The proverbial ink had barely dried on the Washington Post’s “Afghanistan Papers” before members of Congress took to the House floor to overwhelmingly approve a military policy bill designed to, at least for now, keep the endless war endless. What gives?
Thousands of documents had just been revealed, peeling back the layers of a coordinated web of deceit and disaster at the highest levels of our government, resulting in unspeakable cost in lives and dollars. All while the current commander-in-chief faces looming impeachment proceedings. It should have been a recipe for pushback of epic proportions. Instead, the House of Representatives marched forward with business as usual. In fact, in the process of passing this hefty boost in war funding, barely a word was spoken on the congressional floor of the actual war being funded.
It’s all an unacceptable failure, and should prompt hard reflection in us all. While it’s tempting to focus our ire on the elected representatives who so thoroughly got this one wrong — and, to be clear, we should hold them accountable — the truth is more complicated. The reality is that this is my fault. It’s your fault, too. We all share the blame.
Maybe it’s because people still think it was justified because of the September 11 attacks. Maybe it’s because voters are more afraid of the unknown than they are of the dismal status quo. Maybe it’s just easier not to think about it.
It’s really pretty simple: Members of Congress want to get re-elected. That’s not a smear on them, that’s just how democracy works. They are supposed to fear losing their jobs, and we are supposed to make very clear what it will take for them to keep their jobs. So then, the fact that they just comfortably voted to pour more money, unaccompanied by any meaningful reforms, into a proven failure of a war hours after such explosive revelations? That tells us a lot about ourselves as voters. Unless Members of Congress think it is more politically toxic to continue the status quo than to change course, they will keep doing what they’ve always done.
To be sure, there are a number of factors at play here. Corporate greed and war profiteering, combined with a broken campaign finance system, ensure that moneyed interests keep their seat at the negotiating table. Additionally, in a divided Congress, massive defense authorization bills have become political must-pass vehicles which every legislator seeks to leverage for policy concessions. And, of course, the complex politics of impeachment hang over the heads of electeds seeking to demonstrate they can “walk and chew gum” by sealing legislative deals at the same time they seek to hold the president accountable.
But that isn’t the whole story. It’s a well-documented phenomenon throughout history that newly-launched wars tend to improve politicians’ approval ratings and bring together a divided public. Further, when there’s an international crisis or a moment of fear, the overwhelming desire to “do something” is quickly and easily satiated with a rush to war. Put more simply, voters like wars.
The consequence, of course, is that long after the good feelings (and public attention) have faded, more people will continue to die unjustly. More money will be wasted. More kids who were born after the war started will be sent to risk their lives. And for what? The Afghanistan Papers confirmed in grotesque detail what we all already knew — there’s no winning here. Not for us, and not for the people of Afghanistan. There’s only loss, in so many different ways. So it’s time for the public to rally again and put a stop to this dark chapter of American history.
We’ve seen it happen in the recent past. There’s now a clear public consensus that the Iraq war was an indefensible mistake, and Republicans and Democrats who voted for it continue to suffer political consequences. It’s actually pretty strange that that same consensus hasn’t yet trickled into the still-raging, still-disastrous war in Afghanistan. Maybe it’s because people still think it was justified because of the September 11 attacks. Maybe it’s because voters are more afraid of the unknown than they are of the dismal status quo. Maybe it’s just easier not to think about it.
But that’s not good enough, and it’s on all of us to insist on a change. It’s not too late. If you haven’t yet, read the Afghanistan Papers. Then, get mad. Get endlessly, deeply mad. Tell your representatives you’re mad. Make sure candidates know you are mad, and that you expect them to have a plan to end this catastrophe. Let the shame of the past two decades, and the destruction happening in your name, motivate you to build a different future.
Cable news would have us believe that we’re far too politically polarized to come together anymore. Yet somehow, electeds of all political stripes just came together to boost the endless war. I think we as voters can — in fact, we must — at last come together to end it.