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 (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.

  • stephen baron

    a simple answer is no. i tend to feel it was an ego trip by bush who, if i remember correctly, said he was, or wanted to be remembered as, a war president which is great when you dont have to actually take part as you let others die on your behalf. if drugs was the problem you could have simply got the message out that all crops would be destroyed by any means possible which i’m sure could have been done without setting a boot in the country. bush never even learnt a lesson from history how many countries have tried to subdue afghanistan and how many have succeeded?.

  • Adalbert

    The war in Afghanistan is a waste of our valuable resources. The country has no real strategic, economic or political value. The enemy is no longer in Afghanistan and the locals do not like us. We are the occupiers. The sooner we depart the better.

  • Gail Van Scyoc

    I absolutely agree with Ms. Bennis’s analysis and appreciate her pointing out the facts she does concerning “these people”. As she points out, “those guys”…i.e. the guilty criminals that committed the crimes of 9/11 are dead, and none had anything whatsoever to do with either Iraq or Afghanistan. Both wars were without justification and the longer we continue to act like the bully on the playground all over the world the less secure we will be in the world community. I was and am horrified by the Bush regime’s response to the events of 9/11 and was appalled by Obama’s remarks justifying this country’s warmongering in accepting his Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a peace prize. Please. I mean, let me get this straight. The United States, founded on religious freedom, needs to go to war on the far side of the world, in a nation(s) whose predominant culture embraces religious beliefs different from our own, some radically so, and we need to protect the one among those several nations that possesses nuclear weapons (as do we) from a handful of radicals who presumably ought be granted the same rights to assembly and free speech we enjoy…aren’t those the values we’re so zealously defending all over the world? It seems hypocrisy to me. We need to pack up our guns, bring our troops home and start tending to our own business. Why can’t we just let people live and deal with crimes, where you have legitimate jurisdiction, on a case by case basis?
    Let me see if I can draw an analogy here. Say a “troubled” young man leaves Berkeley, near Lawrence Livermore Lab, goes to the Middle East to “join the Taliban”, so the Fed declares martial law and starts raining bombs down on Oregon and Nevada. That’s about the kind of sense the war in Afghanistan makes to me. None.

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