Friday, October 07, 2011

Un-happy Ten Year Anniversary

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the start of our war against Afghanistan in retaliation for the Taliban government allowing al-Qaeda to operate terrorist training camps in their country. The war began with a bombing campaign before the invasion force was sent in. The capital city of Kabul fell pretty quickly to the American forces. Any foreigner who was in the country was scooped up as an enemy combatant, which included an American who was raised by liberal parents in very liberal Marin County, California. His name is John Walker Lindh. He was viewed as a traitor simply because he was in the training camp and had even met Osama bin Laden. His is an interesting case, because he grew up with parents who were the stereotypical, "open-minded and relativist" liberals and yet he went halfway around the world in search of what he had called "the most pure religion" he could find. Had he been born to fundamentalist Christian parents in the Deep South, he probably would have grown up as an obnoxious Bible-thumper. Instead, he became "The American Taliban."

Though American did have popular support around the world and in the United Nations to invade Afghanistan, I was against the invasion. Partly because I did not accept Bush as a legitimate president due to the Florida debacle in the 2000 elections, but mostly because I did not believe America would succeed where the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the Mongols, and Alexander the Great had failed. There is a reason why Afghanistan is called "The Graveyard of Empires." Foreign powers know little about the rugged landscape and the culture of the people (which is very tribal). Plus, the people who live in Afghanistan have the advantage. Not only do they know their land, but they also have ancestral ties to the land. A person defending their land has an advantage over an occupier from a foreign land. The Afghan people have the patience to wait out the foreign invaders, with the ability to make things as unpleasant as possible.

After the fall of Kabul, the Bush Administration seemed to grow quickly bored with the war in Afghanistan. Militant conservatives love to repeat the phrase: "Bomb them back to the Stone Age" to any enemy that dares rise up against American power. However, Afghanistan never actually left the Stone Age! Considered one of the poorest country in the world, Afghanistan lacked what the Bush Administration called "a target-rich environment." In fact, George W. Bush said before launching the war:
"When I take action, I'm not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It's going to be decisive."
What the neo-conservatives dreamed about was an invasion of Iraq, followed by an invasion of Syria and the ultimate prize: Iran.

In October 2001, though, most of the country was still in shock over the 9/11 attacks and crying out for blood. Those who preferred a more diplomatic and strategic approach were borderline "treasonous" and even Bush Administration official Andrew Card said (in response to a comment comedian Bill Maher had said on his show Politically Incorrect) that Americans needed to watch what they say. It was chilling. The USA PATRIOT Act was dumped on the American public during this time. It was not a good period in our country's history. The Anthrax attacks were starting to be unleashed by someone (that story basically went dead in the media after it was traced to a government lab in Maryland).

Those who supported the war back then, you will be hard pressed to find anyone who will admit today that they supported it. Interesting, isn't it, how over 80% of Americans, if not 90% were fully in support of war against Afghanistan. If they knew that we would be there ten years later, would they have supported it? The ultimate unanswered question.

So, we're still there and no sign of leaving anytime soon. Probably because if we do leave, the CIA-trained Hamid Karzai, the president since the first elections, will not live long. The joke is that he is less the President of Afghanistan than he is the Mayor of Kabul. What Americans did not seem to understand about this tribal country is that there is a long history of people switching sides. When the winning side has thought that they won the battle for "the hearts and mind" of the populace, watch out! The Afghanis are more likely just biding their time. Switching sides is a survival technique. Whoever has the power, gets the support.

Yes, the Taliban are absolutely wretched (so extreme that even the fundamentalist Muslims in the Iranian government considered them as enemies) and deserved to be rooted out. Yes, women were liberated from their burkhas (or as Bill Maher called it: "beekeeper suits"). But ultimately, what does it mean? Was our "splendid little war" in Afghanistan worth the trillions we had spent? Which brings to mind a frustrating disconnect among conservatives. Why do they get outraged and angry if a politician proposes spending billions on universal health care, education, roads, etc., but become pro-war just because their politicians want one? The trillions we spend in our overseas wars are trillions not being spent at home to create new jobs, hire more teachers and police, and pay for government services and fixing roads, etc. It is not cheap to live in civilized society.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of the whole Afghanistan War is the friendly fire death of a genuine American hero: Pat Tillman and the despicable cover-up in the aftermath. Sure, every human life that was ended in Afghanistan is an unfortunate by-product of war, but the Tillman case represents something truly tragic. I wrote a post about him last year, after watching the documentary about him and his family. Who knows what direction his life might've taken had he never felt a need to join the military and then being sent to Afghanistan.

Ironically, Bush as a candidate for president in 2000 said that America should not be in the nation-building business. He criticized Clinton for the humanitarian military operations (in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia). This promise was reneged, as Bush tried to rebuild Afghanistan (and later, Iraq) into a western democracy without any kind of understanding about how their political systems worked.

One thing Osama bin Laden was known to say is that he took credit for the demise of the Soviet Empire. Because the decade long war against the Mujahadeen, the Soviets eventually withdrew in defeat. Afghanistan was their Vietnam. Within months of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the communist governments of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union fell. Bin Laden believed that an expensive war overseas was the best way to bleed an empire. The money spent on the war machine to occupy a foreign land is money that is not spent domestically.

So, does it not strike you as curious that the Soviet Union's economy collapsed within two years of withdrawing from Afghanistan and that the American economy collapsed in 2008 while we were still in Afghanistan (and Iraq)? How difficult is it for Americans to understand that money spent on the war machine does not equal economic growth domestically. There's probably a spiritual principle about it. You cannot sow bad karma and expect to reap blessings. We should have learned from Vietnam, another decade long war that put a damper on the American economy in the 1970s. Its the lesson Americans need to learn: expensive overseas wars do not help the domestic economy at all. In fact, it worsens it because money is taken out of the economy.

Unhappy Anniversary, America. Let's get out of Afghanistan and Iraq soon. We can't afford it anymore.

1 comment:

T said...

We didn't seem to have learned much of anything from Vietnam. Good post, Sansego!