The War in Afghanistan has virtually disappeared from the discourse of the presidential candidates for three reasons: 1) The death of Osama Bin Laden; 2) Low approval ratings for the war; and 3) The economy. The first two explanations logically contribute to the war’s waning relevancy to the American public, while the latter should warrant greater discussion, as military expenditures are relevant when analyzing economic health.
Osama bin Laden’s death was a symbolic victory in the War on Terror for the United States and coalition forces. To the American public, Bin Laden represented the enemy and the reason for entering Afghanistan after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2011. Following Bin Laden’s death on May 11, 2011, President Obama stated, “Justice has been done.” A Survey USA poll conducted in the immediate aftermath of Bin Laden's showed that a plurality of Americans believed the war “has been worth fighting.”
This support, however, was short-lived as a CBS News/ New York Times poll taken in March showed that 69% of Americans believe that the United States "should not be involved” in the war in Afghanistan. The same poll showed that 55% of Americans do not “have a clear idea of what the U.S. is fighting for in Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden is dead.” Likewise, many Americans believe that the war in Afghanistan is no longer a salient issue as the enemy was eliminated, and that there is no longer a clear objective.
The economy is also overshadowing the war. With 74% of likely U.S voters rating the economy as “very important” to how they will vote in the next election, Afghanistan is clearly not a pressing matter. For all the aforementioned reasons, it makes sense why, politically, Obama and Romney are shying away from speaking about this war.
The fallacy here is that the war in Afghanistan is not pertinent to our economic discourse. In an era where budget discussions are the source of congressional gridlock, the war has cost the U.S over $400 billion during the last 11 years. With green-on-blue attacks (now officially known as "insider attacks") increasing, and a shift in NATO policy which mandates that soldiers now must carry loaded magazines in their guns, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta stated “Make no mistake about it, I’ve been very concerned about these incidents … because of the lives lost and because of the potential damage to our partnership efforts.” Likewise, these concerns merit a public dialogue. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) have taken initiative in Congress to examine these developments. Their calls for a reevaluation are necessary to justify the costs and clarify the aims when deliberating the future of the war.
With such an expensive and drawn out conflict, it is important for the war to be discussed on the campaign trail as a part of the overall economic status and long-term debt projections of the United States. President Obama and Mitt Romney need to address this issue directly and give the American people a sense of direction regarding the war. Whether we should expect an accelerated departure, the scheduled timetable withdrawal in 2014, or extending the war until the Afghan security forces show they can maintain stability in their state, the two candidates need to articulate their stances and engage in a productive public conversation on the issue. They owe it to the voting populace to provide leadership on the war and show they truly understand its long-term economic and diplomatic implications.
Let us not forget that one of the president’s primary responsibilities is being commander in chief. Accordingly, our largest military commitment should not be forgotten in 2012.