Wheels up

Twenty years fighting a war in Afghanistan, and what did we come away with?  The head of Osama bin Laden…and we threw that in the ocean.

The start of this war was clear cut.  America was attacked by Al Qaeda and we went to Afghanistan to get the people who were responsible.  Twenty years and four presidents ago.  It took almost ten years to finally kill bin Laden (Mission Accomplished!) but we did it.  And then…we didn’t come home.  We had pushed out the Taliban and installed a new government, and we tried to train the people to govern themselves and to defend themselves.  But the killing never stopped, the government never worked, and the Afghan army was a sad joke.  Twenty years later the Taliban is back in charge, and look what we’ve left behind in weapons they now control, even after all the deaths we’ve sustained and the trillions of dollars we spent.

“Tonight’s withdrawal signifies both the end of the military component of the evacuation, but also the end of the nearly 20-year mission that began in Afghanistan shortly after Sept. 11, 2001,” said Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the head of the military’s Central Command. “No words from me could possibly capture the full measure of sacrifices and accomplishments of those who served.”

More than 2,400 U.S. military personnel and nearly 50,000 Afghan civilians died in the 20-year war, in addition to tens of thousands of casualties among U.S. contractors, the Afghan military and national police, insurgents and others, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

The U.S. military succeeded in evacuating more than 120,000 people from Afghanistan in recent weeks, American citizens and others who feared staying under Taliban rule.  Quite an achievement, really; unfortunately, there are another few hundred they couldn’t get out before the deadline.  Let’s wish them all luck in finally escaping.

I’ve got no issue with why we went to war in Afghanistan, nor with the decision to end the war despite the messy nature of things.  I give President Biden credit for closing this down, despite the complaints.

He is under heavy criticism, particularly from Republicans, for his handling of the evacuation. But he said it was inevitable that the final departure from two decades of war, first negotiated with the Taliban for May 1 by former President Donald Trump, would have been difficult with likely violence, no matter when it was planned and conducted.

“To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask, ‘What is the vital national interest?’” Biden said. He added, “I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan.”

If only our government had learned that lesson ten years ago, after we made good on the real reason we went there in the first place.

“A vote of conscience”

Congratulations to the New York legislature for legalizing gay marriage in the state, for doing it with support from Democrats and Republicans, for stepping forward and changing the law to protect the civil rights of all New York citizens.  I read that the passage of the New York law is being credited to a couple of senators, one of whom voted against a similar proposal two years ago, both of whom cited the same reason for their vote this time: conscience.  “It was the right thing to do” is a powerful weapon.

I’m happy to see that people are coming around.  Yes, much more slowly than you might like, but big changes don’t happen overnight.  Now you’ve got the lawmakers in New York, the third-most populous state in the nation, accepting that gay marriage is a question of civil rights, one that can’t be pushed aside any more.

The objections still come predominantly from a religious point of view, and I get that.  These people want the civil law to enforce their religious beliefs on everyone, but that’s not the way it works in this exceptional country.  For the sake of the discussion, let’s accept the premise that the United States was founded on Christian principles; that still doesn’t make the United States a “Christian nation,” despite the fact that more Americans identify as Christians than as members of any other religion.   The Founding Fathers—not all devout Christians in the modern sense, not by any means—believed in everyone having the freedom to worship as they choose to, and in a government that does not show preference for any one religion over another (my translation of the establishment clause).  Legislators pass laws to protect the rights of all Americans, not just the ones who practice the majority religion.

You don’t believe in gay marriage?  OK, that’s your right.  Your church doesn’t believe in gay marriage?  Don’t perform any; no one’s forcing you.  What New York and other states have done is make it legal for two people of the same sex to take out a marriage license under civil law and enjoy the rights and responsibilities that come with being married.  They don’t need the approval of any religious group, they’re married in the eyes of the law.  From a legal point of view, I don’t see the substantive difference between a heterosexual couple who get married in a civil ceremony and a homosexual couple who get married in a civil ceremony—none of them have the approval of any church, nor do they need it.  More power to ’em all.