David Von Drehle writes that most of the time the war on terror “has felt like war only to the few, the deployed: the special operators, the contractors, the diplomats, the spies, the data analysts. . .the drone pilots. “For the rest,” he complains, “it has felt like mom’s birthday, finals week, the playoffs, just another April.”
But when the enemy’s short-term goal is to terrorize populations and its long-tern goal is to restrict them in accordance with Sharia law, what Von Drehle describes is what winning looks like. It looks like we, the non-deployed doing what we like to do without feeling we’re at war, while the deployed protect us from harm. “See something, say something” pretty much sums up what’s required on a day-to-day basis of the non-deployed in this war.
However, I’m not saying America has won the war on terror, only that we’ve been winning it. And Von Drehle is right, I think, to worry about whether we will continue to win.
It’s a bad sign that both political parties decided stationing a few thousand troops in Afghanistan at the cost of a dozen or so American deaths per year amounted to an “endless war” that we ought to abandon — never mind that abandoning it meant victory for an outfit that collaborates with al Qaeda plus the loss of much of our ability to keep track of what’s going in the part of the world from which 9/11 was unleashed.
It’s a worse sign that Joe Biden chose September 11 as the date by which we needed to pull out — a decision that signals he has moved on not just from Afghanistan, which he could have done any time, but from America’s war on terror that began on 9/11 when courageous passengers took down that hijacked plane in Pennsylvania. Biden’s decision signals a return to a pre-9/11 mindset.
Americans don’t need to start feeling like we’re at war. We don’t need to focus less on mom’s birthday, finals week, and the playoffs. We don’t even need to stop “keeping up with the Kardashians,” a habit that seems to annoy Von Drehle.
It’s okay for the non-deployed to spend our time doing what we’ve been doing without thinking much about terrorism. Again, that’s what winning looks like. But we do need to make sure, as best we can, that the deployed keep doing what they’ve been doing to keep us safe.
The president of the United States is among the deployed, and it’s his responsibility to preside over others so tasked. We need to elect presidents who are serious about their most important duty — ensuring American security — and competent to perform it. And we need to call out presidents who fall short.