Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Afghanistan has been in the news a lot lately with the recent firing of General McCrystal. His comments disparaging the administration published by Rolling Stone magazine have led to McCrystal's replacement by General Petraeus as commander of our forces in Afghanistan. Petraeus's job will be to determine the length of our stay there. Stunningly, I have an opinion on the matter.
As I was saying, when we should leave and in what increments is the main object of debate at this moment in our nation's history. I was originally a supporter of the conflict in Afghanistan (but not Iraq) as I believe it is important to bring Osama bin Laden and his minions to justice for the terrible 9/11 attacks. The years have soured me on the viability of completing our mission there since bin Laden has clearly skipped town and headed to neighboring Pakistan. I wonder, what are the reasons for our staying further?
Many would say that we are there to prevent further terrorist attacks on our soil. The Taliban and Al Qaeda were able before the invasion to use the country as a safe haven for their attacks on America and her allies. The logic goes that if we leave they could do so again.
IMHO this argument has more holes than a block of swiss cheese after being used for machine gun practice. Even with our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq there have been attacks on our homieland's cribs. They have been unsuccessful, but that is just our good luck so far. If we want to be loved our government needs to make substantial changes to our foreign policy.
I could talk about how our special relationship with Israel raises Muslim ire or how our energy policy forces us to regularly deal with some pretty terrible people in the Middle East for quite a few pages, but I would rather point out more succinctly that our presence as an unwanted force brings about the likelihood that more terrorists are being created every day. I have many friends in the military and I know they do their best to avoid hurting civilians, but no matter how hard they try all it takes is one mistake or one bad seed from our side to create an angry orphan who has seen his parents blown apart at the hands of US forces.
Even though I know our military tries to do things the right way, they are working on a daily basis with the Afghan government. I trust those bozos about as much as I would trust a Catholic priest to babysit my kids (were I to miraculously have any). Corruption has long been a way of business in the country, as it is anywhere that has such a decentralized regime combined with extreme poverty. A nation with a medieval economy based on agriculture rather than industry, Afghans have to make ends meet any way they can, and often that is by means that would be considered questionable by Western sensibilities.
Opium is the route many have chosen and the authorities in the Afghan military and government are directly involved through ownership of the fields, bribery, or willingness to look the other way. Bribery, or "baksheesh," is just another cost of doing business in the country (and in many other Middle Eastern lands). Our presence in Afghanistan has not discouraged the farming of opium - in fact according to organized crime expert Misha Glenny's data, the drug's cultivation increased 1,000 percent in the first year after our occupation began in late 2001. The Taliban went from suppressing its growth to using the plant as a source of quick capital so they could refresh their weapons cache.
Our military has tried hard to stop the opium growers, but reaching them is easier said then done do to the country's geography. Yes sir, yet another problem hindering our chances of success in Afghanistan is the terrain. Some of the highest (literally and figuratively I suppose) mountain ranges in the world dot the landscape and the country is relatively large and inhospitable.
Most importantly there is zero infrastructure. Roads are few and far between - making it from one place to another is extremely difficult. I friend of mine who has spent several tours there with the Army Special Forces detailed to me how they would travel overland for several days to try to catch a force of Taliban by surprise, only to be spotted by villagers (usually children) who would warn the Taliban of the nearby US presence, allowing them to escape.
The rugged landscape also feeds corruption, allowing "warlords" enter the power vacuum and to take over turf like the head of an LA street gang, little worried that the government in Kabul will interfere in his domain. Many warlords have absolute power within their fiefs and cooperation with Kabul or the Taliban can be based on the whims of the individual warlord or the size of the bribes he receives.
There is no doubt we are a superior military force when opposing the Taliban on the battlefield. Every major offensive bent on removing the enemy from a certain geographical area has ended in success. Unfortunately, the Taliban can move to another place and resume operations and the whole process has to be started over again, like a never-ending game of whack-a-mole.
Nevertheless, our commanders will continue to insist they can do the job, even though the situation is impossible. Why? Because if they do admit to the odds being stacked against them, another general with a more positive attitude (i.e. unrealistic) can easily be brought in to take their place. President Obama can't pull us out of Afghanistan - he believes the political backlash would destroy him. The politicians and the generals can't be seen to fail - their careers depend on success as the only option. Who or what will pull us out of this quagmire into which we have been immersed I can only wonder.
The land of Afghanistan has been referred to as the graveyard of empires, with the Russian and British empires both experiencing the wrath of the people and the land, who eschewed their presence there. We in our hubris will share the same fate - the only question is when and how many more great American soldiers have to be killed and maimed in the process as we continue on with this madness, the longest war in our nation's great history.
And now, your moment of long-term memory loss....
"This was a war of Obama's choosing. This is not something the United States has actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in."
-- RNC Chairman Michael Steele on Afghanistan