From beginning to end, the U.S. involvement in World War II — the biggest, bloodiest confrontation the world has ever seen, and hopefully ever will — lasted less than four years: 1,366 days, to be precise. A kid who was an eighth-grader when Pearl Harbor was bombed had an excellent chance of graduating high school without a chance to get into the fight.
As of today, meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan — assuming you date it from 9/11 — has been going on 4,451 days: Almost 13 years total. Which means the freshly minted private who has just joined the Army, possibly looking for a little action, was a kindergartener when the country was attacked. This generation’s war, it turns out, has taken the entire generation to fight.
Maybe that's too long.
I thought about that last week, when my colleague Maya K. Francis quoted my friend Tim Carmody, reacting to President Obama’s State of the Union speech:
Next time you want to drop some bullshit about millennials, remember that they've been doing most of the US fighting/dying the last 12 years
— Tim Carmody (@tcarmody) January 29, 2014
That’s right. Which means this: It’s time to give the Millennials a rest. It’s time to finally, and fully, end the war in Afghanistan. There’s no good reason to be there anymore.
Which isn’t to say there wasn’t a good reason to go to war in the first place. Al Qaeda attacked America on 9/11. Al Qaeda had camps in Afghanistan. The Taliban — which ruled Afghanistan at the time — refused to hand over the terrorists. So the United States rightly invaded with a guerilla force, knocked the regime over, killed a lot of terrorists, and saved Osama bin Laden for the next president to claim as a trophy.
Maybe the right thing to do, after that, would’ve been to come home. Perhaps leave a stern message behind: “Let it happen again, and we’ll be back!” But we learned the wrong lesson from the Soviet adventure in Afghanistan during the 1980s, believing we were attacked on 9/11, in part, because we had abandoned the country to the forces of chaos instead of taking the opportunity to build a fully functioning, modern state.
Thirteen years later, it can be said: Afghanistan will not become a fully functioning, modern state because the United States or any other power wants it to. It is the Greta Garbo of countries, better left alone.
If you need any confirmation of this view, consider the latest news out the country: President Hamid Karzai, who took office in the wake of the Taliban’s defeat in 2001, has been secretly negotiating a peace treaty with his old enemies. The United States has hoped to leave a small contingent of troops to train Afghan soldiers and fight remaining terrorists, but this news may end those hopes.
It should. It’s time to bring everybody home. Period.
Not everybody agrees. Dennis Prager wrote at National Review this week that the United States should fight until a clear victory has been achieved. “If America is not prepared to stay indefinitely — and to stay does not necessarily mean to continue fighting — in a country in which it fights, it should never engage in that war.”
That’s a standard of warfighting that only empires believe in: Total, forever commitment of troops and resources in a foreign land. When you fight in response to an attack, the standard should be A) to ward off further attacks and B) to bring those who attacked you to justice, if possible.
Afghanistan hasn’t been home to any attacks on American soil in 13 years. Osama bin Laden is dead. His confederates who planned 9/11 are dead or in custody. There is nothing else winnable in Afghanistan that is worth the cost of winning it.
So end the war. Completely. Leave behind a stern message that we can return if attacked again. Bring the Millennials home and let them, at long last, rest.
Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.