The war in Afghanistan is over. It was an illegal war, and it is a very good thing that it is over. In fact, it is one of the first things that Joe Biden has done that made me genuinely proud to have voted for Joe Biden. Has our withdrawal from Afghanistan been graceful? No. But we had to leave the region.
When World War II ended, there were celebrations in the streets. There was music, dancing, a now-famous non-consensual kiss in Times Square, but most of all, people were generally happy. The ending of the war in Afghanistan almost feels like the opposite—a small fizzled-out reaction seemingly carried by people either directly involved in the war or are invested in politics. And part of the reason that I think that the war in Afghanistan was so dangerous is that so many people simply did not care.
The war in Afghanistan was an illegal invasion. The United States violated the UN Charter and by proxy their own federal laws. In accordance with the UN Charter, the only reasons that a country can invade another country in the UN is either in self-defense against the country you’re invading’s government or with approval of the UN Security Council. The government of Afghanistan, the Taliban at the time, is not who attacked us on September 11 al Qaeda, a rogue terrorist organization, did. We did not even seek the approval of the UN Security Council. Regardless of your thoughts on the necessity of our invasion, it was still, at least according to the UN Charter which the United States has ratified, illegal.
There is a huge argument against this, and it was the Bush administration’s argument: we had to get back at the attackers. I consider myself relatively anti-war, but I do believe that the Bush administration’s argument is not only valid but was necessary. To suggest that there should have been zero military reaction is living in a fantasy. Sometimes, unfortunately, violence is necessary.
But that entire argument falls apart almost immediately when looking at how the Bush administration handled the invasion. Instead of going through proper clearances and formulating a strong, long-term plan, the Bush administration plunged us into what ended up being an almost 20-year-long conflict that cost taxpayers over $2 trillion, resulting in the deaths of over 170,000 people. According to data from the UN, 47,000 of those killed were Afghan citizens. The notion that the United States Military was the objective good guys in a war that resulted in the deaths of 47,000 civilians would be laughable if it weren’t so harrowing.
Ultimately, getting back to my initial point. The scariest thing about this war is not the widespread destruction and senseless loss of life, it’s how America reacted to it. Not with concern, not with empathy, but with feigning interest and widespread apathy. Most people could not even tell you why the United States was in Afghanistan to begin with, aside from a vague acknowledgment of 9/11. Most people don’t even know that the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan actually began in the 1980s with a covert C.I.A. operation to arm the mujahideen, anti-Soviet soldiers, the very same soldiers who would go on to become the Taliban, the very people who we ended up fighting when we invaded Afghanistan, and that one of those mujahideen soldiers was literally Osama Bin Laden. I want to put an exclamation point there to emphasize how absolutely insane it is that we are literally responsible for the arming of every single one of our enemies in this situation, but I worry that that might be unprofessional.
Instead, I will simply end with this: if you don’t know much about the start of the war in Afghanistan, don’t blame yourself. Most people my age were barely alive at the start of the war, and a lack of understanding isn’t an indictment of anyone. But the point still stands: the war was illegal, and President Biden’s decision to pull us out of the region is the right call.