There have been occasions during the history of our Republic where a traumatized Congress has, under the gravity and stress of a calamity, made a hasty decision without sustained debate or thoughtful consideration of its consequences. One of those occurred just three days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
Over the singular objection of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the only member to vote against it in either chamber, Congress passed a joint resolution --- the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). This joint resolution differed markedly from the formal Declarations of War that were issued in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor.
During World War II, there were specific nation-state enemies and an attainable, concrete goal --- the defeat of the Axis powers. Congress did not authorize and Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman did not embark upon a fool's errand --- the permanent elimination of any and all future threats to our republic created by the very existence of Nazi and fascist ideologies.
The 2001 AUMF, however, was not confined to specified nation-state enemies. Congress authorized the President to use military force against "nations, organizations or persons" as part of an impossible task: the prevention of any and all "future attacks of terrorism against the United States."
As astutely observed by Retired U.S. Army General William Odom in 2002...
Predictably, we now find ourselves mired in America’s longest war --- a 16-years-long folly in Afghanistan, aka the "graveyard of empires". It is a war that has drained an estimated $2 trillion from the U.S. Treasury and taken the lives of nearly 2,400 American military service personnel. Civilians account for a significant percentage of the more than 91,000 Afghan deaths --- a conservative body count that, according to a Physicians for Social Responsibility study, is a major driver in the creation of new generations of terrorists.
Matters are deteriorating. During the first six months of the Trump Administration, Afghan civilians died at a record rate, while successive administrations have treated the 2001 AUMF as a "blank check" (just as Rep. Lee warned in 2001) to wage war anywhere and everywhere that ISIS, al Qaeda and their "evil ideologies" can be found --- an expansion that has extracted an estimated $4.79 trillion from our national treasury as of last September, not to mention the deaths of more than 6,800 U.S. military and 6,900 private contractors.
In short, the 2001 AUMF, as interpreted by three successive administrations, provides the executive branch with unlimited executive authority to wage an endless war for an unattainable result: the permanent elimination of extremist ideologies held by radicals who have co-opted Islam, and the threat of terrorism posed by the existence of those ideologies.
On August 19, CNBC reported that President Donald Trump sees the development of Afghanistan’s $3 trillion in natural resources as a possible stake to be exploited.
If we were to remain for that purpose, the war in Afghanistan will be converted into an exercise in naked imperialism that would primarily benefit those members of the billionaire class who occupy the pinnacle of the extraction industries and the military-industrial complex.
Our continued presence in Afghanistan does not serve the interests of U.S. service personnel placed in harm's way or the interests of U.S. taxpayers, who are currently hemorrhaging $3.9 billion per month on this endless war while 11.3% of our citizens can't afford health insurance. Many more Americans die each year for lack of healthcare coverage than the numbers who died during the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks combined.
Two days after CNBC broadcast its report about $3 trillion in Afghan natural resources, the same President, who couldn't find the time to learn the details of the ill-conceived healthcare legislation he championed, stepped up to a Teleprompter and assured this nation that he'd "studied Afghanistan in great detail and from every angle."
The President insists we must remain mired within the Afghan, opium-tainted quagmire until undefined "conditions on the ground" permit us to leave.
"Someday, after an effective military effort," our oft-dissembling President surmised, "perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement." Trump refused to provide a timetable or even an estimate of the number of troops needed to accomplish this speculative "possibility." He offered no details on the means by which we could end the war and eliminate what he described as terrorist organizations (ISIS and al Qaeda) and the "false allure" of their "evil ideologies", except to say, "We are killing terrorists."
It is pure fantasy to suggest that a simplistic "strategy" of killing terrorists will put an end to what the President describes as "radical Islam" and the "allure" of its "evil ideologies".
Bombs and bullets cannot destroy an "evil ideology." If they could, the "false allure" of Nazism would have died with the destruction of the Third Reich. Instead we witnessed the resurgence of that evil ideology in Charlottesville.
Ironically, while the same U.S. government has squandered nearly $5 trillion fighting so-called "Islamic terrorism" overseas, little has been done to combat the greater threat of domestic right-wing terror. Since 9/11, right-wing extremists have, on average, carried out 300 domestic terrorist attacks per year. By contrast, there have been only ten (10) domestic Islamic terrorist attacks since 9/11 --- most by U.S. residents who became radicalized followers of Islam.
Congress must end the madness. Rescind the 2001 AUMF and defund further use of force in Afghanistan.
Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing