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The Last Straw in Afghanistan

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Let's see. Lend Lease was in full swing when I was born. Not quite two years later Pearl Harbor was attacked, so that was the first day of "actual" war for the United States that happened during my lifetime. Since the 2nd World War we have had Korea--which has never been resolved and threatens to boil over again--Vietnam, Panama, Granada, Dominican Republic, Serbia, Somalia, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan, and soon Yemen. All told, without getting too precise about it, about 85% of my lifetime has been seriously impacted by America's wars, including my own combat zone duty in the mid-1960s in Tonkin Gulf and around the Indochinese peninsula.

I wasn't sufficiently against going into Afghanistan after bin Ladin, like most Americans, and when Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama said that there was a strategic goal they believed could be met with some diligence and patience on our part, I did not protest loudly.

I still have the eerie feeling that without our forces in Afghanistan the terrorists of al Qaeda would be roasting marshmallows and all beef hotdogs at tailgate parties throughout that loosely defined country after each successful terrorist raid on western civilization. I lose my breath when in an older movie the twin towers of the World Trade Center appear. I am, just like almost everyone, sick to my stomach about what war and empire have done to our country: the distortions of our industrial sector, the numbness we all have about mass death visited by suicide bombers and stealth bombers. It is truly sickening.

So, when Wikileaks and then major newspapers leaked and published the classified background information that we all suspected but refused steadfastly to hold in the center of our imaginations, that "news" that we are being "handled" by a bunch of opium farmers and fourth world tin pot raskals, I scarcely blinked. I was once in the midst of all that "classified" stuff and knew full well that most of it--probably 70% was CYA information rather than real facts about our plans or "them."

Maureen Dowd in the NYT has her take on the "revelations" and President Obama has his. His statement, which I thought was a marvel of truthfulness and still adroit, was that there was almost nothing in the illegally exposed information that was not already part of the public debate. Really! Really?

If Wikileaks did us any service by making these background materials public it was that the U.S. (and to some extent NATO) governments are in a gigantic denial syndrome. What the documents reveal Doonsbury has been drawing for months, namely a cynical interface between cultures that have virtually nothing to say to one another, there being so few points of fundamental understanding and common culture and ethics. The military, including the sacked McChrystal, have been asked to do something that cannot be done without removing the shackles of western ethics from their arms. No, I am not sneaking up on the idea that we should nuke Afghanistan into oblivion. (I am not even sure we should do that to North Korea, say.) I am saying that attempting to wrench the various peoples who make up Islamic Afghanistan into a 21st century version of their religion and a modern view of civil polity is fundamentally an impossible task ... and everything in the pilfered documents shows the lengths to which civilians and military alike skirt that fundamental issue and pretend that under some (wildly improbable) circumstances the struggle can be won.

No. It cannot be won with states like Pakistan, failing to to keep pace intellectually, industrially, economically with India its bete noir necessary adversary, cynically playing our over extended forces for the fools they believe them to be. No, it cannot be won in any terms familiar to western ears, eyes, or hearts. No, it cannot be won except by descending to the level at which the public consciousness exists (in so far as it ever exists in Afghanistan) and playing the game on those terms ... which is against our hopes and dreams of wrenching these peoples from their medieval ways and into our none-too-savory methods of governing villages and towns and cities.

The President may be right that these matters were "on the table" in plain view before. Now, though, we have a more "candid" and less manipulated view, and we really need to take it to heart. July 2011 is not soon enough to begin making some moves on that chess board that will rock Pakistan's world. The Afghans will cave to the Taliban, of course, and we will have to violate their territorial integrity from time to time to chase down terrorists, but they should be given to understand that we no longer hold out ANY hope for bringing them into the modern world. They will have to do that for themselves. Meanwhile, since we are no longer trying to find an economy there, we will bomb the opium fields into kingdom come, knowing of course that they will grow it again. Meanwhile we will let Mr. Karzai know that his life is not worth another American dollar, so he might as well kiss up to the Taliban sooner than later ... so we have a bald excuse for dealing him out of the game.

Enough of war. Our "reluctant empire" no longer serves our people ... only our corporations ... so we must begin anew. In November we will.


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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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