The seventh Democratic primary debates took place at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday night (January 14). And instead of opening the night talking about student loans or the climate crisis, moderators began grilling the six candidates on stage about war in the Middle East.
Per the New York Times, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer asked candidates what made them uniquely qualified to serve as commander-in-chief. Both Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden immediately clashed over the Iraq war. (In September 2012, Biden, who was a senator for Delaware, voted in favor of allowing then-President George W. Bush unilateral power to invade Iraq; Sanders, who was a Representative for Vermont, voted against the House resolution.) And while Senator Amy Klobuchar attempted to bring the fight to the modern day, it wasn't until former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke that the conversation shifted from the abstract toward some of the people who are impacted by the ideological votes of legislators in Washington, D.C.
"There are enlisted people that I served with, barely old enough to remember those votes on the authorization after 9/11 on the war in Iraq," Buttigieg said. As of September 11 of last year, people younger than the authorization of the war they are fighting could officially enlist. September 12, 2018 marked the first time people born after the 9/11 terrorist attacks could enlist. President Bush began strikes against Afghanistan in October 2001, ostensibly to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban government.
According to a January 13, 2020, report from the Justice Department, 6,857 American soldiers have been killed in combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Middle Eastern countries between 2001 and 2014; tens of thousands more were wounded in action. At least 224,000 innocent civilians have also been killed since October 2001; the total number of those who have died due to displacement or other war-related crises likely soars into the millions.
For all of these reasons and more, it's understandable why young people would be opposed to a war whose start many do not remember. According to a YouGov poll provided to MTV News, 27 percent of people aged 18-24 "definitely" think the United States made a mistake sending troops to fight in Afghanistan; 30 percent of people in the same age range believe the country "probably" made a mistake. 28 percent of people aged 25-34 indicated they "definitely" believe the U.S. made a mistake, and 29 percent of people aged 25-34 believe the answer was "probably." By contrast, only 8 percent of people aged 18-24 and 9 percent of people aged 25-35 believed the country "definitely did not" make a mistake by invading Afghanistan.
While the Pentagon declared an end to the occupation in Afghanistan in 2014, troops remained in the country and the broader Middle East far longer than then-President Barack Obama's end-of-2016 timeline. Around 14,000 service members are still stationed in Afghanistan. Though President Donald Trump promised to withdraw 7,000 people from the region, there has been little movement on that promise. In fact, he seems to be increasing the number: On January 3, he authorized the deployment of 3,000 more people to the Middle East.