Guest columnist Alex Kent: How do we prevent future Afghanistans? Require national service

  • Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday. AP

Published: 8/17/2021 4:00:09 PM

Some will say “We’ve lost Afghanistan.” The fact is “we” never “had” it.

It was obvious 20 years ago that U.S. participation in a Mideast civil war was a losing proposition from the get-go. The most salient question is: Why was the U.S. involved in another country’s civil war for two decades? The answer, of course, is complex and will be subject to endless debate: The U.S. was outraged by the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks and the public demanded military action in response. The administration of George W. Bush was looking for a pretext for an invasion of Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein, the tyrant who had embarrassed Bush’s father when he had been president.

But the underlying reason for America’s seemingly endless wars in the Middle East? The hubris that is built on the myth of American exceptionalism and our God-given right — indeed, our obligation — to engage in nation-building around the world. I am reminded of a bumper sticker: “Be nice to America, or we’ll bring democracy to your country next.”

How do we prevent such debacles in the future? The more pertinent question is, How do we ensure that the American people are fully cognizant of and engaged in the foreign policy decisions made by their own government?

I believe that a national service requirement for all young Americans would strongly encourage that kind of citizen involvement. Every able young American, rich or poor, regardless of gender, should be required to perform a certain term of national service, with the first option being service in the armed forces.

While alternative service, including work with children, senior citizens, tree planting on federal lands, infrastructure, etc., would be available for those who do not wish to serve in the military, the first requirement should be that all Americans gain an understanding of weaponry and the consequences of their use.

There should be no way out of that duty. What the U.S. currently has is essentially a mercenary force: Only those who feel drawn to military service and those who, for economic, cultural, or other reasons, believe that military service is their best available choice in the face of limit alternatives, sign up.

This is wrong, fundamentally unfair, and contrary to creating a citizenry that deeply cares about its government’s foreign policy. In short, we must end voluntary service and reinstate conscription — the draft — and it should be absolute. No deferments, no excuses for avoiding basic military training.

Every American should have “skin in the game.” Then and only then will Americans be able to answer the question posed recently by President Biden: “Already we have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago. Would you send their children and their grandchildren as well? Would you send your own son or daughter?”

If it was my son or daughter who was told to go fight in another country’s civil war, the answer would be clear: “No.”

Alex Kent lives in Amherst.

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