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Afghanistan Good Enough: If All Else Fails, Lower Your Standards

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If all else fails, lower your standards.

This has been my philosophy for years. My wife likes to joke it's how she picked me; instead of prince charming, I'm "prince somewhat-charming." So you can imagine how delighted I am that the United States of America and its NATO military allies have decided to apply that philosophy to US foreign policy in Afghanistan.

They're calling their version "Afghanistan Good Enough."

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The notion of lowering ones standards to get out of a human mess is, of course, not my idea. The idea resides in the Pragmatic wing of philosophy and shares something with the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer, which is attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, who stole it from the Greek slave and stoic philosopher Epictetus, who probably borrowed it from some poor slob in chains breaking stones in a quarry in Asia Minor.

Here's how Alcoholics Anonymous phrased the idea:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

The point is, if you're struggling with a monkey on your back -- whether it's an addiction to booze or keeping up with the Myth of American Exceptionalism -- your life will be more serene and you will be more content with yourself if you drop the unrealistic expectations you've set for yourself or that someone else has set for you.

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President Obama in a NATO mood and soldiers in Afghanistan
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So after ten years of trying to control Afghanistan militarily, US/NATO war planners have lowered their standards and, with the help of their top-of-the-line, multi-billion-dollar public relations wing, they came up with the stirring slogan "Afghanistan Good Enough."

On one hand, this is a good thing. After running a macho campaign on war in Afghanistan to cover its right flank and get elected, the Obama administration has realized the can-do enterprising attitude that defines American Exceptionalism can't turn Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy. It may have sounded good for a while, but it just isn't working.

There's the rugged terrain that makes centralized government impossible, and there's the deep-rooted corruption. There's also the deep-rooted corruption of the United States to recognize and the need to focus on the economic debacle at home, a disaster fed by the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and a debauch of deregulation. In a word, Plutocracy.

The problem with "Afghanistan Good Enough" is that it suggests the United States is finally leaving Afghanistan. One can be forgiven for thinking this because that's exactly what was projected out of the NATO conference in Chicago. And in some sense it's true. But we live in an incredibly complex society whose leadership is still caught in the headlights of 9/11, and every day seems to reveal more and more compromises with liberty attributable to four current obsessions: Security, Secrecy, Surveillance and Subterfuge. It's a runaway train on which the average citizen doesn't stand a chance.

So we're not really leaving Afghanistan; we're having an Oprah "make-over" moment. The fat, tired, sluggish democracy champ will disappear backstage, and when the curtain rises he'll be a lean and mean special operations stud with links to a nerd controlling a lethal drone. Our military isn't going anywhere; it's just becoming more focused and more secret, especially to those in whose name it's used. So just sit back in front of your TV set and relax.

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Ayn Rand, Moral Guide For Our Military and Financial Leaders

Last night I read a speech by Ayn Rand, the grand dame of Objectivism, given to the 1974 graduating class at West Point.

She tells the West Point cadets that every person needs a philosophy in order to operate in the concrete world. If you don't rationally forge your own, one will be foisted on you by others or by the natural chaotic processes of the unconscious. She tells the future Army officers that forging a philosophy begins with the metaphysical (the nature of existence), moves on to epistemology (how we know what we know) then to ethics (what's good and what's bad) and to politics (the kind of society we want) and finally on to aesthetics, which she calls "the refueling of man's consciousness."

In her speech, Rand constantly loops back on her theme of individuals thinking for themselves and not being part of the herd. It's a theme I personally love. The problem is she always seems to end up suggesting that to correctly think for oneself one has to think exactly like she does and accept selfishness as a moral goal.

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I'm a 68-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a naive 19-year-old kid. From that moment on, I've been studying and re-thinking what US counter-insurgency war means. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I'm a writer, photographer and (more...)
 

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