Last Friday, an Afghanistan War veteran suffering from PTSD took hostages at a Northern California veterans home, ultimately killing three female employees and himself. And so, the senseless and endless US intervention in Afghanistan has claimed four more lives, right here at home.
These were not the first domestic casualties at the hands of traumatized veterans of America’s Middle East adventures, and, unfortunately, they probably won’t be the last. In 2013, an Iraqi War veteran killed Chris Kyle, subject of the film American Sniper, and a neighbor while they were trying to help him deal with this demons. In 2016, a an army reservist who had returned from Afghanistan complaining of PTSD, killed five Dallas police officers. And, last year, an Iraqi war veteran killed five and wounded six at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Florida. His family said he returned from the war zone “a different person”.
US forces have now been fighting in Afghanistan for 16 years. During most of that time US troops have been on the ground in Iraq, and they have also seen combat in Libya, Syria and Yemen. According to iCasualties.org, the US has suffered a total of 7940 casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 –three times the number of Americans that perished in 9/11.
But that total greatly understates the shocking carnage. About 3500 American military contractors have died in theatre, and tens of thousands of US soldiers have been wounded, often severely. Hostilities have also claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, we don’t know what level of violence would have occurred in the Middle East had the US stayed out. But it is worth emphasizing that al Qeada in Iraq and ISIS were the direct result of US intervention. These groups formed in the chaos arising from the war and grew by recruiting Sunnis driven out of the Iraqi Army by the decree of US pro-consul Paul Bremer.
Apologists for US intervention might argue that these were unintended consequences – the result of poor implementation of what was otherwise an enlightened regime change strategy. But this argument is fatally flawed: all large-scale coercive acts of government have unintended consequences, and the risk of these should be considered when the decision is taken. Just as President Obama and the Democratic Congress are responsible for disrupting health insurance markets by passing the Affordable Care Act, President Bush along with his neoconservative soothsayers and bipartisan Congressional enablers, must take the blame for the current mess in the Middle East and the collateral carnage that is now occurring here at home.
While Obama’s domestic policies left much to be desired, at least he drew down our combat presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now President Trump, despite his occasionally anti-interventionist campaign rhetoric is escalating US involvement once again. The justifications, such as not wanting to look weak and not wanting to “lose Afghanistan” on his watch, pale before the body bags that continue to trickle back from the front. And they will offer little comfort to the victims of traumatized veterans returning Stateside from this never-ending conflict.