The Washington Post

The Afghanistan war and America’s innovation future


President Obama delivers a televised address from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, June 22, 2011, on his plan to drawdown U.S. troops in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

The majority of the president’s speech was dedicated to explaining the logistics of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. But toward the end of the address, he turned domestic, referring to the nation’s innovation future:

Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens at home. Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource – our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy. And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war. For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep and no horizon is beyond our reach.

The president’s call for a renewed focus on innovation raises the question, what have we missed out on in terms of innovation here at home as a result of Afghanistan — if anything?

Are we behind where we otherwise could be due to focusing on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or are we ahead due to the incredible investment in new military technology? Or, are we neither ahead nor behind?

We posed the question on Twitter and are continuing to field your responses. Here’s what we’ve gotten so far:

.@oninnovations: Whichever way you spin it, we didn’t get innovation from our trillion dollars in Afghanistan: we got pain and miseryless than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet ReplyVivek Wadhwa
wadhwa

@wadhwa @oninnovations To be fair, I haven’t seen anyone argue that innovation was the point of the war, so I’d say that point is mootless than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet ReplyJudah Richardson
jdrch

.@jdrch Some argue that we got drones, body armor and change our entire definition of “warfare. Not worth $1 Trillionless than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet ReplyVivek Wadhwa
wadhwa

@wadhwa @oninnovations True. But that $1T funds weapons cos who are on the cutting edge of tech that will find it’s way to consumers 1day.less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet ReplyRobert Hsiung
roberthsiung

The comments are open for your feedback to these questions, as always.

More from the Post:

- Vivek Wadhwa on innovation’s golden opportunity

- Live blog: The president’s speech

- #Afghanistan: Twitter reactions to the speech

Emi Kolawole is the editor-in-residence at Stanford University's d.school, where she works on media experimentation and design.

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