September 11th, 2001… This is a day that shaped our modern world. Our outlooks on the world were altered drastically as the world looked on in abject horror realizing the quiet promise of a largely peaceful 21st Century was not to be realized.
We, the United States and many of our partner nations, have spent every moment since at war. The wars scaled up, scaled down, they flared, they changed, new enemies rose to replace the crushed ones of before, and old adversaries returned to power vacuums that they waited out while nursing their wounds.
Watching the Fall
I cannot account for every moment of 9/11, but I distinctly remember my father crying as I walked in the door from school. I didn’t know why, until I watched on the TV with him as the first tower went down… I cried too, I had never seen my dad that upset and it scared me in that moment.
5 years later…
I joined the war.
5 years and 8 days later I swore into service with the United States Marine Corps. I expected to join one of two ongoing and vicious fights that had been raging for years, and were far from over.
An inconsistent message… a changing set of goals… a vague mission with no end that needed to have one…
For six years I waited for my mission, for my turn. Everyone around me was a Iraq veteran, fresh out of Fallujah. So, I learned everything I could retain and felt like a kid among combat veterans. Then it became my team’s turn as I got put in charge of younger Marines. I felt inadequate to the task, but it was my task to complete and oversee, so I did and I awaited our turn.
Finally, Afghanistan loomed large before our company. We were to overtake a mission around Delaram. We worked up, filled billets, brought on a CO and XO slated for their slots with an infantry company, and began settling into our roles as we awaited more details of the mission.
The details came…
We weren’t going. Mission was “done” and everything was pulling back. The company wouldn’t end up deploying, to Afghanistan where the mission was, again, “done” until several years after I had left. One of my most junior Marines was leading a squad at that point, he was where I had been when Afghanistan had first been mentioned. Unlike the mission that we ramped up for those years earlier, theirs was simply to sit and be there.
Benghazi Libya, 2012.
This is where it feels like we started losing the war we had already won. The mission creep of GWOT, especially after the so called ‘Arab Spring’ and us not realizing we had screwed up nation building in a colossal way and we were paying for it. The reason Iraq is semi-functional now is because they were a functional nation state under Hussein.
Hussein was a bad guy, a lot of his top people were bad guys, but we wrecked the infrastructure of law and order under the asinine premiss that everyone with ‘Bath Party’ next to their Iraq.Gov ID was a problem. We made way more work for ourselves then we ever needed to there. We contributed to the civil unrest and outright faction wars that happened after by making that mistake.
Afghanistan was even worse because it can only be called a nation state in name. It is heavily regional and tribal, heavily divided, and the line drawn around it as a border makes no sense. Then we put inept folk in power that we had to prop up and a defense force that could never stand alone without US direct support.
Contrast this with the two nations we did successfully rebuild. Japan and Germany got rolled up in wars far more brutal and costly than the two we launched after 9/11. But those two were successful and united nations prior, and we elected to keep them intact afterward. We didn’t do that with Iraq and Afghanistan, we gutted them and tried to remake them.
It failed, especially in Afghanistan… the graveyard of empires.
We withdrew from Afghanistan, something that we desperately needed to do, in a manner so poorly that it highlights the inept and misguided leadership currently at our helm.
Gone are the days of General Mattis’ attitude, sole primary concerns were the cohesive lethality of our armed forces and their well being while in service. Now we have a force fractured over a flu shot. In times past the armed forces would have quietly said, ‘yes, to prepare for the combat and the other missions of the military we will be putting COVID vaccines into our medical panel. This is necessary for our mission.’ at that would be the end of the discussion. It would be the overblown deal it is currently, disagreements with vaccination would be handled quietly and professionally. COVID would never have been announced as the military’s ‘biggest problem’, nor would have ‘extremism’ in the ranks, or ‘inclusion’.
Those have been problems, they would be addressed, they may even have made mention external to the military, but the military would never have admitted anything other than the external threats to the United States were their primary focus. It would never have presented a image to the world of anything other than a ready fighting force able to descend upon an enemy like the Hammer of God.
Every other problem, no matter how much it needed addressing or was being addressed with the resources of the Department of Defense would be a much quieter note in their to-do list.
Today we have an image of weakness like we haven’t project since prior to the Spanish-American war. Certainly since victory in WWI.
We lost… We were not defeated.
That’s the strangest thing about this longest war. We weren’t defeated. We won the fights. We’re damn good at fighting. We lost because ‘winning’ never had a defined end state. It wasn’t ‘When we get Bin Laden’ or ‘The Total Annihilation of the current Al-Qaeda structure no matter where they hide.’
This would have been a very different war if we had told certain states to shove it, we are going hunting anyway. It wouldn’t have been diplomatic, but with the righteous rage of the United States at that moment who could have lodged more than token protests?
We lost because we just said, okay we’re done and went home in a way that looked shaky weak and deceptive… we didn’t even have the fortitude to stand up and declare, Afghanistan you are on your own guys because we’re out. Biden boldly promised that he didn’t believe and we had no indication that the Taliban would roll up the country… which was utter bullshit of course. They were our escort out. An ass-backwards neobarbarian culture that we kicked out was back in the seat of power.
It makes it feel like we were never there to many.
We’ve had young people die in this war who weren’t even born when it started. I joined when it was still the war of righteous anger and seeking retribution. Bin Laden died, Hussein died, the Arab Spring died too… and we should have been done. But we let political quagmire replace military pragmatism…
I don’t know where we go from here…