OPINION: How the Pentagon keeps the United States in endless wars

Three solders stand on a wall in front of a hazy mountain.
Carter Moyer HM ’24 argues that the Pentagon purposely keep the United States in wars. (Courtesy: Michael Watkins via flickr)

CW: Mentions of violence, death

The United States invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001, months before I was even born — now, I am old enough to serve in the U.S. military and perhaps die in Afghanistan. Presidents after presidents have said they will be the ones to end the United States’ longest war. President Biden is the latest to call for a complete withdrawal from the country, pushing back the date former President Trump set for a partial withdrawal by several months. 

But, just like with his predecessors, the Pentagon and members of both parties will fight tooth and nail to keep troops terrorizing the people of Afghanistan — from lying to the American people to stonewalling elected officials.

The Pentagon could have any number of motives driving their actions. It could be the deep ties the top brass has to defense contractors, be it as consultants or executives. It could also be that they do not want to admit that the military, the institution they have spent their lives serving, is the problem rather than the solution.

During the Obama administration, the Pentagon’s top generals rolled the militarily inexperienced commander-in-chief, boxing him in with surprise appearances on Sunday shows and leaks to the press. Even then-Vice President Joe Biden opposed increasing troops in south Afghanistan, warning Obama that the generals were trying to “jam” a new president and that a troop surge would not improve conditions on the ground. President Obama did it anyway, and it failed to improve conditions and slow the Taliban’s expansion.

Next, Trump yielded to the Pentagon’s request for extremely loose rules of engagement, costing hundreds of civilian lives. However, the administration recognized that if such brutal measures did not improve conditions for a U.S. withdrawal, nothing could. When that too failed, much to even my surprise, he laid the groundwork to pull the United States out

Yet, members of both parties have criticized and even undermined such efforts, placing restrictions along the way on the degree the president could order a withdrawal. 

The Pentagon dissented too. And, when Trump pulled troops out of Syria, he too faced a revolt from within the Pentagon and both parties.

Now, with Biden’s proposed withdrawal, Pentagon officials are rushing to the press, decrying that “women’s rights ‘will go back to the Stone Age’” if the Taliban are able to regain control of the country and impose a crackdown on women’s liberties such as access to education. 

Forgive my distrust; however, when the U.S. military sponsors child-killing death squads, turns a blind eye to allied, pedophile warlords, bombs a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders filled with patients as well as several weddings and kills hundreds of thousands of civilians — tens of thousands being children — I become extraordinarily skeptical that its primary concern is human rights.

Women’s rights are human rights, and we must work to defend them everywhere. But the Pentagon knows how to target a liberal audience, especially with Democrats in power. 

There are also elected officials such as Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., arguing that pulling troops out of Afghanistan will further embolden the Taliban, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., proclaiming it could lead to another 9/11. However, the occupation and atrocities committed by the U.S. military, in addition to broader U.S. imperialism, have likely caused more people to turn to the Taliban or terrorism (of course, their hawkish stances are completely unrelated to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from defense contractors).

Plus, the United States has spent close to $100 billion to build up the Afghan National Security Forces, yet they remain in shambles. “The Taliban now hold more ground in Afghanistan than at any point since” the U.S. invasion, and almost 3,600 coalition soldiers and more than 58,000 Afghan security forces have died. In order to actually safeguard women’s rights, the United States would have to spend much, much more and occupy the country for another decade or two with no guarantee of success.

That is exactly why President Biden’s acknowledgement that there will never be ideal conditions for a full withdrawal is so important. For almost two decades, the Pentagon has used the sticking point of a “conditions-based” withdrawal as a way to prevent any withdrawal. Therefore, until we are fully out of Afghanistan, it is crucial that we understand and fight this narrative.

The militaristic imperialism of the United States is, of course, not limited to our invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. President Biden continues to support Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen, has not lifted the Trump administration’s unjust sanctions on Iran following Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, and his secretary of defense, General Lloyd Austin, is using the trumped-up threat of China’s military as an excuse to push for one of the largest defense budgets in U.S. history. Plus, the Pentagon could still leave behind an army of clandestine mercenaries even if all U.S. soldiers are withdrawn.

Pulling out of Afghanistan, however, would still be a significant development in foreign policy. It would also be an admission that the United States’ long history of invading other countries — invasions which often were founded on lies — cannot continue. So long as we do not let our guard down and hold the president’s feet to the fire, we may finally end the United States’ longest war.

Carter Moyer HM ’24 is from Rye, New York. He believes that both U.S. militarism and economic sanctions have caused irreparable harm to people around the world and must come to an end.

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