Wednesday, October 10, 2012

No Exit

Each of the past two days, a friend of mine on Facebook sent me two articles relating to Afghanistan.  I'll leave it to the reader to click the links and check them out.  For now, I would like us all to think about our presence in Afghanistan.

We entered Afghanistan over ten years ago, in pursuit of the criminals who attacked us.  In the process, we ended a brutal regime and created conditions in which the Afghan people could begin the process of remaking their country.  Over the ensuing years of war and occupation, which has seen the American military commitment wax and wane, domestic attention vary from keen interest to a kind of benign amnesia - "Oh, that's right!  We have troops there, don't we!" - the drastic increase in American combat troops since the beginning of the Obama Administration has accompanied a commitment to "victory" that wasn't defined.  Consequently, any action could be used to justify our presence; any advancement that looked good could be hailed as a "victory".

How much has Afghanistan changed?  The second article seems to indicate, "Not much", as the likely answer.  The first article, describing just one of many murders of American military personnel trying to shape an Afghan military, also shows that, whatever faults Afghan society might have, they would much rather be left to sort out those problems on their own.

Which is not to say that I take the Afghan's side in these matters.  It is only to say that entering Afghanistan a decade ago without any real plan for getting out, and having that particular end-game postponed for what are by and large domestic political reasons rather than strategic, military, and diplomatic reasons, has created the situation in which we are, alas, ensnared.

Responsibility for this situation does not lie with the United States military, who only carry out orders.  From the first Bush Administration through the Obama Administration, there has been the simple refusal to deal with some historical realities related to Afghanistan, compounded by a false sense of responsibility for the fate of Afghanistan, compounded again by an overwillingness to militarize what should be civilian duties in regards our relationship with Afghanistan.

The training and support for a new Afghan Army should have been carried out differently.  Our troops should not put their lives at risk to carry out a task that, really, isn't their responsibility.  If a real, independent Afghan government had requested assistance, we should have been willing to give assistance that most definitely did not include putting our soldiers in the field with troops that are not at all trustworthy.

As for the social and cultural problems indicated by the murder of a young woman advocating for education, what can I say?  It's horrible, of course; it also shows that a decade of engagement has not lessened the risk to some segments of the Afghan people from fanatics.  Does anyone with a lick of sense think the American presence could change that?  Who really believed the Taliban and like-minded groups could be "defeated", since there is no metric that could be created to measure such an outcome.  If policy-makers believe we should stay until such conditions no longer exist in Afghanistan, we should make sure those policy-makers don't get anywhere near decision-making; that's a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever, watching more of our troops die, all the while the police and military we're trying to train stand by and do nothing as radicals kill civilians who have the temerity to speak out.

I do not know what "the solution" in Afghanistan is, outside getting our troops out as soon as possible, letting whatever happens happen, and standing giving help when asked as long as that help doesn't put American citizens, including our military personnel, at risk.  That there are segments of Afghan society who still want to see the Taliban rule their land is a condition that no amount of time or effort on our part is ever going to change.  That the Taliban are brutal extremists is both true and irrelevant.

Like Jean-Paul Sartre's play, as long as continue with the status quo, including pretending there is progress being made in Afghanistan, there is no way out of the hell of our own creation.

Virtual Tin Cup

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