A few days ago an acquaintance, opining on the decision facing President Obama, to send to Afghanistan the 40,000 additional troops sought by General McChrystal, rather bumper-sticker unthoughtfully said, "I'd rather be fighting them over there than here."
To begin with, it's imperative to never let slip from the mind that those of us well past middle-age are not the ones who will be doing the fighting, facing death and physical and mental mutilation. Nor for all who are retired, which the speaker certainly is, will they even be paying the fiscal tab. That will also fall squarely on the backs of our young. Unlike the health care debate, congress has never bothered to pause a moment to try to figure where the trillions of dollars that will be needed for such a protracted venture come from.
"We" is a pronoun denoting, as the subjects of the sentence, "you" and "me." As "you" and "me" ain't gonna be anywhere near that situation, at least concerning the topic of perilous military action, I'd suggest, out of common respect for those who will be in the midst of the horror, that "we" just eliminate that bovine excreta from our lexicon.
However, is "stupid" an unfair characterization for those who demonstrate excessive ignorance of the subject they're popping off about? To me, that depends on the seriousness, the consequences involved in the topic, which here has already been acknowledged as being highly serious. "Stupid" as an appropriate appellation thus grows to a gogleplex exponent in direct correlation to the ease of being at least moderately informed.
The country is Afghanistan, fully one and one-half the geographic size of Iraq; just slightly smaller in area than the state of Texas. But unlike either Iraq or Texas, Afghanistan and western-northwestern Pakistan are thoroughly rugged, composed of the most forbidding terrain: deep canyons that are laced with innumerable gorges alongside steep, tunnel-ridden mountains; all highly suitable for hiding lethally intentioned adversaries. For perhaps an even better perspective, download Google Earth. It's free. (http://www.earth.google.com) Then, use your mouse to rotate the earth to Afghanistan. Using the wheel on your mouse, zoom in closer and closer. What you'll find is a wholly inhospitable landscape within which foot soldiers and marines, burdened by 60-pound backpacks and armaments, are forced to maneuver . . . for hours and days and months on end! In 100-110 degree (plus) summertime heat!
Perhaps it is now time to weigh General McChrystal's request from a few serious perspectives. The most basic question to be answered concerns what 40,000 additional young American men and women would be sent to accomplish.
If the mission is to eliminate from the area Al Qaeda, that's been done. According to Marine General James Jones, President Obama's national security officer, as well as the recently released Department of Defense report, there may be as many as ten (TEN) Al Qaeda remaining in Afghanistan and perhaps 150 -200 hiding in mountainous west and northwestern Pakistan! In other words, if the US military would be attempting to eradicate the threat posed by those who were responsible for the attacks of September 11 . . ..
Make no mistake, the Taliban are as gruesome and loathsome an assembly today as was Pol Pot and his Cambodian Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Burying a 13-year-old girl to her head, then stoning her to death, because she was the no longer pure victim of a gang rape, is the product of a genuinely despicable ruling hierarchy. But, tragically, Afghanistan is not the only place in the world where such odious absence of justice is commonplace. South LA, the bowels of Detroit, Chicago, Washington, DC and several other urban areas fly right off the top of my head as examples.
So . . . is it the Taliban that is the target? If it is, then 40,000 additional troops will not accomplish the task. Using Jones' (and General Petraeus') own 1 - 32 insurgent warfare troop-strength calculations, the ratio of boots on the ground to a host population, the Afghanistan campaign is gonna require 640,000 marines and soldiers. Let's repeat that: 640,000! There are not presently even 40,000 rested and ready troops for a prolonged mission, let alone the actual number needed to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban. To do that will require re-implementation of the military draft.
And yet, the primary reasons the Taliban are agin' us are because our presence offers some irksome interference in their heroin poppy agriculture and because, after all, it is their country and we are invading occupiers. Reverse the situation so that some outside force were to lodge itself in this country and I suspect that not only would the Bloods and the Crips find common ground, but so would the NRA, the teamsters, and the most ardently hostile members of the far-Right and far-Left. It's a case of "I might want to claw my brother's eyes out, but don't any outsider dare to even think of stepping in."
If the objective is to manufacture a bulwark that will prevent Al Qaeda from returning, that too is folly. Because if Al Qaeda is in fact the target, the US will have to pursue them where they now exist: Somalia, Yemen, the Sudan, Indonesia, and in half a dozen other countries. And I seriously doubt any in the United States are contemplating that herculean task; devoting nearly 100% of our annual GDP and — forget right now the draft — inducting most of our combat age citizens to the chase.
If the mission now is one of nation building, there is no nation that's less capable of being built. The only semblance of a national government, that of Hamid Karzai, is severely limited in actual area of authority, operates on extorted revenue from the drug trade and out and out just plain thuggery and corruption. Outside Kabul is run by the tribal war lords where 80 percent of the people cannot so much as read or write. Efforts to modernize the country, to bring the population into some aspect of self government may be extraordinarily laudable. But at what cost? What cost to our own citizens? Our own citizens who are suffering inadequate education, inadequate employment, inadequate health care and are facing a continuation of the downward spiral of their own living standards? Have not US citizens first dibs on whatever "nation-building" efforts and funds this country intends to expend?
When I was growing up in the 50s and 60s the common mantra went something along the lines, "You can't trust the Soviets to keep their word on any agreement they sign." WOW! Now that's rich, considering how this country's own record is one of duplicity and backtracking on deals it has made. Ask the Cherokee, whose population was decimated 90 percent on the genocidal Trail of Tears, about the promises made to them by Andrew Jackson, for their support during his campaigns in Florida. Ask the Lakota and Dakota Sioux. Ask the Hungarians in 1956, or the Cubans in 1961. Or, the Afghanis about the three times over the past nearly three decades that we led them on, then left them hanging. As egregious as our sins might have been, if today's mission is to assuage our sense of national guilt by this time "staying the course," all of us need to admit that's really what's going on, and be fully prepared to accept the consequences and the costs. Both will be stratospheric.
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