It’s ironic that many people recall Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” but few American leaders took the message to heart when it came to our country’s military interventions in the 21st century.

Looking back 20 years to the terrorist attacks that spawned our retaliatory strike on the al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, it’s almost unfathomable to recount how that strike against Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban led to an all-out invasion and 20-year occupation of Afghanistan. And then there was George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq to avenge his father and to uncover the mythical “weapons of mass destruction” in the midst of that.

Those who governed into and through the Vietnam War, with its 58,000-plus Americans killed and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese dead, neither learned from that debacle nor instilled lessons within the citizens and government leaders who followed.

In the days after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Congress voted to authorize Bush’s war in Afghanistan. At that time, Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Oakland, California, was the only one to vote against an open-ended war authorization for the president.

To be sure, the Biden administration’s lack of a plan to close the U.S. embassy in Kabul and safely and quickly pull out troops, American civilians and our many Afghan partners should be dissected after the evacuation is done. But it’s the larger 20-year war and the flawed justifications that kept us there – and took us into Iraq – that need serious analysis if this country is to learn any lessons.

The brave American men and women and our allies who fought and died in the Afghanistan war should be honored for all they gave when asked to serve. It’s the generals and government policy makers who did not learn from Vietnam and who used the drumbeat of patriotism – and the unjustified tarring of those who questioned the occupation of Afghanistan – who must be called to task.


Barbara Lee, like so many others, said she was surprised by the speed with which the Taliban swept through Afghanistan.

“This is something that unfortunately demonstrates that there’s no military solutions to the problems in Afghanistan,” Lee told NBC. “But right now, I’m really focused on how we can support the efforts to make sure that everyone is evacuated to safety.”

She’s right to focus on getting people out safely, including the many Afghanistan citizens who helped the American military during the occupation.

But after that there must be a real bipartisan analysis by our country to document how this long nightmare came about so that maybe, for the love of our future generations, we can teach them how not to repeat this terrible past.

— CNHI News Service

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