Americans avoid attics. While attics are practical for burying nasty memories with cardboard boxes and scotch tape, nobody enjoys returning to the site of a burial. Several times a generation, our nation’s collective path rejoins with that of a precipitously made decision from the past. Begrudgingly, we revisit and reexamine what went into the decision-making. We consult these facts and make new, more informed decisions. With the Afghanistan war at a crossroad, now is the time to revisit the facts and circumstances that we considered and failed to consider when declaring war. It is in this era of political change that we are reconnected with that gloomy past that we wished to box up and hide. We take to our hands and knees, flashlight in mouth, and trudge through the darkness of our nation’s collective attic.
We crawl past books detailing the U.S., USSR, and Great Britain’s failed 20th century efforts at colonizing, westernizing and nation building in Afghanistan. They contain important lessons about the inevitably zealous estrangement between Western and Middle Eastern ideals. Heavy dust on these books indicates that they were not consulted before so-called “Operation Enduring Freedom” was declared in October 2001.
We open boxes whose faded labels tell us to do otherwise. The concealed books inside recount the U.S. funding of Osama bin Laden during Afghanistan’s war to oust the USSR in the 80s. They detail the U.S. funding of the Taliban after its withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, because a rigid Afghan government served American interests, ensuring that the World Bank would fund Western oil and gas pipelines that crisscrossed the nation.
We unearth stacks of yellowed newspapers. The bottom newspapers are horrific because they bear illustrations of al-Qaeda’s anti-American sentiment; a blown out hole in the USS Cole, a pile of rubble where a U.S. embassy once stood. The newspapers above are horrific because of what they do not bear: a thorough, tactical response from the Clinton administration for these attacks.
We have reencountered a history to which nationalistic fervor and nearsightedness have blinded us. The history tells us we sewed the seeds of our own destruction, supplying our eventual enemies with money and weapons in exchange for short-term gains. We ignored past failures of colonization in Afghanistan. We undermined the enemy’s threat when it became first apparent, letting them grow in size and strength. Most importantly, we ignored every single indication that the Afghanistan War would fail; the dust of 9/11 blinded us, and we have yet to fully recover. After 9/11, we briefly ventured to the attic in a search for answers but were distracted when we cast our light upon an ant-named al-Qaeda. Frightened by its large and scary shadow, we attacked the creature with a disproportionate amount of force. We strangled an entire region, ethnicity and religion while the tiny enemy slipped through our fingers.
President Obama will dig up these artifacts and demons. He’ll discover that it takes more courage to be the anti-war president than the anti-war candidate. Obama must have the audacity to cast light upon the artifacts, learning from history’s mistakes so that he does not repeat them, while taking care not to overreact to the cobwebs, spiders and ants.