Progressives seek to examine war mistakes

Progressive leaders are calling on members of Congress to expand the scope of investigations into the war in Afghanistan and to speak out in defense of President Joe Biden’s international agenda, which puts a premium on stopping overseas combat even when politically inconvenient.

As the war in Afghanistan approached its 10th anniversary, a pair of reports revealed how the Pentagon squandered tens of billions of dollars while value of no-bid contracts tripled in size since 9/11, to $140 billion. The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting concluded that between $31 billion and $60 billion spent on projects in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 10 years has been lost to waste and fraud.

Then, things got even worse.

It took the Taliban 11 days to sweep across Afghanistan and expel the U.S.-backed government from Kabul. The displacement happened 7,216 days—nearly 20 years—after the United States and its Afghan allies ousted the Taliban.

After operations erupted into a disorderly scene in Kabul in recent weeks, culminating in the suicide bombings that claimed the lives of 13 US troops involved with the evacuation, President Joe Biden’s handling of the withdrawal attracted sharp criticism from Republicans, some Democrats and foreign allies, his job approval ratings have cratered as critics raised questions about his judgment despite the impossible situation he ended.

Biden defiantly rejected criticism of his decision to stick to a deadline to pull out of Afghanistan this week, a move that left up to 200 Americans in the country along with thousands of U.S.-aligned Afghan citizens.

In a televised address, Biden offered a sweeping defense of his handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, saying he inherited an unstable situation from his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, and that the 20-year war “should have ended long ago.”

While many expressed renewed frustration that the United States was involved in Afghanistan to begin with, reports of evacuation foul ups and the tragic killing of 13 American troops by ISIS militants inflated to hostile sentiments.

Among progressives, many view the entire war as a wasteful act.

“Ending wars is good actually,” tweeted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who is viewed as a crusader against hawkish military intervention.

“We never should have begun America’s longest war in the first place — a war of endless suffering and needless death,” added Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). “A top priority right now must be raising the refugee cap and assisting as many Afghans as possible with resettlement. My office stands ready to help.”

“Afghanistan is known as the graveyard of empires for a reason,” said Cullen Tiernan, a Marine Corps veteran and former campaign aide to former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who ran on a presidential platform of ending foreign wars. “We have been there for 20 years, investing our lives, treasure and future into a corrupt Afghan government that clearly did not have the confidence or support of the Afghan people.”

The letter comes in response to reports that these committees intend to focus their oversight exclusively on the recent withdrawal, and do not plan to investigate the significant issues that plagued America’s 20-year war effort in Afghanistan.

“The veterans and military families of Common Defense applaud President Biden for ending America’s longest war,” said Naveed Shah, a government affairs associate. “While the evacuation was messy, the road leading to the desperate, tragic situation at Hamid Karzai International Airport is 20 years long. Any investigations must take into account the two decades worth of corruption, lies, and incompetence. If we fail to learn from it, history will repeat itself.”

“Like with any military operation, there should be a thorough after-action review of how the evacuation from Kabul was conducted and there should be accountability for any legitimate failures during the execution or planning of this mission,” said Dan Caldwell, senior adviser at Concerned Veterans for America. “But this review should not be confined to just this last phase of the conflict. The American people deserve and demand accountability for the whole 20 years of America’s war in Afghanistan, not just the last 20 days.”

“Congress shouldn’t pretend the primary problem with the war in Afghanistan was how it ended, as opposed to how we failed for so long to remove all U.S. forces. Examine the mistakes made in exiting, but do not forget that there is no good way to exit a failed war,” said Defense Priorities Policy Director Benjamin H. Friedman. “That means investigating the years of lies and exaggerations about the progress of nation building in Afghanistan, especially those concerning the morale and capability of the Afghan security forces, and whether the failure to anticipate their rapid collapse resulted from believing this propaganda.

“Our military families deserve maximal transparency and accountability for the decisions that led us to today,” said Sarah Streyder, executive director of Secure Families Initiative. “Not only should that include implementation of the withdrawal, but also the policies that perpetuated two decades of suffering and loss in our community. Any investigation that does not account for that broader context will fall short.”

“There is ample evidence that factual reporting from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction was routinely ignored, and American political and military leaders were aware that optimistic projections about conditions in Afghanistan were a lie because the war was unwinnable,” said New Jersey Democrat Lisa McCormick. “The United States must learn from this experience if we are to develop a more sustainable way to defend vital national interests, pursue common human goals through engagement with both partners or adversaries, and be the responsible leader that the world needs.”

“Endless wars must be replaced by a policy rooted in diplomatic and economic engagement with everyone else and recognizes that the United States must pursue its interests and worldwide justice through means that are within our ability,” said McCormick. “Our wealth and power should inspire cooperation, lead collaboration and set the terms for peace and justice.”

“Focusing Congress’ considerable investigatory resources on the withdrawal alone is a dangerous mistake,” said Adam Weinstein, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute. “The American people deserve a full accounting of the 20 years of lies and bad policies—advanced by American leaders—that sustained our failed nation-building exercise and set the conditions for a chaotic withdrawal; if Congress does not interrogate the root causes of the failures in our policy toward Afghanistan, we are doomed to repeat them.”

coalition of national organizations sent a letter to the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees urging them to “examine the deeper issues that plagued the whole 20 years of America’s war effort and which were at the heart of the rapid collapse of the U.S.-supported government in Afghanistan.”

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