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.

Monday, October 08, 2012

A Tossed Word Salad

For the life of me, I have no idea what the Romney campaign means when they say he will have a foreign policy like Truman and Reagan.  He's going to restart the Korean War (OK, I stole that from comments at TPM)?  He's going to give money to Greece to fight rebels there?  He's going to reform NATO?  Or, is he, maybe going to pull our troops out after a single terrorist attack that kills some of them?  Is he going to invade a Caribbean island that hired a bunch of foreigners to build a couple roads and hospitals?

He's not going to bomb Qaddafi's grave, is he?

What, exactly, would a Trumaneseque, or Reaganesque, foreign policy look like?  Will Iran suddenly become the greatest existential threat not only to the United States, but the entire planet?  Will the budget for the Department of Defense, already one half all federal outlays, increase?  Will the dream of a six-hundred ship navy suddenly re-emerge from the ashes of the Cold War to whisper in the ear of defense contractors everywhere?

What about what Obama has done, and continues to do?  Do you think the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dead Pakistanis, Afghans, Yemeni, and others thanks to the expanded UAV air wars in these countries think he's vascillating and weak?  What about the pirates killed and captured off Somalia when they threatened the lives of Americans and a commando raid took them down?

How, precisely, does Gov. Romney think Americans have any influence in Egypt right now?  While most Americans, including me, cheered with joy when Hosni Mubarak resigned, the policy of the American government was relentless, unyielding support for three decades for a regime that was corrupt, morally and financially bankrupt, and repressive.  The Egyptian people understand this; they hold no animus against Americans, just our government and our attempts to dictate their country's actions through what amounts to extortion.  Since the average Egyptian lives in poverty we in the US cannot even begin to understand; since a system of universal education provided a well-educated workforce, but a system of systemic corruption did not provide employment opportunities, the tinder-box of frustrated, well-educated young men and women is still sitting there; since the current government has limited ability to act against groups that are hostile to minority religious groups, including Copts and Jews, and since they've already verbally committed themselves to inclusion, what else, precisely can the government there do that Gov. Romney insists they "must" do to curry favor with a Romney Administration?

Since the Israelis have neither the interest nor energy to work on a final settlement with the Palestinians, the status quo serving them quite well for a very long time, how does Romney's stated commitment to a two-state solution mean anything different from Pres. Obama's commitment?

I guess I'm just wondering what Romney could possibly say that means something other than just dumping a bunch of words in a bowl, tossing them around, adding some dressing and a garnish, and hoping no one will notice.

Virtual Tin Cup

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