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The Afghan Dilemma

“Most great nations, at the peak of their economic power, become arrogant and wage great world wars at great cost, wasting vast resources, taking on huge debt, and ultimately burning themselves out.”

The above quote from Kevin Phillips in “Wealth and Democracy” should serve as a dire warning to those that love this country of America and all that it stands for. As our government begins its preparation to conclude the war in Afghanistan, the question shifts from whether or not we executed a successful war strategy but whether or not we closed ranks and got out in time. I say that the time to get out of Afghanistan was yesterday, and in many ways, it may be a moot point, because the war is already lost. Let me explain: A key principle to Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” is that the battle should be won before the first shot is fired, requiring a thorough knowledge of oneself, and one’s enemy. The horrific attacks of 9/11 have already achieved the effect that Osama bin Laden intended for them to have. Bin Laden knew there was no possibility that he could defeat the mighty American army in head-to-head combat, but that was never his intent. In fact, he made his objective very clear. Since he could not wreck America militarily, he would wreck it economically, by agency of a never-ending war that we could ill afford to conduct. And so bin Laden went about his work, using a few thousand dollars to launch incredibly devastating attacks on three institutions of American power: financial, military, and political. The result was two trillion-dollar wars and domestic Keynesian spending deficits that have left America staring over the cliff of bankruptcy, turning his enemy’s apparent strength against itself.

Our tactics and strategies in Afghanistan and Iraq were akin to us playing checkers, while our enemies were playing chess. For example, although the 9/11 attacks could have been launched from any location in the world, bin Laden chose to establish his headquarters in the rough and rugged terrain of Afghanistan. This decision was no coincidence and was made with America in mind. As the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel cynically stated, "What experience and history teach us is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it." In essence, those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. Bin Laden knew that the attacks would lure America into the Afghan backlands, after him and his leadership command, and this was a key tenet that his plot hinged on. He knew that the Median and Persian Empires, Alexander the Great, the Seleucids, the Indo-Greeks, Turks, Genghis Khan and the Mongols, British, and Soviets, had all of met their demise in Afghanistan.

Every taunt of President George W. Bush and every message released to the American public was meant to keep us in the fight, ever longer, ever more expensive. It did not help that the Bush administration coined and cloaked the conflict and their subsequent global actions as, “the war on terror,” a maneuver that served bin Laden’s agenda well. The cultural cue that most Americans missed was that there is no such thing as a “war on terror.” The phrase “war on terror” is a convenient catch-all term that can cover everything and nothing at the same time. It is a metaphorical statement, but metaphorical statements can only result in metaphorical, not real, victories. This was how the Bush administration was able to keep us in a perpetual war, in the land where “empires go to die,” to the tune of billions a day. There was never a way that the country could ever sustain that kind of debt burden, especially with President Bush bearing the dubious distinction of being the only president in American history to enact a tax cut during a time of war. We have been seeing the effects of bin Laden’s schemes for some time now, as the deficit continues to soar, unemployment rises, people are uneasy, and we remain mired in the worst economic rut since the great depression. Every day that our troops are engaged in the war, we lose, because we are playing on bin Laden’s terms, on his turf.

President Barack H. Obama is a thinking man, and although he did not get us into the war, he has pledged to get us out. His administration does not look at the war through rose-colored glasses, and has acknowledged that a traditional victory in Afghanistan will not happen. My only plea to him is to accelerate the schedule, because the war has always been about money and goading America into spending itself into oblivion. As stated by Milton Bearden, former Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Pakistan, "The United States must proceed with caution—or end up on the ash heap of Afghan history."

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C. Frank Igwe is the Executive Director of the non-profit organization, City ACES (Athletes Changing Expectations).

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