. Once we do, the best means of influencing the debate will become more self-evident.
Eight years is too long to fight a war and hardly notice.