In “Tea in Kabul”, Nicholas Kristof brings back stories from Afghanistan about the net result of the American presence in that country. Our occupation is alienating and angering the Afghan population, inadvertently funding the Taliban enemy and escalating the successful recruitment of more Taliban fighters.
Brian Mockenhaupt’s “The Last Patrol” tells a heartbreaking story of deadly patrols with a platoon from the 82nd airborne division in the orchards and farms of the Arghandab Valley. The fights with the Taliban are brutally fierce. The casualties are high. The aims are unjustifiable. The impact on the lives of those fighting is indelible. It’s an agonizing story of tough soldiers and good young kids getting blown up and killed for no good reason at all.
We have a family friend that recently deployed to Afghanistan. He’s a private in an army infantry brigade, doing what our country is telling him is his duty. Reading Mockenhaupt’s article about how completely senseless the battles over farm fields in Afghanistan really are, while having a young friend’s life and whole future at risk because our politicians are unwilling to be realistic or responsible in their own actions, is just infuriating.
In a recent note, my father recounted the logic of the continuing American presence in Afghanistan, as well as the clarity that the vast majority of Americans are realizing regarding the mission creep of the war that has emerged to cloud the failure of the primary mission President Bush set out to achieve after September 11, 2001:
I had thought that we had boxed ourselves into a moral obligation to remain in Afghanistan because we had partially liberated many women there and thought it wrong to desert them until their new freedom was more secure. This is probably naive and beyond that, we also have a moral obligation to protect our troops. We went there to find and kill Osama bin Laden. That’s not going to happen. It is time to leave.
Clearly our guns and bombs are never going to turn that ancient tribal society into a prosperous 21st century democracy with equal womens rights and other progressive cosmopolitan values. And yes, it is incredibly sad to have to admit the complete failure of that war after ten years, over 350 billion dollars wasted, over 2,100 American and allied troops killed, countless troops wounded and all the thousands of Afghan civilians who have been killed, maimed, lost their homes and loved ones and had their lives upended.
News accounts regularly report the blatant corruption of the Karzai government, its complete ineffectiveness and its glaring lack of popular support. Along with traditional Afghan injustices against women and other blatant affronts to western sensibilities, stories of the decades long suffering of the Afghan people from wars and intense poverty are frustrating for idealists of all political persuasions and hard to just abandon.
But the lessons of the proud ancient Afghan people fiercely defending their homeland from foreign invaders over millennium has rightfully earned that land the title as the “Graveyard of Empires”. They fended off Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, the nineteenth century British and Russian empires and more recently a long unsuccessful Afghan invasion accelerated the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It is pure fantasy to imagine that our American invasion will somehow be “successful” in a muddled nation building endeavor in which the goals of the effort and the very notion of success are completely undefined.
The Afghan war is just senseless. Like our misadventure in Vietnam, this war has turned into a hopeless and pointless exercise that continues only as an abstraction for domestic politicians to act tough about for their own elections.
However. the sacrifices of our soldiers risking their lives, losing their limbs and dying over this senseless political fantasy are no abstraction.
This war is completely wrong and so is every politician who continues to support it. Any politician who supports the Afghanistan war continuing should be thrown out. It’s just that simple.
We need grownups in charge. This war has to end.
10-18 update: The commander of our young friend’s recently deployed squadron just announced the loss of three soldiers today to the squadron Facebook page. The messages responding are painful to read, knowing that most of those writing have loved ones in the battles too. It’s so sad to have such brave, patriotic soldiers and their families suffering so much for such a senseless war. It just has to end.