Today is likely the first of many posts regarding the war in Afghanistan. It has shaped my life considerably over the last decade, and over the years I have developed some strong opinions on the matter.
First, let me say that I never thought I would be where I am today. When Matthew Hoh, a former US Marine Corps Captain, resigned his position as a Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan – and declined offers to work within the system to try to right the strategic wrongs that prompted his resignation – I felt as though he was somehow betraying the rest of us. I thought he was adding fuel to a fire that shouldn’t be burning in the fireplaces at home in the first place. Now, when I reread the opening paragraph of his four-page letter of resignation, I find myself nodding my head. There are still places where our assessments don’t align, but fundamentally we both “fail to see the value or the worth in continued U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources…”
We’ve made a lot of mistakes in Afghanistan, and some might argue that it’s easy to sit back as an “armchair quarterback” on Monday morning pointing them out. I can tell you it isn’t. It’s frustrating for someone who legitimately cares to sit back and criticize. We look for signs of hope somewhere in the “strategy” even as we try to figure out what that “strategy” may be. It’s part of what drives so many of us to go back and try again (and again), believing maybe this time we can make a difference. Like moths that repeatedly bash their heads against a lightbulb. At some point, you just have to ask yourself, “to what end?” Because the end isn’t victory, and if it isn’t victory, why bother?
War is seriously ugly business. And winning a war is even worse. It means doing whatever it takes in order to defeat your enemy, even if it means resorting to ungentlemanly fighting tactics (as in the Revolutionary War), killing your own brother and burning cities (as in the U.S. Civil War), or dropping Atomic bombs on entire cities full of civilians (as in World War II). Choosing to win a war means condemning (sometimes innocent) people to death and unleashing some of humanity’s worst behavior. Nobody wants to make those hard decisions. They aren’t popular, and I can only imagine how heavily they weigh on one’s conscience.
For whatever reason, we decided a long time ago that winning in Afghanistan wasn’t our aim. Perhaps because we couldn’t define what “winning” was we settled for accomplishment of the mission. The only problem with that is that most of us have no idea what mission we’re supposed to be accomplishing. Is it the defeat of al Qaeda, as the Obama administration’s change of rhetoric from “Global War on Terrorism” might suggest? If so, we have more business fighting in Pakistan, or Yemen, or Somalia, than Afghanistan. Is it to establish a legitimate Afghan government for the Afghan people? If so, we probably ought not to have allowed the Karzai administration to hijack the 2009 presidential elections (and 2010 parliamentary elections), nor should we continue to bolster an almost universally rejected illegitimate government fraught with corruption. We might also have considered that Afghans have practiced democracy on a local level for – not hundreds – thousands of years and perhaps empowered them to select their own representative government (and not the pathetic top-down appointed excuse for government we chose for them). Is it to create a sustainable Afghan security force to help ensure stability in the region? If so, Heaven help us, it’s not happening by 2014 (or ’15, or ’16, or ’17)…
Unfortunately, choosing not to win also has devastating consequences. Choosing not to win means some are not coming home and there are no answers when families ask “why?” As the death toll rises, it becomes harder and harder to justify the fight. Fighting to win makes sense… but fighting to fight is stupid. Nobody wins. Life doesn’t get better for those whose liberties we allegedly fight for, and it doesn’t get better for those left at home.
I know there are others whose opinions differ from my own. Their experiences are likely vastly different from mine. I respect their experience and their opinions… but this is my blog, so my opinions get to take center stage. Alternative opinions are welcome in the comments section (provided everyone remains respectful and plays nice).