By Wyatt Bush
Last week marked two important anniversaries of global significance.
On Oct. 7, 2001, the United States launched its initial military operations in Afghanistan. And I celebrated my seventh year of life on the planet.
It’s a day that continues to have a huge impact on my life.
Reflecting on my most recent birthday, it is difficult to recollect when the United States was not at war. After all, most of my political thoughts during the initial invasion period were more or less limited to liking President George W. Bush because we had the same last name, and that was cool.
At the time, I pretty much spent most of my days running around, playing “Backyard Baseball 2001,” simulating glorious battles with plastic army men and watching hockey.
What did I know?
Since, life has changed a great deal for me. I spend most of my far more limited free time walking everywhere, playing “Football Manager 2014,” simulating glorious battles in Dungeons & Dragons and watching soccer, football and hockey. Yep, things have changed a great deal.
So, what do I know now?
I think one of the most important lessons I have learned in my life is one of deontological humility. It is impossible to know everything. In fact, it’s quite difficult to know much of anything. As economists point out, it is impossible to know how something as simple as a single pencil is created.
When I was a child, I hated to hear this. I genuinely believed that I could learn everything if I was determined enough. Thankfully, as I became an adult, I frustratingly learned that this was not possible.
Watching the World Trade Center terror attacks live from my second grade classroom television was an event that will never leave me. Even as a kid, I understood what I was watching was horrible history in the making.
Following the tragedy, Americans, I would argue rightfully, demanded retribution against those responsible. Soon afterwards, it was my birthday, and voila, a nation was at war and American boots were on the ground.
Bringing the masterminds of the 9/11 massacre to justice is an act I, and virtually everyone, has no qualms with. The continuing, underlying problem with the war in Afghanistan is the same issue that the 7-year-old version me failed to grasp: It is impossible to understand everything.
The war against al Qaeda soon plunged into a war against the Taliban. Then, the war against the Taliban quickly delved into an American attempt at nation-building a democratic state for the predominately Muslim people it knows little about. As recently as 2006, 88 percent of Americans were unable to do so much as find Afghanistan on a map. The disconnect from the ignorance at home and the realities of abroad could not be more apparent.
In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would cost Americans $2.4 trillion by 2017, in addition to the thousands of lives lost.
Yet what is there to show for these efforts? In Iraq, the region is going to hell in a handbasket thanks to ISIS, armed with weapons provided by the U.S. to “moderate” Syrian and Saudi Arabian rebels, undoing whatever good the actions of the U.S. brought the area. In Afghanistan, former President Hamid Karzai recently told the U.S. to shove off and denounced American goals in his farewell speech.
Meanwhile, the Afghani government, with its billions of dollars and years of support from the U.S., is ranked by many organizations as one of the most corrupt in the world. Installing a regime marginally less corrupt than North Korea’s is hardly something one can be proud of. A quick glance at the Middle East quite simply shows that Americans do not know what is best for the region. However, this has not stopped us from repeatedly trying to force its hand.
The CIA refers to unintended consequences of a covert action as “blowback.” It stems from making the childlike error of extreme hubris, the belief in knowing everything.
When the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart funded training grounds for militant Afghani freedom fighters to fend of the Soviet Union, it was blowback when elements of these same fighters would go on to become the Taliban and make ties with Al Qaeda.
Before that, it was blowback when the CIA’s orchestrated coup d’état against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh eventually lead to the radicalization and religious fundamentalism imposed on the nation following its 1979 revolution.
Before that, it was blowback when largely western European colonial imperialists decided to arbitrarily divide the Middle East into territories with no respect or input from the peoples of the division, resulting in a “shockingly” unstable region compared to the remainder of the world.
Keeping the lessons of 7-year-old me in mind, it is important to understand that Americans simply cannot truly even begin to understand the situation in the Middle East.
What we do know is that a large part of the chaos in the Middle East is due to our constant meddling and hubris. Regardless of what is to come in the region, it is only proper to allow its inhabitants to determine their fates themselves. Aside from standing back and trying to provide humanitarian aid, anything else we do can easily spur the ISIS of tomorrow.
And the last thing I want to do is celebrate the bombings of two wars on my birthday.