Have we forgotten why we are in Afghanistan? Why a free democracy goes to war is crucial to both freedom and democracy. This is not about ideology, a worldview or black-helicopter conspiracy theory. This is about the actual, precise and legal reason why we sent our military forces into Afghanistan - our justification for invading that country, and why we're still there spending our national treasure in lives and money.
On September 14, 2001, barely 72 hours after the Twin Towers fell, after the Pentagon was struck and the last terrorist controlled airplane smashed into the ground in Pennsylvania, the House and Senate approved a joint resolution. What that resolution said is important for us to remember, especially now - eight and a-half years later - with more than 100,000 US troops still in Afghanistan, and with major military operations underway right now, this very minute. People are dying there. Why?
That congressional resolution read as follows - "To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States." With these words, it passed the House by 420-1. In the Senate, the vote was 98-0. At most, this was a semi-declaration of war against al-Qaida, not the Taliban and not the country of Afghanistan. Remember, "...those responsible for the recent attacks..."
Congressional authorization in hand, six days later President George W. Bush addressed Congress. He made six specific demands of the Taliban régime in Kabul. They were -
1. Deliver to the United States authorities all of the leaders of al-Qaida who hide in your land.
2. Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens you have unjustly imprisoned.
3. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country. 4. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan.
5. And hand over every terrorist and every person and their support structure to appropriate authorities.
6. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.
Those were the exact words of President Bush who ended with this warning - "These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate."
In September 2001 our motives were clear and unmistakable. Who does not understand the right of self-defense? However, none of Bush's demands were met. On Sunday October 7, 2001 forces of the United States began offensive operations in the country of Afghanistan against the organization known as al-Qaida. Such was the authorization of our Congress. That's the way we do things in this free democracy.
The Founding Fathers - led by John Adams and influenced by James Harrington's 1656 essay "The Commonwealth Of Oceana" - asserted from the beginning that we were "a nation of laws, not men." In September 2001, in the wake of surprise attack, under difficult and trying circumstances, our Congress and President acted accordingly. The reasons for war were stated. A vote was taken. Our war of self-defense in Afghanistan had begun. We went after "those responsible for the recent attacks." Our president promised we were going to get them "dead or alive." We would, he said, "smoke them out of their holes." Americans were confident of success.
As time passed and our goals were unfulfilled the reasons for war changed. By June 2003, only twenty months after our Afghan invasion, George W. Bush was claiming Divine Intervention as his inspiration for war in Afghanistan and in Iraq as well. The BBC quotes Bush as telling Abu Mazen, then Palestinian Prime Minister and Nabil Shaath, Palestinian Foreign Minister - "I'm driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, 'George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan.' And I did, and then God would tell me, 'George go and end the tyranny in Iraq..." And I did."
Yes, that is really what President Bush said in front of multiple witnesses. For reasons, which remain unexplained to this day, there was no psychiatric intervention.
Not a word from Bush about his Blues Brothers-esque 'Mission from God' in a joint session of Congress, and there's no mention of God's directive in any congressional resolution or subsequent supplemental funding bill either. Yet the war in Afghanistan goes on and on and on.
George W. Bush is no longer in charge. If God is disappointed by his failures we do not know. We have a new President. Perhaps a more reasonable one? Sadly, not the case. When it comes to Afghanistan and al-Qaida, Barack Obama seems as removed from reality as was his predecessor. Here is Obama's official position in his own words - "The terrorists who attacked us and who continue to plot against us are resurgent in the hills between Afghanistan and Pakistan."
Equally as strange as Bush claiming to converse casually with God is Barack Obama's near-Clintonian creation of a new geography. It's as if this administration's War Room was designed by Tolkien or Lewis Carroll. There is no such place as "...between Afghanistan and Pakistan." One is either in one country or the other.
If, as the Obama administration has said, there are only "about 100" al-Qaida left in Afghanistan, why do we have more than 100,000 fighting forces there? Congress never said we were supposed to be at war with the Taliban. Neither Bush nor Obama asked Congress for authority to stay in Afghanistan to alter that culture to save Afghan women from Afghan men or to guarantee a barely credible, corruptly elected puppet government. We said we went there to get al-Qaida - "those responsible for the recent attacks." They aren't there anymore. Why are we?
Everyone - from Alexander through the Russians - who has ever invaded Afghanistan eventually left unsatisfied. If we can remember why we went there in the first place perhaps we'll ask the right question. Isn't it our turn now, to leave Afghanistan?