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Signs of the Times  •  7 October 2016  •  No. 91

Abbreviated edition

The significant proximity of two dates prompts this abbreviated edition of "Signs of the Times."

¶ On 7 October 2001, 15 years ago today, President George W. Bush’s announced the start of the war in Afghanistan, saying “Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader.”

        Three weeks prior to that announcement, Congress approved “The Authorization for Use of Military Force,” an open-ended legitimation (and credit card) for military engagement whenever the president shouts “9/11.”

        Early in the Afghan invasion General Tommy Franks, the head of U.S. Central Command, said the war was not about “occupying major strategic terrain,” and therefore offered “the easiest exit strategy we’ve had in years.” In May 2003 Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld landed in Kabul and declared that major combat operations in Afghanistan were officially over.

        The US troop level in Afghanistan at that time was about 8,000. By 2010 that number had climbed to 100,000.

        In late 2014 President Obama offered a Christmas gift to the nation, saying “our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”

        Now, 15 years later, the US troop level in Afghanistan is 8.400. All bets are off as to when "the easiest exit strategy we've had" will take effect.

        •For more analysis, see May Jeong, “Afghanistan Is an Infinite Quagmire,” The Atlantic.)

        •For reflection on the open-ended nature of presidential war-making powers, see Ken Sehested’s “The Taunt of Lamech’s revenge: The Authorization for Use of Military Force: 60 words that bring the US to the edge of a permanent state of war.”)

¶ In the US the second Monday of each October (next Monday) is "Columbus Day," a federal holiday marking the claim of America's "discovery.

        Of course, the case can be made that this season is but a heightening of a much older pattern of Western imperial expansion begun when, in 1492 Italian captain Christopher Columbus, under Spanish flag, got lost, landed in the Caribbean and declared it “India.”

        •Watch this brief (2:40) video, “Columbus Day: How Is That Still a Thing?” from a 2014 “Last Week Tonight” program by John Oliver.

        •For more Columbus Day background, see the 8 October 2015 issue of “Signs of the Times” (starting midway down the column).

        •For a story of resistance to the European conquest of the Americas, see Ken Sehested’s “Witness to villainy: An excerpt from Bartolomé de las Casas’ documentation of Spanish conquest in the Americas

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