America’s Longest War Winds DownRoundup
tags: war on terror, Afghanistan, American Empire
“Ours is the cause of freedom.
We’ve defeated freedom’s enemies before, and we will defeat them again…
[W]e know our cause is just and our ultimate victory is assured…
My fellow Americans, let’s roll.”
— George W. Bush, November 8, 2001
In the immediate wake of 9/11, it fell to President George W. Bush to explain to his fellow citizens what had occurred and frame the nation’s response to that singular catastrophe. Bush fulfilled that duty by inaugurating the Global War on Terror, or GWOT. Both in terms of what was at stake and what the United States intended to do, the president explicitly compared that new conflict to the defining struggles of the twentieth century. However great the sacrifices and exertions that awaited, one thing was certain: the GWOT would ensure the triumph of freedom, as had World War II and the Cold War. It would also affirm American global primacy and the superiority of the American way of life.
The twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon now approaches. On September 11, 2021, Americans will mark the occasion with solemn remembrances, perhaps even setting aside, at least momentarily, the various trials that, in recent years, have beset the nation.
Twenty years to the minute after the first hijacked airliner slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, bells will toll. In the ensuing hours, officials will lay wreathes and make predictable speeches. Priests, rabbis, and imams will recite prayers. Columnists and TV commentators will pontificate. If only for a moment, the nation will come together.
It’s less likely that the occasion will prompt Americans to reflect on the sequence of military campaigns over the two decades that followed 9/11. This is unfortunate. Although barely noticed, those campaigns — the term GWOT long ago fell out of favor — give every sign of finally winding down, ending not with a promised victory but with something more like a shrug. On that score, the Afghanistan War serves as Exhibit A.
President Bush’s assurances of ultimate triumph now seem almost quaint — the equivalent of pretending that the American Century remains alive and well by waving a foam finger and chanting “We’re number one!” In Washington, the sleeping dog of military failure snoozes undisturbed. Senior field commanders long ago gave up on expectations of vanquishing the enemy.
While politicians ceaselessly proclaim their admiration for “the troops,” in a rare show of bipartisanship they steer clear of actually inquiring about what U.S. forces have achieved and at what cost. As for distracted and beleaguered ordinary Americans, they have more pressing things to worry about than distant wars that never panned out as promised.
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