For years after September 11, 2001, it was common to see “Never Forget 9/11” bumper stickers stuck to cars across the United States. Americans banded together and shared a strong sense of common humanity, driven in part by a shared sense of vulnerability and anguish.
By October of 2001, our nation had struck back against the al-Qaida terrorists who launched the attack in their home base of Afghanistan, disrupted their operations and killed many of them. Times were turbulent, unsettling – and we were apprehensive about the next shoe that might drop. Nevertheless, there was momentum toward eradicating an immediate threat. Over and over again, political leaders, opinion makers and Americans of all backgrounds pledged that we would never forget what we experienced on 9/11, or the lessons that we had learned from the experience.
If you are old enough to clearly remember this period of our history, what would you have thought in 2001, had you been able to see twenty years into America’s future? To see America’s longest war, largely fought without a clear strategic objective, and the shameful withdrawal, designed and implemented by the hapless Biden administration, that just transpired?
Can you imagine how jarring it would be for an American living in the weeks following the 9/11 attack to see how law enforcement officers have been treated by much of American society over the past year and a half? Law enforcement professionals are now ambushed and hunted across America while politicians simultaneously push to defund their departments. What a far cry from the creation of the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor, which was awarded to the 442 public safety officers who were killed on duty on 9/11.
How would that same American, circa 2001, view the 2015 Iran deal that Joe Biden and Secretary of State Tony Blinken helped to shape as part of the Obama administration? Biden and Blinken desperately want to return to that deal, which unlocked access to over $100 billion for the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.
Does anyone honestly believe that Biden, Blinken, et al. – who so badly mangled the exit from Afghanistan – are actually correct in their desire to give a terrorist regime, hated by its own people, access to resources and time to build a nuclear weapon?
While many millions of Americans clearly and emotionally remember what happened on 9/11 – the innocent life lost and the damage that was done to our society – many in both the American political class and opinion maker crowd have long since forgotten. If they remembered, we would not have fought a war for 2 decades in Afghanistan, during which our strategic objective was not at all clear to those who fought or to the American people.
Instead of setting a clear strategic objective, the U.S. spent nearly $134 billion in an attempt to win hearts and minds; of that, at least $20 billion ended up being stolen, wasted, or abused. Some of that money was assuredly used against troops on the ground (in addition to the resources spent by the Iranian regime to kill Americans). And as we saw over the past several weeks, we failed to win enough hearts and minds to justify the spend.
I fought in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009, leading a Counter-IED team in Kandahar Province. I lost family in Afghanistan. I lost friends in Afghanistan. I do not need anyone to tell me – for the benefit of my mental health – that the effort was worth it. On a day-to-day basis, I worked to ensure that the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen that I led had crystal clear missions and plans to return home after mission completion. That said, I could not then and cannot now define the actual, winnable, strategic objective of the war in Afghanistan. And that is a problem.
The lesson of 9/11 was that internationally-sponsored terror can land on our doorstep in a heartbeat. We must be eternally vigilant in order to secure the safety of our republic and deny sworn enemies access to the ground, time and resources that allowed them to attack us. Above all, we need serious people leading our nation and protecting our society.
Yet, instead of focusing like a laser on the need to arm and train local Afghans so that they could defend their own compounds and regions and thereby neutralize the Taliban, al-Qaida and ISIS on a localized basis – which was a realistic goal – we tried to create a centralized, westernized republic out of a largely Stone Age society. This attempt to form a westernized government and a national army failed because it was built on a foundation that did not exist. Put simply, the people of Afghanistan largely do not believe in the existence of the nation state of Afghanistan.
In a dose of irony that is hard to stomach, Joe Biden’s incompetence has now completed the return of Afghanistan to terrorists, along with assorted American military vehicles and gear, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11. While our purported leaders promised they would never forget 9/11, for all intents and purposes they have. Beyond that, it appears they never learned the real lessons of 9/11 in the first place.
Kevin Nicholson is a businessman and volunteer president and CEO of No Better Friend Corp., a conservative public policy group in Wisconsin. He is a combat veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps (Iraq, 2007 and Afghanistan, 2008-2009) and was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMNicholson
This column was first published in the Daily Caller.