For the past eight years I have heard or read a litany of ludicrous rhetoric from Washington and other places that would fill a lifetime. Hundreds of times over that period, I have asked myself, what has happened to common sense. Of course, since 9/11, I have been paying closer attention. Living the horror of 9/11 will do that to a person.
Examples of abysmal rhetoric over the past eight years abound. I will provide only a few examples, and former President Bush provides quite a few. Iraq possesses nuclear weapons; Iraq was allied with al-Qa'ida; Iraq is a national security risk; you are either with us or against us; stay the course; the war in Afghanistan will be brief; the War on Terrorism is designed to promote freedom and democracy (this after it was discovered Iraq had no WMD's) are some examples.
Bush's classic faux pas is, of course, his "axis of evil" comments made during his State of the Union Address, Jan. 29, 2002. In this speech he characterized Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as the three members of an axis of evil. One must remember the backdrop of this speech. In late January of 2002, it was gradually becoming clear to Americans that the war in Afghanistan would not be brief, as promised. Due to egregious tactical errors in Nov. and Dec. of the previous year, Osama bin Laden and other leaders of al-Qa'ida along with Mullah Omar and leaders of the Taliban regime had escaped east to the uncontrolled tribal areas of Pakistan's Northwest Frontier, and our erstwhile vengeance was unsated. Also, the war in Iraq was only a gleam in Bush's eye. Americans in Jan. 2002 could make no connection between Iraq and 9/11 because, of course, there wasn't any. Iran, who was at the time assisting American efforts in Afghanistan, was shocked, dismayed, and angry. We are still living the repercussions of that little speech. The war in Iraq still appears endless. Iran thinks that it is in the crosshairs of the U.S. and reacts accordingly, and North Korea put its nuclear weapons development on the fast track. Coupled with his "you are either with us or against us" theme, it pretty much sounded to Americans listening that fateful night that Bush was about to attack Iraq, Iran, and North Korea while in the midst of a mismanaged war in Afghanistan. Turns out we were one-third right. I can still remember asking my wife, "What did he just say?" She was equally shocked and didn't respond. That was alright. I had no words, either.
Thankfully, we can say, enough of Bush. He is past tense. As we approach the present, he may be judged by justice. He surely will be judged by history. Unfortunately, Bush does not have a monopoly on frightening, meaningless, or surreal rhetoric. Recently, newly elected President Obama declared that the war in Afghanistan is winnable and promptly deployed an additional 17,000 troops to this forsaken land much to the displeasure of millions of Americans. His declaration of the conflict as being winnable contravenes over 2300 years of history and ignores the failures of Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union. Even more disturbing is the assessment of Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. McKiernan described the Obama decision as meeting about two-thirds of his overall needs in combat capability over the coming three to five years. Three to five more years!!! On top of the over seven years our troops have been fighting in this hellish, worthless land. That is beyond credulity.
The latest disingenuous proposal for sound strategy in Afghanistan comes from an outfit called the National Security Network, a misleading and overly ambitious organizational name. The National Security Network is an organization that seeks to bring together policymakers, experts, and Democratic activists, and it recently released a document entitled, "Principles for an Afghanistan Strategy." Before I delve into the pie-in-the-sky aspirations of the NSN, allow me to present some background regarding Afghanistan, background NSN's experts seemed to have ignored or didn't know in the first place.
The vast majority of people who live in Afghanistan are illiterate. Most are unable to spell democracy let alone practice it, and a serious question can be asked if such a word is in their vocabulary since it is a Western term. Three factors come into play here. First and foremost, education is an absolute prerequisite for a democracy to succeed. Second, it is misleading for Western strategists to refer to the people in Afghanistan as "Afghanis," inasmuch as they are Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hezaras, Uzbeks, Aimaks, and Turkmen, each of whom have little in common with the others. A corollary to that statement is that Afghan nationalism is merely a dream that exists only in the minds of the Western powers. Consequently, third, Afghanistan has never known a successful central government in its history, and this would include the Taliban government that only controlled approximately two-thirds of the country.
A 40 or 50-year old man living in Afghanistan today has known only war. The Soviet invasion began in Dec. 1979, and that conflict lasted eight years. Following the Red Army expulsion from the land, a vicious civil war ensued that lasted for years. Following that was the tyrannical rule of the Taliban, which was extremely unpopular, to say the least, and civil war continued. This was followed by the American invasion, over seven years ago. At a very young age, men living in Afghanistan learned only one thing above all else, the rule of the gun. Speaking to hard core fighting men such as these about freedom, democracy, human values, and the restructuring of society more in line with Western dogma would be akin to speaking in tongues.
One other factor should be mentioned. Day by day the Taliban is regaining strength in Afghanistan. Why, one might ask incredulously. The answer lies in the incredible fact that, despite their harsh Islamic regimen, the Taliban, in the eyes of Afghan residents, can be trusted. The U.S.-installed government of Hamid Karzai is corrupt to the core and provides little or no security for the Afghan people. So, they have turned to the Taliban for a modicum of safety. Karzai is little more than the mayor of Kabul.
In still another development, America is about to lose an extremely valuable base of operations for Afghanistan. The government of Kyrgyzstan has ordered the Americans out within six months. The Khyber Pass is no longer a safe supply route. Myopic views concerning Afghanistan must end now.
With all of this as a backdrop, the proposals of the NSN should be considered with careful thought. Using Afghanistan experts from the development, diplomatic and defense communities, the NSN urges the Obama team to create "a comprehensive strategy that recognizes the limits of military power." So far so good. There are definite limitations on the use of military power in the Afghan environment. The published NSN document mentioned above ignored the question of deploying additional troops for the war. That is not so good. As pointed out earlier, an additional 17,000 troops is a stark reality, and I began to lose interest in the dreamy rhetoric of the NSN. I read on for curiosity's sake.
Heather Hurlburt is the executive director of NSN. She explained that her organization endorses the counter-insurgency strategy against the Taliban-led coalition seeking to overthrow the U.S.-allied government in Kabul. That would be the Karzai government previously mentioned, a thoroughly corrupt regime that no one likes from Obama in the White House to the man on the street on Main Street, USA, to the man on the street in Kabul.
Hurlburt explained that consultations taking place over the past two weeks with experts rejected a strategy that focused narrowly on counter-terrorism activities like specifically targeting al-Qa'ida or Taliban leadership, out of fear that a strategy that neglected the concerns of the Afghan people wouldn't work. She then stated, "The counter-insurgency and development people together make the point the you can't achieve your counter-terrorism objectives without a modicum of government functionality [emphasis is mine]." Hurlburt added, her "friends in the development community, who urge a robust construction and humanitarian effort, are not fully recognizing how shallow the domestic pool of support is [for such efforts] at this point."
Are not fully recognizing how shallow the domestic pool of support is. "Shallow," try nonexistent. I picked on the NSN because they were available. The fact remains there is no shortage of banal comments from bureaucrats, military philosophers, political science and foreign affairs experts, economic and philosophical gurus, and other fields of endeavor each with doctorate degrees and each having proscribed solutions to achieving victory in Afghanistan. Problem is, if each of these pundits are mapping out how to bring peace and prosperity to the people of Afghanistan, said people can't understand a lick of what they are saying. That banishes the NSN and the others to meaningless rhetoric that is understood by only a few and serves virtually no purpose. Ironically, those lacking understanding of such proposals the most are those who actually are aware of what is happening.
It is time for common sense and a straight forward look at cold hard facts, not fantasies. For over two millennia the people of Afghanistan have rejected foreign invaders. For thousands of years they have enjoyed the freedom of the total absence of a central government, preferring the freedom of rule by tribal authorities, a life they have chosen, and that choice should be respected by foreign governments. For the past thirty years they have fought hard and successfully to maintain that freedom. Afghanistan is bereft of any mineral resources or strategic geography that would be of interest to Western powers. It is one of the poorest countries on Earth. Bin Laden is no longer in Afghanistan. American commanders allowed him to escape to Pakistan in late 2001.
The facts in the above paragraph are indisputable. So, what are U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan trying to achieve? To be perfectly honest, I have no idea. The foreign invaders face a very hostile environment. Not because the enemy is overwhelmingly superior. That is absurd. It is because the Afghan people, for whom we are supposedly fighting, reject every notion of Western ideologies.
Common sense dictates that we allow the people of Afghanistan to deal with the cards they have been dealt without our interference.