Monday, October 19, 2009


Many people have drawn the comparison between Vietnam and Afghanistan in terms of fighting a war without a clear objective. Some accept it. Others reject it. Putting aside how many troops (English translation: young Americans) Gen. McChrystal says he needs to accomplish the military goal in Afghanistan, we’re still left with the question: what is the political goal?

Are we fighting to deny Al Qaeda a base of operations and to keep American safe? “Fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here?”

This is not a Bond movie. It’s not like we can destroy their secret base of operations in time to stop them from bombing the Super Bowl. So what if we take over Afghanistan? Apparently there are other countries in the world that will let them host their corporate retreat. Besides, it’s not like 9/11 was launched from a central location where they amassed tanks and an invasion force like D-Day. It was 19 young men with box cutters. 15 Saudis, 1 Egyptian, 1 Lebanese, and 2 from the UAE. No Afghans. No Pakistanis. No Iraqis. And they didn’t invade by landing on a beach. They slipped into the country, unnoticed. Took flying lessons unnoticed. Slipped through security with box cutters, unnoticed. Boarded planes unnoticed.

And at the end of the day they didn’t hijack planes and fly them into buildings. What they did was the unthinkable, and for all our kneejerk reactions (taking off our shoes at the airport; 3 oz. shampoo bottles) if there is another attack it will be equally unthinkable. We could reduce Afghanistan to Stone Age rubble (putting it back about 3 years in economic and social development) and it still wouldn’t eliminate the hate-filled mindset that created 9/11. That mindset is all over the world. It doesn’t take some Dr. Evil bearded mountain goat to hatch a nefarious plot. Just a few madmen with heads-full of pseudo-religious mania and the glories of martyrdom. Terrorism is now an international franchise. All you need to buy in is a copy of the Koran and a death wish.

Are we there to capture Bin Laden?

We’ve had 8 years and we still can’t find him. It’s officially the longest game of hide-and-go-seek in history. So what if Bin Laden’s captured? We get a war crimes trial? An execution? A few people get justice and other people get a new martyr, and the insanity goes on. In our cult of personality culture, it’s easy to fixate on a single person as the embodiment of evil.

For years, Khadafi was out to destroy the world. We tried to bomb him once. Didn’t work. Then we barely heard his name for decades until Scotland released the Locherbie bomber and then Khadafi showed up at the U.N. in his Snugglie and went nuts for over an hour. Still crazy after all these years.

Then it was Saddam with his WMDs who was intent on destroying us. Well, he’s dead. And “the surge worked” meme has been hit so hard that it’s become synonymous with “the Iraq war was noble, justified, and served a legitimate purpose.” Fine, even if you buy that, now Iraq has been freed from the clutches of an evil dictator and they’re on their way to enjoying the gift of American free-market capitalism. Welcome to our nightmare.

Are we fighting to free the people of Afghanistan from the Taliban?

Afghanistan is 12th century mountainous shithole with a corrupt “central government,” local warlords, and 80% of its economy comes from growing poppies for heroin. Do we think once we take over all those farmers are going to suddenly start growing wheat? Yes, the Taliban are religious zealots who throw acid in the faces of little girls who have the audacity to want to learn. How do we wipe out crazy?

During the election, Obama came out against Iraq and for shifting the struggle to Afghanistan. If he had advocated pulling out of both wars the Republicans would have hit him for abandoning the “war on terror” and weakening the country. But now, what’s the sense? The Republicans will hit back no matter what he does. If he escalates, he’s putting us deeper into a quagmire, wasting money and blood. If he pulls out, he’s a typical Democrat who’s weak on defense.

We haven’t learned the lessons from the Russians in Afghanistan any better than we learned the lessons of the French in Vietnam. So, until someone in power can articulate specific, discernable, achievable political goals, then what’s the sense in debating military strategies? Why argue about directions when we have no idea where we’re going?

Four decades ago, it was the same shifting rationale: We’re stopping the spread of Communism. We’re saving the South Vietnamese people. Pacification. Winning hearts and minds. Vietnamization… Now we can buy shirts made in Vietnam and American business is all over the country. Saigon is Ho Chi Minh City. After 55,000 American, and 3 million Vietnamese dead, we bugged out in 1975 by calling it “peace with honor.”

Given how easily manipulated the American public is, and how susceptible we are to ad campaigns, maybe all we need to bug out here is a good slogan. Like, maybe: “Afghanistan: Been there, done that”? And perhaps a theme song to go with it. Something like “Oops!... I did it again.”

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