Okay, okay, call it nepotism, but I’m giving my husband his front page say on Afghanistan:
As a young Marine clerk in the summer of 1964, I was typing discharge papers for enlisted marines returning from their roles as “advisers” in Vietnam. To a man, they would say something to this effect: “They don’t want us over there. You can’t trust any of them. The guy who cut your hair in the morning could very well be the guy who would cut your throat that night.” By 1975, we all learned that we should have listened to the enlisted men.
In David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, the lesson was reinforced: Don’t listen to an officer, especially one wearing stars on his cap. The “five o’clock follies” as the press corps in Vietnam called it, was a cheerleading contest, where the brass would give the daily body count and smile upon the press before tottering off to drink cocktails.
Former U. S. Marine Lt. General James L. Jones, President-elect Obama’s appointed National Security Adviser, is one of the cocktail drinkers. “I personally don’t believe that the United States can afford to be perceived as having not been successful in either Iraq or Afghanistan. And I think the consequences for such a perception or such a reality will be with us for years to come in terms of our ability to be a nation of great influence in the twenty-first century.” It’s all about image. Brass loves image.
We’re doing nothing more than reinforcing our image of ourselves as the planet hotshots by sending 20,000 to 30,000 more men to Afghanistan. And that’s just the beginning of what this piece of vanity will cost in lives and treasure. Twenty to thirty thousand is insufficient, but reminiscent of how Vietnam started. A recent counterinsurgency field manual claims that Afghanistan would require at least 300,000 troops. Before long, we’ll be committing ourselves to those kinds of numbers. Like President Johnson in 1964, Obama will inherit a war. Before he lifts his right hand, it’s already being tied behind his back.
Our own Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, considers commitment there necessary. At Claire’s “Kitchen Table Talk” in St. Louis last week, one audience member pleaded with her to urge Obama not to get sucked into Afghanistan. Claire wasn’t having it: “We cannot stand by…We cannot stand by and allow terrorists camps and training to go on without any real consequences in our world. We just can’t.” The audience, mostly liberals, responded with resounding applause. There were few dissenters. Claire and those who applauded her forget that by invading Iraq we increased the terrorism there. They should know that that’s all our soldiers will accomplish on this front. Invasion begets terrorists, and fighting terrorism is the new domino theory.
A bit of history shows that empires should stay away from Afghanistan in particular. The United Soviet Socialist Republics largely came apart after its blunder into Afghanistan. As for the British Empire? It’s now called England-a speck off the coast of Europe. The USSR spent over a decade trying to solve the Afghanistan puzzle. After 15,000 dead and almost a hundred thousand wounded, they withdrew. Bye, Bye Kremlin. The Brits had learned their lesson a century earlier. It, too, was nasty–lots of dead bodies, others just bloodied and disfigured.
Afghanistan is a mishmash of warlords and tribes. We can hardly begin to bring these disparate groups together by military means. And any attempt to do so will only create more rebels, more insurgents. In fact many of the current enemy were once our allies, when we joined the mujahadeen in fighting the Soviets, and that’s the only kind of alliance they want with foreigners–help at getting other foreigners out.
We should know that. Shelby Foote tells the story of a Union soldier asking a poor Reb, who obviously didn’t own slaves, why he was fighting in the war. “Because you’re down here,” was the terse answer. Osama bin Laden echoed that assessment when he explained that he attacked the United States, not Sweden, because we were the ones in Saudia Arabia.
So why are liberals, who are and were opposed to our invasion of Iraq, in favor of increasing our troops in Afghanistan? Have they been cowed by the right wing-nuts who label them “weak on terrorism?” I believe so. Democrats continue to appropriate obscene amounts of money for “defense”–aka War. Six hundred billion a year to the Pentagon. We should focus on what the State Department can achieve instead of robbing our social programs to underwrite the war machine. Because you know what? Talk is cheap, or at least a lot cheaper than blood. Not to mention being more effective.
So let’s not ask the senators or the generals for advice on Afghanistan. It’s the grunts who know. They’ll tell you the same thing I’m telling you about what the future holds. And here’s how I know what it holds: simply because my crystal ball looks into the past.