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 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT