Afghanistan – The Folly and The Fate
The tragic events of this past weekend following on the heels of the mistaken Quaran burnings, brings home the fact that our Operation Enduring Freedom is certainly enduring, but with not much freedom to show for it in eleven years.
I’m a gal who’s middle class, from the midwest, and middle of the road. And I look at events from that perspective. I don’t need to be a military or intelligence expert to know that something is radically wrong with this picture. When we first went into Afghanistan, the mission and the purpose was to get Osama bin Laden and his followers, whom we were told were hiding there. After our missed opportunity to get Bin Laden at Tora Bora, our swift-moving fight against Al-Quaeda began bogging down into a counter-insurgency land war. Eleven years later, with 1891 US service members killed, we’re still fighting, but now we’re calling it a staged withdrawal.
I was a supporter of “the surge” and the withdrawal because I didn’t want our dead to have died in vain. I also considered the women in Afghanistan, whom we have been helping to achieve some kind of equality, the schools, hospitals, road networks we’ve helped build, and hear little about. But now, I’m not sure whether it’s because I’m getting older and softer (although some of my friends would heartily debate the latter), or whether like millions of Americans, I’m tired of the carnage.
For those of us who remember Vietnam, there are some striking similarities. We came to both countries as do-good Americans, and turned into no-good Americans in the eyes of many of the populace. We propped up the corrupt Thieu government, as we’re propping up the corrupt Karzai government. We expanded the war into Cambodia to hit the Viet Cong bases; we expanded the war into Pakistan to hit the Taliban. We became inured to the weekly Friday night casualty counts in the ’60’s and early ’70’s, and now, we became inured to Afghanistan by high gas prices, and our own economic situation, unless it was one of us who lost a loved one.
If I believed for one moment, that our continued presence through 2014 would help prevent Afghanistan from reverting back into tribal chaos and conditions pre-US involvement, maybe I could grit my teeth and continue as an American to support our presence there. But no longer. Despite our best efforts at nation-building, too many of our sons and daughters are losing their lives, leaving behind too many grieving families wondering what might have been. When the Islamic Jihad terror group bombed the Marine barracks in 1983, with a loss of life of 241 killed, four months later, President Ronald Reagan ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Lebanon. He and his military advisers recognized the situation for what it was, and were unwilling to pay the price of more American lives.
Today, we have a situation in Afghanistan, which can be called a ticking time bomb for both sides. Six Americans were killed after the accidental Quaran burnings, and now how many more may die in retribution from the Taliban for the tragic killings this past weekend. And there will be retribution. But more to the point, how many more of our young service men and women are suffering similar stress that will only become apparent later in their lives and the lives of their families. Nineteen years after our withdrawal from Lebanon, and almost 37 years after the ignominious final airlift from the roof of the US embassy in Saigon, we still have not learned from the mistakes of our past.
Afghanistan, a once noble cause, has turned into our folly. And now its fate and that of our service members and contractors who remain there, have become a pawn in the politics of a re-election campaign. For every time I have repeated the words of Abraham Lincoln, “that these honored dead shall not have died in vain,” I balance that phrase against the lives of those who still serve and live.
For every argument about the importance of American interests in the region to stay in the region, I reply the mistakes we’ve made over the past years do not merit more. If you want to clarify your thinking, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, perhaps you should should ask them.