The Left was Right about the War on Afghanistan
In October of 2001, a stunning 90% of Americans supported Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan.
Two decades later, as Biden has finally ended America’s military occupation, we can tally the final cost of this disaster. The AP estimates ~150,000 casualties of the war, at least 1/3rd of which were civilians. They go on to estimate the war cost $2,000,000,000,000 (enough to give every American $6700) in cash, and another $6,500,000,000,000 in future interest payments.
It’s hard to imagine 90% of Americans agreeing on anything today — much less a war started by a far-right oil heir (President George W. Bush) who stole an election. (That same far-right President also enjoyed a 90% approval rating following 9/11).
Considering the utter unanimity with which America embarked on one of the costliest and most inhumane campaigns in recent history, it seems critical to ask who exactly opposed the invasion at the time, and what we can learn from them.
In short, the opposition to the war on Afghanistan was a movement of anti-war, anti-imperialist leftists. They marched with signs reading “destroy imperialism, not Afghanistan.” They chanted “no war.”
One protestor in New York City told CNN:
“When someone in the United States commits an atrocious crime as in an act of murder, we don’t go after their families or their community or their neighborhood,” one demonstrator said. “We go in and we arrest the individuals involved, and I think that’s what needs to be done here.”
Former President Bill Clinton predictably responded with a call for war:
“They can say what they want to say and do whatever they want to do because this is America,” Clinton said, referring to the protesters. “And the people who did this to America would not permit them the same right. If they lived in Afghanistan, or if the future of the world of the Middle East was what Mr. bin Laden wants it to be, they would not be able to speak their mind.”
20 years later, it is entirely unclear what, if any, freedoms the US won or protected with the $2 Trillion dollar and utterly inhumane occupation — and I can imagine the same protests happening today, even down to (a) Clinton’s response, and the way CNN described them:
“Most of the participants appeared in their 20s. Along the way, they elicited both positive and negative responses from observers.”
Today’s 20 year olds march for much the same reasons — against Trump’s escalation against Iran, against Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestinians, and of course for police abolition. Today we enjoy more than 10% support for these positions — but not much. Still 45% of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Cuba, 50% supported the illegal airstrike against Iranian general Soleimani, and the vast majority of Americans oppose defunding the police.
Being a leftist, therefore, can be a lonely and infuriating feeling.
Here we are, staring at the obvious and real harms of imperialism and policing, and yet it’s a major victory if even half of Americans agree with us.
I was not politically aware (at four years old) when Bush invaded Afghanistan, but I can viscerally imagine how it must have felt to be a leftist then — how it must have felt to be the only one in your class, church, or family who could see the obvious signs that the war would achieve nothing and cost everything — and yet be utterly unable to convince anyone of that truth.
If you are not a leftist, I would encourage you to ask yourself why it was only the far left who predicted the disaster the war on Afghanistan would become. If you were alive, what did you miss that we saw? If you weren’t, can you honestly say you would have opposed it?
Twenty years ago, 10% of Americans predicted the disaster the war in Afghanistan would become and stood against it. Today, we’re still here shouting to anyone that will listen about the need for Medicare for All, the disaster of capitalism, the necessity of a sudden and decidedly anti-capitalist response to the climate crisis, the need to end Israeli apartheid, policing, our racist prison system, the embargo on Cuba, and the ongoing US military occupations across the world. A week ago you might have called us quacks. Twenty years ago, you almost certainly would’ve called us unpatriotic.
But, perhaps today you will ask yourself two questions:
Why was the left right about Afghanistan? What else might they be right about today?