Post 2.10 - Afghani Quagmire

I was listening to the Leslie Marshall Show online last week, and the guest was a representative of the families of the 9/11 victims. The discussion surrounded our current situation in Afghanistan, and whether American troops should still be there now that Osama bin Laden is dead. The premise was that our goal of taking out our enemy had been accomplished. The guest also felt that our involvement in Afghanistan was primarily to support the military-industrial complex and specific military contractors, rather than achieve a more altruistic or emotional goal.

While I agree that the Bush Administration tricked us into Iraq and squandered the planetary goodwill we enjoyed following 9/11, Afghanistan was a very specific and special situation.

The American media did not pay much attention to Afghanistan prior to 2001. The Taliban had come to power around 1995, and I was living in Europe at that time. There were already deep concerns as to how women were being treated, as well as the lack of religious freedoms and tolerance being experienced in the country. I remember a particularly vivid video from the BBC at that time, showing the Taliban destroying Buddhist monuments that had been in place for centuries, citing not only the different religion represented but that the statues themselves were "idols". I recall being offended by this short-sighted behavior, as Christians had done this centuries before in Greece and Egypt. We have lost so much history and self-knowledge over the centuries because of such censorship and lack of historical respect from several cultures -- but that is another post.

The bottom line was that Americans didn't really care.

Following 9/11, we cared. We were angry, we were vengeful, and our sense of justice needed to be sated. Intelligence reports indicated that al-Qaeda was enjoying safe harbor in Afghanistan, so it became a likely as well as a tactical and psychologically necessary target. We were all on board with "you are either with us or against us" when Bush said it. Americans like an enemy upon which to focus their energy, fear, and hatred. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda gave us that, and Afghanistan gave us a place to attack, since there was no discrete enemy that we could easily retaliate against.

And to this day, I feel like it was the right thing to do. How we did it deserves scrutiny.

I don't see that we need to be nation-builders. Our problem now is that we cannot easily leave. The government of Afghanistan is weak and corrupt, and could easily be overrun by any internally or externally aggressive force. Al-Qaeda could once again enjoy a safe environment there, if they don't already in Taliban-controlled areas. We have tried to force democracy upon a tribal culture that does not function in that manner. We have tried to force more Westernized cultural norms on an essentially Eastern and Arab culture. It will all fall apart the second our last soldier departs.

The second.

And then we will be back where we started.

The United States and their allies were victorious in Afghanistan only in the sense that they removed one government in favor of another. While being a democracy, there is a tinge of dictatorship in place because we are enforcing our ideas of what should be going on there. Whether this is right or wrong is not really the issue, because it is a means of self-preservation. If we abandon Afghanistan and our non-governmental enemies regroup there, they have the potential to come back stronger. If we retreat to monitor the situation from, say, the Indian Ocean, keeping the threat of missile strikes in play, we have to involve neighboring countries to use their airspace, like India, Nepal, and Pakistan.

Can we reduce our forces there? I don't know. That would be for impartial military experts to judge.

Can we just leave? I don't think so. I don't know how long we can reasonably stay, though, either. At some point, we have to leave Afghanistan to the Afghanis and let the chips fall where they may.

It just may not be time yet.

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