Why Don’t Clinton and Trump Seem to Care About Afghanistan?

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Thompson, 28, was killed there in a Tuesday bomb attack.

By Tom Sileo Published on August 24, 2016

Another U.S. service member was tragically killed in Afghanistan on Tuesday. You wouldn’t know it by following the 2016 presidential campaign.

As of this writing, the Twitter accounts of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have been silent about the death of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Thompson, 28, during America’s longest war. Clinton, however, found time to retweet Justin Timberlake, while Trump attacked President Obama for golfing in the aftermath of deadly Louisiana floods.

What about the selfless warrior who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump?

The major party nominees didn’t do much better during their respective convention speeches. Trump failed to mention the war in Afghanistan, where courageous U.S. troops have fought and died since 2001. While Clinton did name the country’s capital, Kabul, she did not spotlight the fact that approximately 10,000 Americans are still in Afghanistan.

I recently re-watched two excellent PBS American Experience documentaries about Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. What struck me was how both presidencies were largely dominated by the Vietnam War, which destroyed LBJ’s ability to lead and immediately put Nixon under siege.

Fast forward to 2016. More than 1,750 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan during President Obama’s two terms in office, and the White House has already announced that approximately 8,400 U.S. troops will be in Afghanistan when his successor takes office. Yet for some bizarre reason, the ongoing conflict is a virtual non-issue during the campaign.

To be fair, Clinton and Trump surrogates could undoubtedly provide isolated examples of their candidate discussing Afghanistan. They could also point to Clinton and Trump frequently talking about how to fight terrorism and care for a new generation of combat veterans.

As someone who has paid close attention to Clinton and Trump’s interviews, speeches and rallies over the last few months, however, I cannot imagine a reasonable observer arguing that the war in Afghanistan has been a significant campaign issue. Compared to questions about the Clinton Foundation or Trump University, the conflict is barely on the radar screen.

The national media, which is trusted by just six percent of the public, also bears responsibility, of course. While most outlets did report on the most recent death of a U.S. soldier in a bomb attack that left another American wounded, the press has miserably failed to consistently press the candidates and the current commander-in-chief about the war.

Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey were constantly asked about Vietnam by journalists in 1968, as were Barack Obama and John McCain about Iraq (and to a much lesser extent, Afghanistan) 40 years later. When Americans are fighting and dying in a foreign conflict, isn’t it reasonable for reporters to hold each candidate’s feet to the fire about a life and death issue?

I have watched hundreds of hours of campaign coverage on major broadcast and cable news networks. I constantly scan newspapers, websites, and social media for more information. Still, I have no clue what Clinton or Trump intend to do about the war in Afghanistan. Perhaps that’s a failure on my part, but if this were 1968 or 2008, there would be no escaping America’s armed conflicts during a presidential campaign’s unrelenting heat.

As a journalist who’s been writing for years about how Afghanistan and Iraq affects military families, I need to do a better job of spotlighting the importance of our nation’s wars on each and every American. That renewed effort starts today.

Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and President Obama don’t just need to do a better job. They have a sacred responsibility to the brave men and women risking their lives in Afghanistan and around the world to inform the country, which has seen thousands of Americans wounded and killed in battle since September 11, 2001.

This isn’t about politics. It’s about the grieving family of the valiant soldier killed this week in Afghanistan. As we pray for the Thompsons, we must also ensure that their loved one’s ultimate sacrifice was not in vain.


Tom Sileo is co-author of Fire in My Eyes (out 9/6/16) and Brothers Foreverand recipient of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s 2016 General Oliver P. Smith Award for distinguished reporting. Follow him on Twitter.

Note: This column was updated to include Staff Sgt. Matthew Thompson’s name after it was officially released by the Department of Defense.

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