Is the War in Afghanistan Really a War of Necessity?

March 9th, 2010, by

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (L.) greets Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (R.) during a March 8 press conference.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Afghanistan Monday on an unannounced visit and warned of hard days ahead as the U.S. implements a surge of 30,000 troops through the summer.

The U.S. military has been in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion and there are no plans to leave anytime soon, even as the U.S. scales back in Iraq.

The driving force behind and justification for staying in the fight in Afghanistan is that the Afghanistan war, from the beginning, was a war of necessity.

The conventional wisdom goes like this: The United States was attacked by al Qaeda terrorists, led by mastermind Osama bin Laden, who received support from and a safe haven in Afghanistan. We had to go after Osama bin Laden. We had to topple the Taliban. We are doing the right thing to protect ourselves and to fight for justice by continuing our military campaign there.

Here is an excerpt from a September 2001 article in The New York Times:

President Bush demanded tonight that Afghanistan’s leaders immediately deliver Osama bin Laden and his network and close down every terrorist camp in the country or face military attack by the United States…”From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime,” Mr. Bush said in a blunt warning that could encompass countries that the United States has previously identified as giving safe haven to terrorists, among them Iraq, Iran and Syria. The demands included an insistence that Americans be able to inspect every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan to ensure that they have been dismantled. The president declared that every nation must choose sides in the coming conflict against a terrorist network that he said involved thousands of people in more than 60 countries. He warned the nation to expect a long campaign that will be fought with the visible weapons of war and secret operations.

Even President Obama, who inherited the war from President Bush, said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, “The world rallied around America after the 9/11 attacks and continues to support our efforts in Afghanistan because of the horror of those senseless attacks and the recognized principle of self-defense.”

Well, here’s food for thought.

In a recent conversation with Tavis, Phyllis Bennis — writer, analyst and fellow at Washington D.C.’s Institute for Policy Studies and director of its New Internationalism Program — challenges the notion that the war in Afghanistan was one of necessity:

I think it was a war of choice at the time of 9/11. The attacks of 9/11 are horrific – a horrific attack, a horrific crime, a crime against humanity, and there were options…What we heard from the beginning was, “We’re going to go after these people and we’re going to kill them.” The problem was “these people” were already dead. None of the people who committed those terrible crimes were Afghans. They were Egyptians, they were Saudis. None of them lived in Afghanistan, they lived in Hamburg. None of them trained in Afghanistan, they trained in Florida. None of them went to flight school in Afghanistan; they went to flight school in Minnesota. So we went to war against a country across the world from us because we could, because it was something that looked like justice, when it was really about vengeance, it wasn’t about justice, and it was designed, I think, to lay the political basis for the war that would come later – the war in Iraq. So it wasn’t a war of necessity then and it certainly isn’t a war of necessity now.

Bennis goes on to say that it was President Bush’s paradigm of an international war on terror that got the U.S. into a military campaign in Afghanistan. She says, “as soon as you use that war framework, the paradigm of war means that only the military is going to be engaged.”

Bennis adds, “What we’re seeing now is that for every person we kill – we are killing civilians…What happens to their families? What do they start to think about these Americans that are killing them without any accountability? So it’s not making us safer, it’s putting us at much greater risk.”

What do you think? Is Afghanistan really a war of necessity? Is Bennis right when she says that it was really about vengeance? Should the U.S. military still be there? Share your thoughts with us below.

Last modified: May 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm