Skip to main content

Will my grandkids be fighting our 'forever war'?

By Will Bunch, Special to CNN
updated 5:32 PM EDT, Fri May 24, 2013
U.S. soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division practice medical evacuation skills at the Ghazni base on May 24
U.S. soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division practice medical evacuation skills at the Ghazni base on May 24
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Will Bunch: Reunions of troops with families great, but why are we still in Afghanistan?
  • Bunch: It made sense in 2001, but 12 years later, bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda in ruins
  • Bunch: Americans dying for little reason in a war that makes it riskier, not safer, at home
  • Pentagon estimates put us there till 2033, meaning Bunch's grandkids could go

Editor's note: Will Bunch is the author of "October 1, 2011: The Battle of the Brooklyn Bridge," Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future," as well as "The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama." He is senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily News, where he writes the Attytood blog.

(CNN) -- You might have seen the video last week. I'm talking about Lt. Col. Will Adams, away from his family for nearly two years while he served in Afghanistan, taking off a catcher's mask and surprising his 9-year-old daughter in a well-executed stunt as she threw out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays game.

When you watched third-grader Alayna Adams run to embrace the father who'd been away at war for so long, you might even have shed a tear.

The reunion was so heartwarming that you could easily forget that this 9-year-old girl had not even been born when President George W. Bush launched the military action in Afghanistan in 2001. Indeed, could anyone have imagined that U.S. troops would still be fighting and dying in that mountainous, isolated country 7,500 miles away a dozen years later?

Will Bunch
Will Bunch

Thank God that Lt. Col. Adams is home safely, but about 63,000 other American troops are still in country, and generals envision as many 8,000 to 12,000 troops still "over there" when -- or if -- the U.S. combat role winds down next year.

On the same day the Adams family was reunited in South Florida, two American soldiers and four U.S. contractors were among the dead when a bomb struck a military convoy in Kabul.

And yet I'd bet that the average American who wept watching the first-pitch video could not give a good answer when asked what fighting men like Adams or his killed comrades are doing in Afghanistan today. It all made sense in 2001, when the rubble of the World Trade Center was still smoldering, for Congress to pass the Authorization for the Use of Military Force act, which gave the White House the OK to wage the war. It seemed wise, certainly, to target Afghanistan, where an unfriendly Taliban government had harbored 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and allowed his al Qaeda minions to train there.

Inside a firefight with the Taliban
Bags of cash to Hamid Karzai?

Since then, the Taliban has been ousted, bin Laden has been killed, and al Qaeda shattered, with many of its top lieutenants killed or in American custody. Yet ongoing warfare in a nation beset by violence for decades continues to claim U.S. lives, and it's difficult to see how it improves the safety of citizens here at home.

The authorization for military force act has been invoked to justify drone strikes and other types of military action in places that no one could have predicted in 2001: places like Yemen and, increasingly, Africa. President Barack Obama, after earning what seemed to be anti-war bona fides by opposing the 2003 Iraq invasion, has driven this expansion.

Some critics are calling the fighting that began in 2001, branded as "the global war on terror," America's "forever war." I say some critics because frankly most Americans have stopped paying attention, which the White House and the Pentagon are probably counting on. Just hours before Lt. Col. Adams reconnected with his daughter last week, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, Michael Sheehan, went before a congressional hearing on the topic of that 2001 war authorization.

Yet few if any members of the Senate Armed Services Committee seemed eager to end the authorization act after 12 years; instead, senators such as Arizona's John McCain -- increasingly the pied piper of American military intervention -- spoke of expanding the measure, to make sure that new terrorist groups that formed after 2001 could be legally targeted by U.S. weapons. What Sheehan told the senators must have sounded like a Hallmark Channel ad for the romance of "the forever war."

The Pentagon official told Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, that the war against terrorism "is going to go on for quite a while, and, yes, beyond the second term of the president," adding a second later, "at least 10 to 20 years."

That's mind-numbing. The Pentagon believes that we could still be fighting the conflict that began on 9/11 in the year 2033. It's hard to even find the right analogy. Imagine if U.S. involvement in World War II that began at Pearl Harbor was still taking place in 1973, a long strange trip from the Andrews Sisters to Led Zeppelin. I'm the parent of a 20-year-old -- will I be telling my grandson someday not to worry, that the war should be over before he hits draft age?

The "forever war" might be defensible is it were making you, me and all other Americans safer. The cold reality is that the effect has been the opposite, that the increasing length and scope of the war puts us at greater risk.

The trillions of dollars in debt to pay for the war has left us in deeper hock to China and other foreign creditors. At home, or "the homeland" as it came to be called, the war has been used to justify a flurry of civil rights abuses, including warrantless wiretaps and monitoring of e-mails, harassing whistle-blowers and clamping down on press freedom.

Since 9/11, the all-too-human desire to avenge the attacks has trumped common sense. The ultimate goal, after all, is to stop any further attacks on Americans. But too many actions such as the abuses of waterboarding, and lack of trials for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and the flurry of drone strikes that have killed innocent civilians along with terrorists, have provoked rising anti-Americanism and possibly motivated newer attackers.

In other words, revoking the 2001 war authorization would save money and lives. It should be a no-brainer, but for some hard-to-explain reason it requires a courage that can't be found in either the White House or the halls of Congress.

Yes, it was joyous to watch a 9-year-old girl welcome her father home from Afghanistan. But the notion that her elementary school pals could someday fight in the same war should blow the American mind.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Will Bunch.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 9:02 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT